May 30, 2017
May 30, 2017
In "How To Improve Your Performance", we identified Exercise being a crucial factor in improving performance. We uncovered that our bodies are built to expend a great deal of energy on a daily basis and the many positive effects it has on our health and well-being.
Another factor that is just as important in improving your performance, if not more, to your health and well-being but always trivialized when life gets busy is Sleep.
We have heard the term "You snooze, you lose" and Bon Jovi and Set It Off belting out "I'll sleep when I'm dead". Sleep seems to always take a back seat by default and it is quite apparent that the practice of sleep is greatly undervalued. It takes up almost a third of our lives but as pioneering U.S. sleep researcher, Dr William C. Dement put it "You are not healthy unless your sleep is healthy".
Sleeping is not so straightforward. Sleepers pass through five stages of sleep, the last one being REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. REM sleep is associated with the rapid side-to-side movements of the eyes, dreaming and bodily movements, and a faster pulse and breathing. Stages 1 and 2 are considered light sleep and stages 3 and 4 are considered deep sleep. A sleep cycle is the period of time it takes for an individual to progress from stage 1 to REM sleep. These stages repeat cyclically while you are asleep from stage 1 through to REM, and then begin again with stage 1. A complete sleep cycle takes an average of 90 to 110 minutes, with each stage lasting 5 to 15 minutes. The first sleep cycles we experience have relatively short REM sleeps and long periods of deep sleep but later in the night, REM periods lengthen and deep sleep time decreases.
Sleep is an active physiological process, one in which our bodies are busy carrying out vital activities, while we are unconscious. A survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) (1999-2004) found at least 40 million Americans suffer from over 70 different sleep disorders and 60 percent of adults report having sleep problems a few nights a week or more. In addition, more than 40 percent of adults experience daytime sleepiness severe enough to interfere with their daily activities at least a few days each month - with 20 percent reporting problem sleepiness a few days a week or more.
There is a biological requirement for human beings to sleep well. If we don’t get the quality deep sleep that our bodies require, the accumulation over time has the potential to contribute to all sorts of health issues. The NSF's sleep guidelines recommend seven to nine hours for the average adult.
Lack of sleep or changes in sleep quality prevents our bodies from:
In modern life today there is an abundance of artificial light from blue-light emitting electronic devices, screens and LED light bulbs, whether they are from televisions, computers, mobile phones or other devices. These devices can fool our bodies into thinking that it is daytime due to their light, and therefore leave our body's internal clock confused. When our bodies are exposed to these artificial sources of light at night, they can trigger an ongoing stress response in the brain. This results in the body releasing hormones such as cortisol, which is the body's main stress hormone. When cortisol is high, melatonin is low, and therefore, a decrease in production of sleep-promoting melatonin at night time results.
Melatonin is not only a sleep hormone but also has potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune properties. It is also highly protective against the formation of cancer cells. With this in mind, making sleep a priority and taking steps to minimise our artificial light exposure after dark can help to give our bodies a greater chance of efficient melatonin production.
After a nice and satisfying lunch, you return to your office to get back into what you were planning to do for the rest of the day. But instead of doing work, you are yawning, struggling to concentrate and your eyelids are starting to feel very heavy.
You are probably thinking that a coffee or an energy drink would be great. But what if you could do something else that improves your concentration and makes you feel more energized, and it will not give you heartburn or play havoc with your blood pressure or health?
It is a technique you used to use all the time. So did our ancient ancestors. It is called napping.
Before you think this is ludicrous, sleep researcher Sara Mednick emphasizes in her book, Take a Nap! Change Your Life, how twenty to thirty minute naps have shown to:
I am a huge fan of napping. After school, I used to race home just to have a nice nap. I didn't nap every afternoon, but mainly when I had a hefty amount of homework or a complicated assignment to do that night. When I awoke, I felt recharged, alert and reenergized to tackle my work. And because of my heightened alertness and focus, it always felt like I was very productive and I probably completed my homework faster than if I hadn't taken a nap to recharge my batteries. Many studies have shown that learning after a nap is as effective as learning after an entire night's sleep.
