If you’re like most Americans, there’s a good chance you’ve gone through at least a couple days feeling pretty crunched for time.
We all know what it feels like to just not have enough hours in the day to get through everything you need to do – and when we get down to the brass tacks, the first things a lot of us are likely to sacrifice is our sleep.
Sleep just takes up such an enormous amount of time, it’s often easy to just shave off a couple hours from our sleep time every now and again.
The thing is, though, all that sleep you missed is always going to catch up to you, sooner or later.
In 2014, the National Sleep Foundation found that a whopping 45 percent of Americans said that poor or insufficient sleep had impacted their daily activities in the past week, and there’s a lot of evidence out there to show the reasons for this crisis.
Counterintuitive as it might seem, the secret to finding those “missing” hours in the day is simply to prioritize your sleep time.
A well-rested worker is a productive worker – and the better the work, the more time you’ll have free!
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
Now, the thing with sleep is that there is no magic number that decides how much rest any given person needs each night.
A lot of factors go into determining your specific sleep needs, and we all know those people who claim they can get by just fine on five or six hours of sleep a night.
While it is true that some people are actually to do that, they represent only a tiny, tiny sliver of the population.
Far more people have simply convinced themselves that that’s all the sleep they need, probably because to some extent we stop feeling the effects of sleep deprivation as strongly after enough nights.
There’s no escaping sleep debt, however, and those lost hours come back to bite all of us eventually!
According to a comprehensive report by the National Sleep Foundation, the typical adult aged 26 to 64 needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.
A small segment of the population does fall outside of that range, with some needing 6 hours of sleep a night with others need a full 10.
However, the National Sleep Foundation does not recommend getting either less than 6 hours or more than 10 hours of sleep per night.
Sleep’s Effects on Mood
If you start dipping below the amount of sleep you need each night, you’re going to start feeling the effects more quickly than you might realize.
While we all know how awful it feels to get a lousy night of sleep, sleep deprivation’s effects on mood run much, much deeper than a couple yawns around lunchtime.
The truth is, lack of sleep dramatically increases your tendency towards pretty much all negative emotions.
Your capacity for things like anger, fear, and sadness all goes way, way up, while many the times a non-sleep-deprived person might be feeling relaxed and content, you’ll just be wanting to fall asleep.
A strong link exists between sleep loss and mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression.
The more time and energy you spend worrying about your problems, the less time and energy you’ll be able to devote towards actually being productive.
Additionally, depressive symptoms tend to sap motivation, cutting down on productivity even more.
Finally, as if that wasn’t enough, anxiety and depression also have a tendency to make getting to sleep more difficult than ever, no matter how much your body might need that rest!
All in all, your mood stands to improve substantially when you just build in an extra hour two every night – and the better your mood, the better your output will be.
Sleep’s Effect on Memory
In addition to wreaking havoc with your mental health, sleep loss can have a pretty crippling effect on basic mental functioning, as well.
For instance, of the primary purposes of sleep and dreams in general is to allow for the consolidation of memories.
You take in a gigantic amount of information on any given day, and night is when your brain takes the time to sort through all the data and figure out what you actually need to keep.
You strengthen the connections you’ve made throughout the day, making it easier to recall new facts and skills in the future.
Without the amount of sleep you need to get all this done, however, you’re going to start seeing serious problems in both consolidating and recalling memories.
There’s a reason we spent so much time asleep at night.
Listen to your body when it tells you it’s tired – it knows what it’s talking about!
Sleep’s Effects on Attention Span
Memory isn’t the only brain function sleep loss eats away at, though.
Lack of sleep also makes it much more difficult to focus – one of the most important characteristics of productive individuals.
Our thoughts are scattered when we haven’t had enough sleep.
The brain has trouble devoting all of its energy to just one thing at any given time – and even if you can manage to give something your undivided attention for a moment, it’s almost impossible to keep it there for very long at all.
This makes it pretty much impossible to get any kind of real work done, while also cutting way back on the quality of your output.
This poor attention span is likely part of the reason why sleep deprived individuals tend to make such risky decisions, and also why they often don’t even realize that they’re doing so!
Automobile accidents go up substantially as the amount of sleep you get decreases, to the point where the sleep deprived mind actually looks quite a bit like the mind on alcohol.
Sleep’s Effects on Creativity
Finally, the last major benefit of sleep on productivity comes when you’re trying to come up with a novel solution to a problem.
According to a recent model of the sleep cycle coming out of Cardiff University, the two main stages of sleep – REM and non-REM – might work together to produce a supercharged boost to your creativity.
Here’s how it works.
Your body spends most of non-REM sleep doing a lot of that memory consolidation we were talking about a minute ago.
Studies have found that if you wake up patients during this stage of the sleep cycle, they’ve typically been dreaming about their experiences over the past day.
It’s usually not terribly interesting – your brain is just running through the facts over and over to strengthen those connections – but this is the part where you start to get all your facts in place.
During REM sleep, meanwhile, the brain takes all those connections and bombards them with a bunch of random feedback from around your brain.
A ton of neurons take to firing all at once, which these researchers suggest is what causes dreams.
Throwing all this random input at the connection you fortified during non-REM sleep can sometimes allow you to see the problem you were puzzling over in a completely new light – that is to say, more creatively.
When you wake up in the morning, there’s a chance you’ll have the solution to that question that was driving you crazy yesterday.
Or, even if the answer doesn’t come that easily, you might come to it later in the day, having done a lot of the real legwork during the night.
So if your job involves coming up with non-obvious answers to problem (hint: most jobs do!), you might want to consider budgeting a little less time at your desk and some more under the covers.
How to Get Better Sleep
Now, it’s important to realize that just because you’re setting aside a certain amount of time for sleep, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll actually get either the quantity or the quality of sleep you’re hoping for.
You might spend a long time tossing and turning before getting to sleep, or your sleep might be very light and unrestful.
There isn’t any single solution to these kinds of problems, but a couple common solutions include:
- Creating a “buffer zone” between your sleep and the rest of the day. This is pure “you” time your brain needs to wind down – so no emails, tense conversations, or strenuous housework!
- Developing a soothing nighttime ritual like reading, meditating, or taking a shower. This helps your brain know when it’s time to start powering down for sleep.
- Blocking out all excess light from your bedroom. Light inhibits the release of melatonin, a vital hormone for sleep.
- Avoiding electronics use for at least half an hour before bed. Not only are electronics often overly stimulating, but they also produce a kind of light that’s particularly bad for melatonin production.
- Creating an ideal sleep environment. If your mattress is uncomfortable, consider investing in a new one. It’s impossible to get a good night’s sleep if you can’t ever completely relax!
Getting a decent amount of sleep is one of the easiest ways to improve productivity.
Watch your output increase literally overnight with the help of a healthy sleep!
So, what are your doing still reading this article?
Put the phone away and hit the hay – you’ve got some sleeping to do!