Sleeping your way to productivity.. and good health

How much sleep do you get a night? Is it something you are aware of?

It seems more and more of us are becoming aware of our sleep patterns as we recognise the impact of sleep on our daily lives. If this is not something you’ve thought much about and you want to give yourself the best chance of being at your best, not only at work, but for your health and family, read on for some tips.

There’s an interesting relationship between sleep and work. If we don’t get enough sleep, our ability to perform at work can suffer (to the tune of £30billion to the UK economy with 200,000 work days lost to sleep deprivation according to Balance Media).

On the other hand, if we are finding it difficult to cope at work such that we can’t turn off our minds at home, then the relationship impacts the other way.

For those of us who work shifts, or are subject to global travel as part of our working lives, sleep gets even more tricky to get right. If you are a shift worker, or global traveller, take a look at the guidance from Business In The Community in their sleep recovery toolkit (pages 15 and 16 respectively).


Waking up to the importance of adequate sleep

For many years, I’ve lived my life with a couple of guiding principles – to be the best me I can be, and to have no regrets. At one point in my life, I found myself squeezing my sleep hours so that I could fit more into my waking day. It isn’t surprising that before long I found myself less resilient, more susceptible to colds, and also noticed effects on my ability to focus over time.

In fact, these are minor effects compared to some of the risks. According to Rachel Schraer & Joey D’Urso in a BBC article, short sleep has been significantly associated with diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease and obesity (people who don’t sleep enough appear to produce too much of the hormone ghrelin, associated with feeling hungry, and not enough of the hormone leptin, associated with feeling full, which may contribute to obesity). There are also links to brain function and even in the long term to dementia.

So what are the signs that you may not be getting enough sleep?

According to Business In The Community (BITC) in their sleep recovery toolkit, a great resource for employers, signs include

  • Decreased communication
  • Performance deterioration
  • Poor concentration and easy distraction
  • Poor cognition assimilation and memory
  • Poor mood / inappropriate behaviour
  • Greater risk-taking behaviour
  • Increased sickness / sickness absence (people who have less than 7 hours sleep are almost three times as likely to develop a cold as those who have 7 hours or more)

So what can you do to give yourself the best chance of getting a good night’s sleep?

Sleep Hygiene:

Firstly, ensure you determine what good sleep hygiene is for you. Simple tips include getting regular physical activity, having a relaxing bedtime routine, and turning off devices at least an hour before bedtime.

Calculate the best bed-time for you:

It could also help to consider going to sleep to ensure you wake up at the right time in relation to sleep cycles rather than just thinking about how many hours sleep you get.

Once asleep we go through cycles of “sleep stages”, each cycle lasting between 60 and 100 minutes. Each stage plays a different role in the many processes that happen in our body during sleep. Stage 1 is when we are drowsy, stage 2 is light sleep, stage 3 is deep sleep and stage 4 is REM sleep when dreaming happens. According to the Human Performance Institute, during non-REM sleep, the body repairs itself. Human growth hormone is released during stage 3 and helps repair damage from resistance training and other minor trauma. Sleep also enables memory and learning to be consolidated. REM sleep is required for the brain to optimally process information.

According to a sleep calculator from Hillarys’ Blinds and Curtains, it is important not to wake up in the middle of a sleep cycle, particularly Stage 4 when you might feel more groggy. As such, the sleep calculator, factoring the typical 14 minutes it takes for you to fall asleep, gives you a number of times you could go to bed to wake up at a given time. I typically look to wake up at 7am. According to the sleep calculator, that means I should aim to go to sleep at either 9:46 pm, 11:16 pm, 12:46 am or 2:16 am. I’m not a night owl so 9.46pm or 11.16pm it is!!

Listen to your body:

Finally, in this day of fitness devices and sleep trackers, remember that whatever your device is telling you, it is how you feel that really counts. Nick Littlehales (elite sports sleep coach) explains that to really track sleep phases you would need to record brain activity – our trackers are not that clever .. yet! He also points out that stress can cause insomnia so putting pressure on ourselves to get the optimum amount of sleep is likely to be counterproductive.

I am much more aware of the sleep that I need and do aim to ensure that on average I am getting about 7 hours 45 minutes – that seems to work for me letting me be at my best for focused work in the morning. What works for you? If you don’t know, it’s worth finding out.

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