A misconception that arises from napping is that people occasionally wake up feeling groggy, or find that it disrupts their evening sleep cycle. This problem arises if you allow yourself to descend into deep sleep, which we know are stages 3 and 4.
When you are tired, the areas of your brain that are critical to thinking receive less blood flow. Sleepiness slows down your thought processes. You can power through your tiredness when you need to, but it will only be at a reduced level of functioning.
The main reason naps are frowned upon, as Tony Schwartz, author of The Way We're Working Isn't Working, has demonstrated, is that we usually equate hours on the job with productivity. If you believe that performance is entirely a function of effort, you see anyone who takes a break as a slacker.
In the past, people's values were tied to the amount of hours they put in on the factory floor. Today, the majority of people do not work in a factory. In today's knowledge and fast-growing economy, it is the quality of your thinking that matters most, and quality thinking is directly tied to your energy levels.
A short afternoon nap allows you to recharge your mind and your memories to consolidate. It relaxes your mental filters that allow unconventional ideas to eventuate.
When at the gym, we cannot lift weights continuously without a break. We know there are limitations of our muscles. But we do not acknowledge this for our minds. Declining performance is not as visible to us in the office as it is at the gym, but we still continue trudging along, oblivious we may be contributing at a fraction of the rate we could be.
Ignoring your body's need for rest or drugging it into submission may keep you awake. What it will not do is position you to deliver your best performance. Best performance also includes maintaining a positive mood. Most jobs comprise of building interpersonal connections and strengthening collaborations. Feeling irritable can have serious implications for performance. When we are tired, we get into more disagreements, and not just because we are less patient. It is because our ability to read other people diminishes.
The tide is turning on workplace napping. Organizations including Google, Procter & Gamble and Huffington Post, believe rest improves performance and are investing every year to create napping environments for their people.
We can clearly see that sleep is a performance enhancer. When you allow time for adequate rest to recharge, repair and re-energise your body, not only does your whole body function better, so does your brain; enabling you to make better decisions, come up with creative ideas, have sharper and clearer memory, be nicer to people and look and feel like your best self.
People continually acquiring new skills are likely to be happier, more invested, and smarter about their work. Neurologically, learning is inherently rewarding and one of the key components of employee engagement. In Dr W. Edwards Deming's words "Joy in learning comes not so much from what is learned, but from learning." Sleep deprivation impacts our focus and memory making it difficult to pick up information, acquire knowledge, and learn efficiently.
Just like businesses seek to tick the "healthy" box and support people to exercise, they need to be mindful of people in regards to sleep. Organizations need to reassess late working hours and working on weekends. The health and rest of people are largely seen as a private matter. They are not considered commercially relevant. But when people are forced to rest due to injury and illness, that becomes commercially relevant. Recovery is not negotiable. People can either have time to rest and rejuvenate now or given extended time to be sick and injured later. It seems like it is time to put health and well-being on the business agenda.
Sleep deprivation is costing us both physically and mentally. The U.S. economy is suffering a huge impact, losing an estimated $411 billion annually through tired or absent employees. Some 1.2 million working days are lost in the U.S. every year with costs equating to 2.28 percent of the country's GDP. In the UK, sleep-deprived employees hurt the economy of some 600,000 working days and $50 billion. And in Germany, the loss is $60 billion.
The greatest impact is suffered in Australia. It is draining the Australian economy of $36 billion a year. One in three Australians do not get adequate sleep contributing to a loss of productivity, medical conditions, road deaths and workplace accidents. Screen addicted adolescence are most sleep deprived followed by almost half of all adults.
It is your call, but it may be more beneficial for you to "sleep on it" rather than stay up late and work on it.
Make sure you keep an eye out for my next article to discover another factor that hugely affects your performance. Stay tuned.