The next time you tell yourself that you’ll sleep when you’re dead, realise that you’re making a decision that can make that day come much sooner. Pushing late into the night is a health and productivity killer.
According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at the Harvard Medical School, the short-term productivity gains from skipping sleep to work are quickly washed away by the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on your mood, ability to focus, and access to higher-level brain functions for days to come.
The negative effects of sleep deprivation are so great that people who are drunk outperform those lacking sleep.
Why you need adequate sleep to perform
We’ve always known that sleep is good for your brain, but new research from the University of Rochester provides the first direct evidence for why your brain cells need you to sleep (and sleep the right way — more on that later).
The study found that when you sleep, your brain removes toxic proteins from its neurons that are by-products of neural activity when you’re awake. Unfortunately, your brain can remove them adequately only while you’re asleep.
So when you don’t get enough sleep, the toxic proteins remain in your brain cells, wreaking havoc by impairing your ability to think — something no amount of caffeine can fix.
Skipping sleep impairs your brain function across the board. It slows your ability to process information and problem solve, kills your creativity, and catapults your stress levels and emotional reactivity.
What sleep deprivation does to your health
Sleep deprivation is linked to a variety of serious health problems, including heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. It stresses you out because your body overproduces the stress hormone cortisol when it’s sleep deprived.
While excess cortisol has a host of negative health effects that come from the havoc it wreaks on your immune system, it also makes you look older, because cortisol breaks down skin collagen, the protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic.
In men specifically, not sleeping enough reduces testosterone levels and lowers sperm count.
Too many studies to list have shown that people who get enough sleep live longer, healthier lives, but I understand that sometimes this isn’t motivation enough.
So consider this — not sleeping enough makes you fat. Sleep deprivation compromises your body’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates and control food intake. When you sleep less you eat more and have more difficulty burning the calories you consume.
Sleep deprivation makes you hungrier by increasing the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin and makes it harder for you to get full by reducing levels of the satiety-inducing hormone leptin.
People who sleep less than six hours a night are 30% more likely to become obese than those who sleep seven to nine hours a night.
How much sleep is enough?
Most people need seven to nine hours of sleep a night to feel sufficiently rested. Few people are at their best with less than seven hours, and few require more than nine without an underlying health condition.
And that’s a major problem, since more than half of Americans get less than the necessary seven hours of sleep each night, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
For go-getters, it’s even worse
A recent survey of Inc. 500 CEOs found that half of them are sleeping less than six hours a night. And the problem doesn’t stop at the top. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of US (United States) workers get less than six hours of sleep each night, and sleep deprivation costs US businesses more than US$63 billion annually in lost productivity.
Doing something about it
Beyond the obvious sleep benefits of thinking clearly and staying healthy, the ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance.
TalentSmart has conducted research with more than a million people, and we’ve found that 90% of top performers are high in emotional intelligence (EQ). These individuals are skilled at understanding and using emotions to their benefit, and good sleep hygiene is one of the greatest tools at their disposal.
High-EQ individuals know it’s not just how much you sleep that matters, but also how you sleep. When life gets in the way of getting the amount of sleep you need, it’s absolutely essential that you increase the quality of your sleep through good sleep hygiene. There are many hidden killers of quality sleep.
Editor’s note: In Part 2 of this post, Dr. Bradberry shares the 10 strategies that can help us identify the hidden killers of quality sleep. Stay tuned!
Dr. Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of the #1 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the cofounder of TalentSmart, the world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence tests and t raining, serving more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies. His bestselling books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. Dr. Bradberry has written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Harvard Business Review.
Reposted with permission and published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 14 February 2015