How Sleep Can Make You More Productive and Successful
Being financially free means making lots of good decisions, creating plans, and implementing said plans. Sometimes these will be small daily decisions while at other times this will mean making one big decision like choosing to take out a loan. While many factors play into planning and decision-making, one of the most overlooked yet powerful factors is sleep.
Some financial and productivity gurus advocate getting as little sleep as possible to increase the amount of time you can work. However, this approach is counter-productive if you are spending more time working less efficiently and making more mistakes or poor decisions. Everyone is biologically different so need a different amount of sleep. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per day.
Why is sleep important?
Sleep is essential to staying alive. This is because many important processes occur during sleep that restore, repair and maintain essential bodily functions. This effects our cognitive, emotional, and physical functioning.
While we sleep, new pathways are formed in our brain and information that we learned is stored. This is why people who are chronically sleep deprived have poor memories. Sleep also increases the ability to learn, concentrate, be creative, problem solve, and make good decisions.
During sleep, the body repairs and regulates processes such as blood flow, insulin, and hormones. Insufficient sleep can impair the immune system leaving you at risk for disease and infections. Sleep also plays a role in regulating emotions. People who don’t get enough sleep tend have more mood swings, irritability, and depression.
People who are chronically sleep deprived are at a higher risk for:
Physical health problems (diabetes, heart and kidney disease, obesity, stroke)
In addition to personal well being, sleep affects how you interact with others. Research has shown that lack of sleep impairs function in ones ability to communicate and feel empathy towards others.
Sleep and Productivity
Lack of sleep makes you less productive. Sleep deprivation slows reaction time, increases the time it takes to complete a task, and increases mistakes. For example, research shows that driving while sleep deprived is just as dangerous as driving drunk.
Sleep deprivation seems to have the largest effect on the prefrontal cortex (the front part of the brain). This area is in charge of higher-level thinking and executive processes such as impulse control, planning, and decision-making. Research shows that insufficient sleep impairs your ability to come up with new ideas, think outside of the box, concentrate and avoid distractions. People who are sleep deprived make more mistakes when remembering information and are less resilient to sudden unexpected changes.
How to Get Better Sleep
1. Go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday
The human body works on an internal clock called a circadian rhythm. This clock tells us when we should sleep and eat. The circadian rhythm process is most beneficial when the clock is regulated by consistent behaviors. Jet lag is an example of your circadian rhythm being disrupted. The behaviors are not consistent with the clock (i.e. you are awake when your clock says you should be sleeping).
When the circadian rhythm is disrupted, you are more likely to have problems falling or staying asleep. Changing the time you go to bed and wake up can also disrupt the internal clock. So have a set sleep and wake schedule and stick to it as much as possible. Even on the weekends.
2. Create a wind down routine
We create bedtime routines for children to help them fall asleep. However, as adults we rarely do this for ourselves. Most of us develop habits that actually increase wakefulness such as watching television or playing on our phone. Having a routine to get into a more relaxed state can help you fall asleep faster and get a more restful sleep.
The wind down routine should occur 30-60 minutes before your bedtime. Avoid anything stimulating such as light from electronics, vigorous exercise, or anything that elicits strong emotion (scary movie, heated Facebook debate, etc.). Ideally this routine should be the same every night so that it cues your body to start feeling sleepy. Some ideas for a wind down routine are listening to a podcast, taking a hot bath, meditating, reading, light stretching or yoga.
3. Limit caffeine and alcohol
Caffeine is a stimulant so it will make you feel less sleepy. What most people do not realize is that even if you don’t feel the effects of the caffeine it may still be in your system interfering with your body’s natural sleep drive. Caffeine has different effects on people so some may need to avoid drinking caffeine after noon while others may be fine with drinking caffeine until 4pm. If you have problems falling asleep try cutting off caffeine intake earlier in the day.
Some people who have insomnia resort to drinking alcohol because they believe that it helps them to sleep. Alcohol does help you fall asleep but impairs the quality of your sleep. Additionally, you run the risk of becoming reliant on alcohol for sleep and could develop an addition. In general it is best to try to avoid alcohol three hours before sleep.
4. Create a good sleep environment
The human body sleeps best under the ideal circumstances. The ideal sleeping environment is a cool, dark, quiet room. Some people have difficulty sleeping when it is too quiet and so they leave a television on. This is not ideal because the fluctuations in volume and light are not conducive to deep restful sleep. Instead, create a constant white noise using a fan or a noisemaker such as a humidifier or air purifier. There are also phone apps the have sleep stories if you prefer to listen to a voice.
5. Bed is only for sleep (and sex)
Many people like to use their bed for a variety of non-sleep activities because it is comfortable. This is a bad idea because our brain associates objects and places with certain physiological responses. So if you like to work on your computer in bed you could be fostering a wakefulness response to your bed. Instead, build a sleepy response by only using the bed for sleep (with the only exception being sex).
Additionally, try to spend as little time awake in bed as possible. If you are lying awake in bed for longer than 15-20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing (read, drink some water, light stretching) until you feel sleepy and then return to bed. Lying awake for prolonged periods will only make you frustrated and that is going to make it harder for you to fall asleep.
The best way to tell if you are getting enough sleep is to listen to your body. Some daytime sleepiness is normal, especially right after lunch, but you should not be feeling sleepy all day or relying on a constant and increasing amount of caffeine. If insomnia is really a problem, it best to see a psychotherapist who can help with more intensive behavioral strategies for insomnia.