Sleep is essential to our productivity, well-being, and relationships. Science proves it, and most of us know it. However, with jam-packed schedules and the ability to work and connect anytime, anywhere, sleep gets put on the back burner, reserved for “when we’re dead”. But poor sleep may be affecting your relationships, productivity, and life more than you know. Below are a few eye-opening facts that may prompt a little more eye closing for all of us. Sleep deficiency:
- Decreases your desire to build relationships: A powerful study shows that when you are sleep-deprived, you are less likely to want to interact with others and others are less likely to want to interact with you. According to the research, sleep-deprived people did not have as much activity in the areas of the brain that would otherwise encourage social interactions, and instead, viewed others as a threat. Conversely, a night of good sleep increased participants’ desire to connect with people and made them more socially desirable to others.
- Increases your risk of getting sick. A weaker immune system means you’re more susceptible to viruses and other diseases, and it will take you longer to recover.
- Impacts your cognitive performance. Sleep deprivation interferes with your ability to learn new information and increases your risk of making mistakes. Some estimates show that as a whole, the US economy loses as much as $411 billion and 1.2 million working days a year because of lower productivity and sick days due to sleep deprivation.
With overwhelming evidence about how important sleep is, why is it that over a third of Americans are still not getting as much sleep as they need? Unfortunately, it’s just not a priority. While most people know sleep is important, the majority of Americans prioritize other activities such as work and fitness over sleep and confess to not planning time to get enough sleep. In addition to not prioritizing sleep, some people still associate sleeping with being lazy or indulgent, which is a misconception that many scientists, business leaders, and professional athletes are starting to be more vocal about correcting.
Regardless of the demands on your time, you can make some simple adjustments to improve your sleep.
- Put away all devices one hour before you sleep. Blue light from screens can affect your body’s ability to follow its circadian rhythm and can prevent sleep. While it is the norm to check emails and our phones for messages at all hours, doing so before bed can prevent you from getting the sleep you need to be productive the next day. Agreeing on contactable hours within your team or with coworkers is a good way to set boundaries and decrease the likelihood you will receive messages that may tempt you to check your devices before bed.
- Go to bed at the same time every night, and wake up at the same time every morning. “Anchoring” your circadian rhythm to darkness and light at regular times will help improve your sleep quality and create good sleep habits. Also, avoid alcohol and caffeine before you sleep. Alcohol interferes with your REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and causes disruptions in your sleep. Caffeine also prevents healthy sleep since it is a stimulant and can stay in your body for long periods of time (even hours after you have had your cup of coffee). If you suffer from anxiety or stress, then meditation and journaling before bed are tools that can help calm the nervous system and prevent sleeplessness.
- Keep a sleep journal. There are plenty of apps and devices available to help you track your sleep. You can also just keep an old-fashioned paper journal with the time you went to bed, woke up, and the number of hours slept. Do it for a couple of weeks and take note of how you feel, interact with others, and perform your everyday tasks.
While awareness of the importance of sleep is growing, many of us are still holding on to that “hustle mentality”, which prioritizes everything over sleep – much to the detriment of our performance, relationships, and mental and physical health. Sleep is not just about you, it affects the way you give, serve, and connect with others. Your well-rested self is your best self and isn’t that the person you want living your life?