Even though it's the first thing we are willing to sacrifice "to get more done", sleep is the most powerful tool we have to increase our productivity. In fact, not only can getting the right amount of quality sleep to reduce stress and anxiety - it can literally skyrocket productivity.
Tight deadlines, long hours and increasingly heavy workloads are among the top contributors to feeling stressed at work. The sense of being constantly "behind" fuels feelings of anxiety.
If it seems like you spend a lot of time just spinning your wheels and getting nowhere, it might not be what you're doing during the day - but what you're not doing at night.
TICK - TOCK...THE MASTER CLOCK
We have biological clocks in nearly every tissue and organ in our body; these clocks produce and regulate the timing of our circadian rhythm. In turn, all of these clocks are coordinated by a part of our brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). Located in the hypothalamus, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is the master timekeeper that tells our body "there's a time for everything"
Even if we lived in a world without external timekeepers such as clocks, watches or cell phones, we would still be ruled by our own internal clock and its 24-hour(ish) cycle. Trying to be productive without paying attention to our internal clock telling us to sleep is like swimming upstream - it takes a lot of time and energy and you don't get very far.
The Best Time Management Begins with Sleep Management
Sleep is - well, fundamental.
The average adult needs at least 7-9 hours of sleep on a regular basis but 40% of us average a little less than 7 hours.
After months or even years of operating on a sleep deficit, we may think it doesn't affect our performance and productivity. We have become so used to functioning on too little sleep that we have trained ourselves to operate on a schedule of limited rest and sleep deprivation. And the longer we make it a habit to operate this way, the more "normal" it feels.
You Can't Fool Your Brain
We use coffee and energy drinks to circumvent our master clock's signals that it's time to sleep. When deadlines loom and our to-do list is long, it's tempting to put sleep on the back burner to finish a project, check emails late at night, set the alarm early to get a "jump start on the day". We may even pull the dreaded "all nighter".
But what really happens when we routinely skip out on sleep is our brains just say "nope" to working effectively. Instead of paying off in increased productivity, operating on a sleep debt results in lowered productivity.
Our bodies may be able to function, at least temporarily, under artificial stimulation and lack of sleep, but, our brain is just not up to playing along.
Without sufficient and quality sleep, brain function declines and productivity takes a nose dive. Not only in increased mistakes, but
reduced ability to concentrate
poor memory consolidation
delayed reaction time
faulty decision making
shortened attention span
impaired emotional intelligence
What's the cumulative, long-term effect of lack of sleep on our productivity? According to a 2016 article in Forbes, "for the millions of professionals who suffer from a lack of sleep, this lost productivity could mean the difference between landing that big promotion and mindlessly stumbling through your career without enjoying steadily upward mobility".
If you have problems falling asleep, try practicing a few sleep hygiene tips to help reset your internal clock:
- Exercise at least 30 mins. a day – go for a walk, ride a bike, play a little ball: exercise strengthens the circadian rhythm and getting regular physical exercise during the day stimulates longer sessions of deeper, restorative sleep at night.
- Spend time outside in natural sunlight: exposure to sunlight, especially early morning sunlight, helps reinforce the sleep/wake cycle, keeping our body clock in sync
- Establish a set time to go to bed and wake up: establishing a pattern, including week-ends, will help condition you physically and mentally to fall asleep
- Develop a pre-bedtime routine, including a small easily digested snack of sleep-enhancing foods: a routine that includes calming activities will signal your body it's time to prepare for sleep. a small snack of carb+protein can help you fall asleep faster, and sleep deeper
- Make your bedroom cool, dark, quiet
Turn Off the Electronics at Night to Boost Your Productivity During the Day
Even if we are getting in our 7-9 hours of shut-eye, we might not be getting the type of quality sleep that our brains need for peak performance. That I-phone we're using from the cozy comfort of our beds may just be one of the reasons we are less productive during the day.
In our 24/7 world, it can be hard to just shut ‘er down. Instagram, Facebook, Reddit, Pinterest, and Amazon are all a click away, demanding "just another few minutes" of our attention.
But that extra 30 mins. electronic use at bedtime can kill hours of productivity the following day. Using light-emitting electronic devices at night, such as iPhones, tablets, and laptops, delays the resetting of our circadian clock, reduces the amount of REM sleep we get at night and the alertness we feel the next morning.
All of the organizational tools and time management techniques we practice in daylight hours are not as effective as simply turning off the lights and getting enough sleep at night.
Getting sufficient, quality sleep isn't just important for increased brain function through the day. Chronic lack of sleep can also result in health problems ranging from asthma to depression to shortened lifespans.
Want to stop spinning your wheels, increase your productivity and find yourself achieving more of your goals with less stress? Listen to your internal clock...it's telling you to go to bed.