Is Sleep for the Weak?

Sleep is more important than many employers give it credit for. Follow these tips to see how you can sleep better.

“We live in a 24/7 world. There are plenty of people willing to work evenings and weekends. If you can’t cut it, there are others who can!”

So thinks the boss who sends emails at 10:00 p.m. asking employees to have something ready for tomorrow morning’s meeting, or the “rock star” staffer who texts you at 5:00 a.m.

While some workers brag about how little sleep they get as they pursue 60+ hour workweeks, more and more business pundits (think Arianna Huffington and “Thrive”) are now trumpeting what the medical community (and savvy bosses) have known for decades: lack of sleep not only leads to mental and physical health problems, but also reduces employee productivity and efficiency.

Consider how you’d react to someone you rely on not getting enough sleep:

•If you were scheduled for surgery tomorrow morning at 7:00 a.m., would you want the doctor operating on you to have only three hours of sleep?

•If you were being sued, would you want your attorney to start working on your court filings at 9:00 p.m., after he got to the office at 6:00 a.m.?

•If you hired a consultant to do important project work for your agency or department, would you want her preparing your presentation in the wee hours of the morning?

Probably not, because you know people aren’t at their best when they’re sleep deprived.

More Hours = Less Productivity?
Quantity doesn’t trump quality when it comes to work hours. A lack of sleep can produce reduce memory function and cognitive abilities and increase irritability, stress, depression and weight gain. Not only does a lack of sleep reduce your body’s ability to repair itself and decrease your ability to function during the day, it also permanently kills brain cells you can’t regenerate.

Sleep is the time your body repairs itself. Your body is made up of trillions (with a “t”) of cells, and when your body sleeps, it slows your metabolism, lowers your core temperature and blood pressure, regulates brain hormones differently and repairs your cells.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends eight hours of sleep each night, although each person’s individual needs might vary slightly. If you laugh at the thought of getting that much sleep each night, consider exactly who’s benefitting from the brain damage you’re doing to yourself and what they think of you. In addition setting yourself up for formal grievance complaints from your employees who you ask to work evening and weekend hours on regular basis, you can lose the respect of your peers who come to see you as someone who has the time to work nonstop because you have no life and few friends.

Power Napping
Many cultures embrace the afternoon siesta, which go-go Americans might see as laziness, but which other societies have used for hundreds of years to help people re-energize mentally and physically. Some top business performers embrace the “power nap” to help increase productivity during long days. While napping can help you temporarily maintain your mental edge to finish a project, trying to repay sleep deficits with naps on a regular basis doesn’t undo the long-term damage regularly skipping a full night’s sleep does.

To reduce the need to work excessive hours that deprive you and your staff of necessary sleep, teach your employees better time-management skills. If you have a department or agency newsletter, provide regular sleep tips. Set boundaries on after-hour IMs, texts and emails.

How to Sleep Better: 7 Important Tips
•Keep your room temperature between 68 and 72 degrees. Your core temperature drops when you sleep. When you sleep on a plane, keep your shoes on (your feet and hands are actually warmer than the rest of your body during sleep) and don’t get under that flight blanket.

•Regulate your light source. Darkness signals your brain to start releasing melatonin to help you sleep (ever notice your audience pass out after your turn out the room lights to give a PowerPoint presentation?). Waking up in a room with some light lets you reduce melatonin production and wake up more refreshed. Keep your curtains open or buy a sleep lamp.

•Take a break before you sleep. Don’t shut off the computer and hop into bed. Your mind will still be racing. Avoid winding down the day with nerve-wracking TV, as well.

•Hydrate, especially when traveling. At home, consider a humidifier.

•Don’t eat close to bedtime. Have your last caloric intake less than three hours before you sleep and eat easily digestible complex carbs.

•Don’t exercise less than three hours before you hit the sack. Exercise raises your metabolism and core temperature. If you time it right, exercise can help you sleep better because your core temperature is dropping, starting the process before you get into bed.

•Avoid caffeine and alcohol after work.

How about you? Do you get eight hours of sleep a night? Does your employer make rest, health and sleep a priority at your workplace – or not? Sound off in the comments below.

Additional Resources
Forbes: Lack Of Sleep Kills Brain Cells, New Study Shows

Business Week: Sleeping on the Job? Good! Overachievers Do

Harvard Medical School: Healthy Sleep

WebMD: Sleep Disorders Help Center

Are you a Lark, Owl or Hummingbird?

Spine-Health: Tips on Buying a High Quality Mattres

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Earl Rice

Both the US and the UK militaries have invested in a lot of sleep degradation studies. They found that if you skips a night’s sleep, you functionality (and we are talking a lot about muscle memory and automatic programmed responses) will start degrading the next day to a low of about 35% by near Sundown on the second day. By the time the sun goes down, you will be combat ineffective. And, judgment will, for all intents and purposes, be shot for the leaders. The Brits found the same thing, only they described it “that only with the greatest of difficulties will the soldiers be able to perform their functions”.

The next came with a series of getting 4 hours sleep per night (thought was half are awake and half are asleep). After a week, judgment and effectiveness have degraded to less than 50%. However, seldom can half be asleep and half can be awake. And, if you are woken during the 4 hours of sleep, your might as well not have had any sleep and the subjects would be like the skipping a night’s sleep.

Regrettably, in combat situations, there will always be times when there will be sleep depravation because of mission necessity. I remember this one Major telling me about TET69 (Viet Nam), and how his team was cut off and they ended up going for 4 days with almost no sleep trying to get someplace where they could be extracted (and when they were extracted, they were sent right back out the next day).

There is a saying, “that poor planning on their part does not create an emergency your [my] part”. And, with a few noted exceptions, no body is going to die because you went home and got some sleep (this is not a combat zone, or a hospital in most cases).

And as far as the 60 hour work weeks, etc. I did that, always sought out the difficult assignments, and pushed everything to the limit. And, my reward was 2 failed marriages, won’t go into failed relationships, not to mention all the other ailments with it. I testimony, I have to say, it just isn’t worth it.

Mark Hammer

The patented Hammer 4-step technique for catching up on sleep during meetings.

The basic principle of each of the first 3 steps is to legitimize the subsequent step, whilst not giving yourself away, or diminishing the dignity of the other meeting attendees.

Step 1) Index and middle fingers resting on the cheek and thumb under the chin, with other fingers tucked in. Signifies willingness to consider whatever is currently being discussed.

Step 2) Index/middle fingers relocated to placement over the mouth, just under the nose, with chin still resting on thumb. This is getting serious.

Step 3) Tips of fingers on both hands are placed against each other, tent style, over the bridge of the nose. two thumbs are placed tip to tip under the chin. This idea has implications, and needs some deeper thought.

Step 4) This is an extremely involved idea to consider, with many implications, and will require my focussed and undivided attention. “Finger tent” moves upward such that your index fingers are holding your eyes closed and the fingertips are meeting between your eyebrows, with your eyes and nose are obscured. Thumbs remain under the chin. You are now home free. Just remember to not look terribly surprised or stunned when you wake up, and don’t snore!