The amount of sleep required by the average person is five minutes more…. This is a quote I think many of us can relate to. However, while we may want 5 minutes more, many of us will never admit it.
Sure, you might be getting those reports in on time and you’re meeting all your goals. But the one thing you’re dropping the ball on is sleep. The quickest way to drop 10 IQ points in 24 hours is to go one night without it, according to neuroscientists. This stark finding shows that we need to seriously revisit our relationship with sleep and understand that a good night’s sleep will strengthen our performance.
The risks of bad night’s sleep
There are huge risks involved when people do not get enough sleep.
- Business risk: People make riskier bets and become more insensitive to risk and losses when they are overtired. Many governments/businesses are making some of the most important decisions after twelve-hour meetings at 3am, certainly not the time when you are thinking clearly.
- Health risk: University California has done studies on the link between sleep & memory based on the protein beta amyloid, believed to be the cause of Alzheimer’s. According to neuroscientist Matthew Walker, the more beta amyloid that you have in certain parts of the brain, the less sleep you get and, consequently, the worse your memory becomes.
- Youth risk: A 2015 study found that teens with sleep problems were 47% more likely to binge drink that their classmates who slept well. They were also more likely to experience alcohol problems a year later, and to drive under the influence.
A no-brainer: the benefits of sleep
Sleep not only makes you more rested, it improves your performance and your creativity – invaluable assets in today’s 24/7 workplace.
Be a better problem solver: Your ability to solve problems is vastly improved by getting more sleep. In Dr Robert Stickgold’s TED Talk on Sleep, Memory and Dreams
, he talks about fairy tale of the elves sewing the shoes of the shoemaker. This allegory highlights how your brain sews together the details of the day as you sleep – to help you understand and synthesise information better.
Improve your performance: One of the most compelling sleep studies is from Idaho, where the basketball team from Stanford recorded their normal sleep patterns (they averaged 6.5 hours a night) along with statistics on sprints, free throws, and three point shots. They then made an active effort to shift their sleep schedule to 8.5 hours per night, and when they retested their athletics times, they found: sprint times were .7 seconds faster, free throws up 9% and three pointers 9.2%. Ask any athlete if they want an almost 10% performance boost and they will jump at the chance.
Be more innovative: Ask yourself where you are when you get your best ideas – people will generally say lying on a sunbed, in the shower, driving, jogging – the one place they won’t say is at work. A rested brain is a creative brain and, with the machines coming for our jobs, our one critical ability that will be hard to replicate will be our creativity & imagination. In 1865, a dream about a snake eating its tail led the German chemist Friederich August Kekule to envision the structure of the benzene molecule. He realised that molecules were not open structures but closed chains of compounds or rings like a snake swallowing its tail. So much of our information processing does happen unconsciously as we sleep – hence the term “sleep on it”.
What are companies doing to help?
Some companies have started to recognise the competitive advantages of sleep and are developing products to help shake us out of bad habits when it comes to sleep.
- Car manufacturers are recognising that many road deaths are often linked to sleep. Mercedes’ “Attention Assist” tracks the drivers’ technique at the start of the trip and it compares it to behaviour later on. If there is a substantial difference it will indicate that the driver needs to rest.
- A company called f.lux developed an app to help dim the blue light on your phone, as it was recently discovered that light on this wavelength actually prevents people from falling asleep.
- Aetna a large insurance company is literally investing in sleep by offering to pay extra for employees who regularly 7 hours or more of sleep.
How many times have you heard “I am running on three hours a night”, “I pulled an all-nighter”, “I was out till 4am and back in the office for 8”? This braggadocio is misplaced now that neuroscientists know a lot more about the brain and its link with sleep. Missing out on sleep is not something that we should aspire to. You’ll get more done by sleeping in, taking more breaks and taking naps than you ever will by fuelling yourself with coffee. So maybe have a read of this article and sleep on it.