A 2013 survey by the Sleep Health Foundation revealed that 18 percent of adults regularly sleep less than six hours per night, and 20 percent suffer chronically from poor sleep. Given that sleep deprivation is linked to road accidents and workplace injuries, we could all benefit from trying to improve our sleep habits. While it may be tempting to watch one more episode of your favourite television show or finish up that expense report, heading to bed will ultimately benefit your health - and your work performance.
Thanks to a study from the University of Rochester, we know that when you sleep, your brain removes toxic proteins from its neurons that are byproducts of neural activity when you’re awake. Your brain can only remove these proteins when you’re asleep, so it’s important to get enough sleep. By making sleep a priority, you can avoid a whole host of health problems, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and weight gain. You’ll also keep your cortisol levels in check, which will reduce stress levels. For men, adequate sleep will keep testosterone and sperm count up. Your ability to process information and problem solve, your creativity, and your emotional reactivity are all improved by sleep as well.
It’s easy to see how increased creativity and control over our emotions could lead to better performance in the workplace. In fact, a study from Cambridge University revealed that sleep deprivation affects workplace efficiency more than smoking and drinking on weekdays. Researchers found that those who got seven or eight hours per night were more productive in comparison to those who slept for six hours or less - so it seems the body needs a minimum of seven hours’ sleep to perform better in the office. By getting just two extra hours of sleep, you could see improved alertness, a longer attention span, better decision-making skills and memory, and fewer mistakes at work. If you notice symptoms of sleep deprivation such as constant yawning, dozing off when not active, grogginess when waking in the morning, or poor concentration, it may be time to rethink your sleep habits.
It’s not always easy to get the right amount of sleep, or to get quality sleep. There are some changes you can make to improve your sleep hygiene, but you should see your doctor if these tips don’t help:
Have a regular sleep pattern.
Try to go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning - this will help your body regulate your circadian rhythm so your brain can move through the sleep cycle in preparation for you to feel alert and awake at your wake-up time. Avoid taking naps during the day, and when you do nap, limit your sleep to about thirty minutes. Make sure that you are awake for at least 4 hours before going back to bed.
Make your bedroom comfortable.
Your room should be quiet, dark, and have comfortable bedding and good temperature control. Use your bed for sleeping, not for watching TV, working, or using your computer or smartphone. In fact, you’ll want to avoid your electronic devices after dinner entirely, as the blue light they emit inhibits your body’s production of melatonin, which interferes with your ability to fall asleep.
Relax before getting into bed.
Sort out any problems that may keep you up with worry, and work out a plan of action for the next day. Don’t exercise too late in the evening, as this can interfere with your ability to fall asleep. Find a relaxation technique that works for you and make this part of your nightly routine.
Avoid alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes, and sleeping pills.
While alcohol may help you get off to sleep, it will disrupt your sleep (and interfere with the quality of sleep) during the night. Caffeine and nicotine will keep you awake if consumed 6 hours before bed, and sleeping pills will knock you out but disrupt your brain’s natural sleep process. If you find yourself reaching for sleeping pills or other substances to sedate you, it might be time to see a doctor and get to the root of your sleep problems.