Is lack of sleep killing your productivity?

Is lack of sleep killing your productivity?

Tight deadlines, long hours and increasingly heavy workloads are among the top contributors to feeling stressed at work. The feeling of being unproductive and constantly behind on our workload fuels a sense of anxiety. If it seems like you spend a lot of time 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. Sleeping.

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 and lower our stress levels at work.  Getting the right amount of quality sleep not only reduces stress and anxiety -  it can literally skyrocket productivity.

TICK - TOCK...The Internal Clock

Our working day is ruled by external timekeepers.  But, trying to be productive without paying attention to our internal timekeeper is like swimming upstream - it takes a lot of mental and physical energy and you don't get very far.  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.

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".

The Best Time Management Begins with Sleep

Time management is important - but sleep is fundamental.  It might seem as if we have more time to manage when we skip out on sleep, but the truth is, we actually get less done with that "extra" time because we are walking around in a state of sleep deprivation without even realizing it. 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.

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".

You Can't Fool Your Brain

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". We use coffee and energy drinks to circumvent our master clock's signals that it's time to sleep.

But what 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.  We spend more hours getting less done. 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
  • difficulty learning
  • shortened attention span
  • impaired emotional intelligence

A refreshed brain allows us to spend less time correcting mistakes, absorb new material quicker, communicate more effectively and focus on the task at hand without becoming easily distracted. 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.

Electronic use at night may be hurting 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.

Tips for getting more (and better quality) sleep

If you have been operating on too little sleep for a long period, you may have problems falling asleep on a regular basis.  It's hard changing old habits - but it's not impossible and it's definitely worth the effort.  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.  In fact, 20 minutes of moderate cardio during the day can enhance sleep quality by a whopping 65%!

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. Starting off your day with exposure to early morning sunlight can not only help reduce anxiety during the day but is linked to helping you fall asleep easier at night.

Establish a set time to go to bed and wake up

Establishing, and consistently sticking to a set bedtime, including weekends, will help condition you physically and mentally to fall asleep at the same time.

Develop a pre-bedtime routine

A pre-bedtime routine is akin to a "warm-up" routine before engaging in exercise.  Just as a warm-up routine prepares your body for increased activity, a pre-bedtime that includes calming activities will signal your body it's time to prepare for sleep.

Enjoy a small easily digested snack of sleep-enhancing foods

A small snack of carb+protein can help you fall asleep faster, and sleep longer.  Try a combination of yogurt and tart cherries to help promote feeling sleepiness.

Turn the thermostat down

Not only can a too warm room prevent you from falling asleep, but it can also cause sleep disruptions through the entire night.

Skip the bedtime glass of wine

Alcohol may induce feelings of relaxation and even drowsiness but there is a hidden cost.  When that late night drink is too close to bedtime it disrupts sleep patterns and interferes with getting the type of restorative sleep needed for an alert day.

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 just getting enough quality sleep at night.

Want to stop spinning your wheels, increase your productivity and find yourself achieving more of your goals with less stress?  Listen to your internal's telling you to go to bed.

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