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Written by

Tamara Smith

How Sleep Affects Your Productivity

The lack of sleep has a negative impact on our productivity and ability to focus on daily tasks. It is very difficult to be productive when deprived of sleep.

Have you ever had to study for a difficult exam or solve a puzzle that was giving you lots of trouble? A common piece of advice people in your surroundings may offer is to “sleep on it.” While it may be easy to dismiss it all as superstition or vague advice that has little to no practical application, the truth is that your level of productivity can often depend on how much sleep you get the previous night, or during the week overall. The connection between sleep and productivity may not be clear to most people since they don’t understand how sleep affects your body and mind, and while they may be aware of the 8-hour sleep recommendation, they might not have any idea as to why that amount of rest is essential.

That’s where we come in. In this article, we aim to connect sleep and productivity by showing how fatigue can make you much less efficient at whatever you’re doing, as well as provide tips on how you can organize and maintain a strict, healthy sleep schedule that improves your daily performance in all aspects of life. Let’s dive right in, shall we?


The Connection Between Sleep and Productivity

There are at least a few logical claims we can make that most people can relate to or at least keep up with, even without any knowledge of how sleep works. As many as 50% of US residents report experiencing problems in their daily life (especially at work) as a consequence of sleep deprivation, even if it’s not a chronic issue. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, really – we associate long work hours with fatigue, exhaustion, and stress even without factoring in potentially inadequate rest. Unfortunately, most people don’t have to imagine how bad it gets when you’re sleep-deprived. Around the late 19th century, work shifts were getting reduced from 9 to 8 hours, as people came to realize that working for longer than 8 hours made workers inefficient, susceptible to accidents and generally exhausted.

Eight hours of work per day turns into 40 over the course of a work week. Now think about how many people you know that work more than that. A lot of working adults have an inadequate sleeping schedule and suffer the consequences of sleep deprivation and fatigue. A lot of fatigue symptoms and consequences are subtle and hard to notice by the person in question – but they can be crippling and potentially life-threatening under the right circumstances. For starters, your mood drops significantly – sleep-deprived people often display signs of irritability, and they’re much more prone to taking unnecessary risks. Your memory and information processing take a dip as well, making it harder to do a lot of office jobs. On top of that, your hand-eye coordination gets considerably worse, as does your awareness of your surroundings and the ability to stay focused. These issues are particularly threatening for people who drive or do jobs with inherent risk factors.

As a rule, sleep deprivation is a problem when the person in question sleeps for less than six hours the previous night. It has been determined that running on 6 hours of “gas” is almost the same as being sleep-deprived for a whole 24 hours in terms of performance and associated risks. However, it’s a common misconception that the number of hours is all there is to healthy sleep.

Think of it this way – have you ever slept for a combined total of 10 hours in one day and still felt tired and unfocused? Clearly just reaching a number isn’t what makes sleep restorative. The amount of time spent asleep (or sleep quantity) is only one side of the coin in this situation, and it’s equally as important to consider sleep quality (how efficient and healthy the sleep was).

Sleep architecture is a term most people don’t have a firm grasp on. For this majority, sleep stages and rapid eye movement are vague terms that have something to do with dreaming, but the full picture is key to understanding how sleep affects our productivity. Sleep architecture is the natural progression of sleep through specific stages. The order is light sleep, then deep sleep, and then finally REM sleep before looping back to light sleep. Each of these stages is characterized by specific repairs and chemical procedures that occur in your body. While you sleep, your brain orchestrates things like memory consolidation (primarily in light and REM sleep), muscle tissue repair, immune system maintenance, blood sugar regulation, and many other processes.

Because each stage has its purpose and benefits, it is important to cycle through them with as little interference as possible. Having your sleep interrupted reduces the amount of time you spend in deep and REM sleep. This problem is frequently called “fragmented sleep,” as it happens when someone wakes up multiple times per night. Fragmented sleep robs you of all the benefits that come with non-light sleep, making you incredibly inefficient the following day. Naturally, this affects your performance at work and even the economy overall (once you factor in how many working adults deal with sleep deprivation – sleep deprivation hurts our economy by around $411 billion each year). Students also have trouble learning things efficiently due to insufficient time spent in REM sleep. Athletes recover from muscle strain much slower if they regularly experience sleep-deprivation and fragmented sleep.

Then there’s the concept of our circadian rhythm. It is a biological rhythm managed and influenced by a “master clock” in our brain stem that uses light receptors to tell our body when it’s time to go to sleep through hormone production and secretion. A lot of our bodily processes are affected by our circadian rhythm, but this rhythm is incredibly easy to disrupt and throw off-balance by a quick series of bad sleep decisions or unfortunate events (such as workplace emergencies). Because our hormones control much more than when we sleep, a disrupted circadian rhythm can cripple us in many aspects of our daily life. It can be very hard to get your rhythm back on track if you have to deal with something like shift work or a sleep disorder.


Improve Productivity Through Better Sleep

There is no shortcut to healthy sleep. Bad sleeping habits are just another lifestyle situation that you have to approach strategically and with dedication, much like diets or exercise routines. Being disciplined enough to manage your sleep is not always easy, but it pays off in more ways than you can imagine. Here’s a list of tips you can work on to achieve better sleep, and thus increased productivity:


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