It may seem like common sense that there’s a strong link between getting a decent amount of sleep and your ability to be productive during your waking hours, but it’s not as simple as ensuring you’re in bed at a reasonable hour.
According to research conducted by The National Sleep Foundation, it’s the quality of sleep that makes the difference, not the amount of time we spend asleep. Poor quality sleep is reported to have an impact not only on productivity but also on your overall health and well-being.
People who struggle with poor quality sleep patterns are more likely to take time off work due to illness and stress-related conditions or can suffer burn-out much faster than those who are able to achieve optimum sleep quality. It would also seem that people in the 30-64 age range are more likely to present with the signs and symptoms of sleep-related issues than their younger counterparts.
It’s no surprise to learn that there is a difference between men and women when it comes to sleep too. Women are much more likely to struggle with insomnia, whilst men are predisposed to suffer from sleep problems like snoring. I would suggest that this also has a negative impact on those unfortunate enough to share a bed with a chronic snorer too!
The 3 foundations of good sleep are quantity, quality, and regularity. Only by achieving a good balance of these elements, can we truly experience their benefits. The brain goes through several complicated processes whilst we sleep and each one is vital to our general wellness. Our ability to be productive is without question linked to our brain’s ability to run the necessary processes during our sleep time.
So now we have a greater understanding of the science and issues surrounding poor quality sleep habits, what can we do to ensure that we are getting the right kind of sleep we need to function effectively not only in our jobs but for our overall health?
1. Understanding your current sleep patterns
I’m a huge advocate for using data to find out the reality of a situation before I attempt to fix a problem and this means that I need to collect information so I can see what’s really going on. You can easily do this by keeping a sleep journal for a couple of weeks, taking notes in as much detail as you can.
Once you have collected a reasonable amount of information, you should be able to spot certain patterns that could be contributing to a less than ideal sleep schedule. There may well be obvious issues that are affecting your sleep and if there are, you can take action to remedy these right away. Eliminating the obvious may not fix the problems, but you’ll definitely be taking positive steps towards improved sleep.
2. Adjust your environment to be more sleep-friendly
Hopefully, your bedroom is the place you retire in order to get your main sleep, so this particular room will need to be assessed for its ability to induce a night of perfect rest. You may already be aware of certain conditions that are not helping and if you do, look to fix those problems first.
There are obvious considerations like the quality of your mattress and bed, the amount of external light and sound you experience and as we’ve already noted, who you share your precious bedroom space with! Again, if you know these things are an issue, seek to make changes when you can afford to do so. Hopefully, that doesn’t include breaking up with a partner!
There are more subtle factors that can create a better environment for sleep, such as the color of your decor. I know there have been many studies regarding this topic over the years, but I’m inclined to believe that it comes down to personal taste. Choose something that you feel is relaxing, not something that is “scientifically proven” to be relaxing. If you don’t like purple, no amount of science is going to convince you that it should work.
3. Take regular exercise
This should be another fairly obvious thing, but in our busy lives, we often don’t feel that we have the time to exercise, or simply aren’t motivated to do so after a hard day’s work. Making sure we do something, even if it’s a brisk walk after our evening meal, not only helps us to wind down but has a positive impact on our ability to sleep.
It’s important to note that vigorous exercise too close to bedtime could have the opposite effect on your sleep, so if you’re a gym bunny, try to pick a time that allows your body and mind time to recover.
Obviously, if you have a very physical job, you may not need to exercise as such in order to feel tired, but if you’re like me and are sitting at a computer for large parts of the day, you’ll need to make some adjustments to make sure you’re getting what you need. Whilst incredibly rewarding, being a professional writer means I have to get out walking as often as possible, or my legs will forget what they’re for!
4. Reduce stimulants during the day
All stimulants will have an impact on your ability to sleep, so it’s important to reduce your intake of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco as the day progresses. Whilst research suggests that coffee may not be as much of a problem as we may believe, it’s probably wise to reduce stimulation in the hours leading up to bed. The data from your sleep journal should indicate if caffeine is a problem for you personally.
Tobacco would appear to be a bigger problem, so if you do smoke, it goes without saying that you should probably quit. I know from personal experience that this can be hard, so at least cut back on the last few cigarettes before bed. Hopefully, that’s the start of breaking the habit completely.
5. Turn off your tech!
This is the problem nobody wants to admit they have, but the research is pretty conclusive on this one. Overstimulation from phones, tablets, computers, and even our beloved TV, are causing us to have bad sleep.
This is not just an issue for your teenage kids (known as “Vamping”) but has become a big problem for many adults too. Social media can have us scrolling late into the night, or even engaging in long chats with friends, so we need to be strict and set limits on our screen time.
It makes sense to treat technology like any other stimulant and begin to reduce the amount we “use” as we approach our natural winding downtime. Perhaps we can find something else to do instead, like gentle exercise or a nice relaxing bath. Both of those things will help you to relax and lead you to a more natural pattern of sleep.
There is no doubt that productivity is linked to sleep, but it’s the quality of sleep we get, not the quantity that makes the difference. Taking some or all of the steps above will begin to raise not only your productivity but will also improve your overall health and well-being.