[Mental Wellbeing, Stress, Wellbeing, Productivity]
In today's blog, our resident stress specialist, Alison Prangnell, looks at the impact of sleep on your professional performance and personal wellbeing.
It all seems a bit dramatic, doesn't it? I mean, we've all been getting along just fine for decades running around in our career haze, working late, playing late, getting the 6am train in the morning. It has become an accepted culture. I have worked with many people proud of their 'staying power' working to the early hours of the morning, then getting up for the important meeting, early the next day...and doing this over and over. In fact, I will put my hands up, when I worked in London, I did exactly the same. I ended up ill for a good reason, too little sleep, too much stress and bad nutrition.
It is a reality that increasing evidence shows, quite emphatically, how detrimental a lack of sleep (aka recovery) is, not only to our performance at work (if you are the career-driven type) but also to our overall health, mental and emotional wellbeing and therefore our lives outside of work.
What are we working for anyway?
We all know (although we try to ignore it) that a lack of sleep affects us. If we are working/playing long hours on the drive for success, well that lack of sleep is going to work against you in the end. On the simplest level, a lack of sleep means your cognitive function and decision-making is impaired. You think you are working hard and getting more done, where, in reality, research shows the exponential downturn of brain efficiency at processing, memory-making and decision making. In short, you will make more mistakes and take a long time to do it ending up in a vicious circle of needing to work longer to get the job done properly and being irritable with those around you along the way.
The truth is...we think it's normal to feel like death getting up in the morning...it doesn't have to be...
And now, as Rachel Aniston says... 'is the science bit',
- I know you don't want to hear it because your Mother said it but really...6-8 hours is key for your body to re-generate - and that's what it's about. It's the time needed for your body to get rid of nasties and toxins that impair your health (think cancer and dementia) and gives your brain the chance to manage and sort all the things it has learnt, or needs to remember.
- The absolute key re-generation time for your brain, when it's working hard to get rid of the toxic proteins that 1) impair your health and 2) threaten alzheimers, is between 10pm and 2am when your body is at its deepest sleep mode. Miss that slot and your body and mind will struggle to be at optimal levels, you need to get a part of it, at a minimum.
- Your whole body needs to rest, not just your brain but your brain also helps the rest of your body, detoxify and regenerate and be better able to manage stress. Sleep is a core part of stress management...yet too many of us experience the vicious circle... we can't sleep because we're stressed... see below.
This isn't just about all of us knowing we need to sleep, because we know we do, but it's also about re-acquainting ourselves about how important it is and identifying the 21st century 'normalities' that are also preventing us from sleeping in the first instance, and sleeping 'properly' and learning how to manage those; for example:
- Gadget addicts - it's not just the blue light emanating from our screens that actually stops us from sleeping as quickly and as deeply but also the wifi. Phones and gadgets left beside the bed have a detrimental effect on our sleep, not just because the wifi interrupts our brain waves and prevents us from dropping into deep sleep that we need but also because it directly affects our cell regeneration - see this experiment by some school children. awarenessact.com/a-group-of-grade-9-students-made-a-startling-discover-about-wi-fi-capturing-the-attention-of-international-scientists/?=wuw
- Caffeine - too much caffeine... you know it stops you from sleeping. It has quite a long half-life, so depending on the strength, you could need up to 6 hours to get it out of your system so it doesn't affect your sleep. While a small amount, can give you a kick start, it can quite quickly start to impair your performance and drain your cortisol, rather than give you the oomph you're looking for.
Moreover, too much caffeine keeps the cortisol coursing through your body and keeping you awake. You need to give your body enough time to eliminate the coffee before you go to bed (remember that 6-hour window?) so that the melatonin can activate which is the hormone that helps get you to sleep. Cortisol inhibits melatonin, meaning your body can't drop into its re-generation cycle.
- Exercising - watch the timings...if you exercise too late it will affect your hormone levels and ability to sleep.
- Nutrition - if you are eating badly (and most of us do), you are likely to be nutrient-deficient, for example; B vitamins are vital for hormonal systems which in turn link to our sleep. If your hormones are out of whack, your sleep cycles will be disrupted. Then there's magnesium which is vital but due to most industrial food processing, is deficient in most foods. It's vital for sleep. And if you aren't eating well overall, from gut-ache to exhaustion because you don't have the inner resources you need, it will affect your sleep and its quality.
These are just four things out of a long list of environmental factors that affect our sleep. If you want to know more, I would heartily recommend 'Sleep Smarter' by Shawn Stevenson.
And if you don't believe me, watch this video by neuroscientist, Matthew Walker.