Our bodies require certain physiological needs to function at an effective level. One of those physiological needs is sleep. Yet, most individuals do not actively incorporate sleep as a part of daily routine. This could be in part that sleep is a more natural process: at the end of the day we go to sleep, then we wake up the next day and do it all over again.
Another reason could be the popular catchphrase, “I will sleep when I die,” which according to research, might be sooner than you think if you adopt this philosophy. At the end of the day, a lack of sleep can have a detrimental impact on your performance, especially in the workplace.
Taking your sleep more seriously can not only have a positive impact on a personal level, but also from an organizational standpoint.
When an individual is running on less sleep than required and heads to work the next day, not only will their individual performance suffer, but the overall team performance may suffer as well.
One of the ways that performance is impacted in the workplace is through what is called relational aggression. Relational aggression describes behaviors intended to harm others through manipulation of their social status, relationships or self-esteem. Therefore, not only does relational aggression undermine team cohesion and overall performance, but has an annual cost of $14,000 per employee, all due to a lack of sleep. Not only is there a financial impact, but research with military units showed that those displaying relational aggression due to a lack of sleep also showed more signs of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress.
Key message: stop overlooking sleep.
What You Can Do
Maybe you are in a profession or situation where it simply isn’t possible to get the necessary eight hours of sleep. However, there are some strategies that you can incorporate that can increase the quality of sleep you receive. Those strategies include deliberate breathing, planning a mid-afternoon nap, and making sacrifices.
Research shows that deliberate breathing can help you fall asleep more easily. Deliberate breathing involves activating your diaphragm, which is a sheet of internal skeletal muscle that extends across the bottom of the thoracic cavity and as the diaphragm contracts, the volume of the thoracic cavity increases, and air is drawn into the lungs. During this process, the diaphragm triggers the vagus nerve, which regulates many critical aspects of human physiology, including the heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, and digestion. This process clears your mind and allows your body to calm down. A more relaxed body makes it easier to fall asleep.
A mid-afternoon nap is a great way to restore energy and minimize the impact of lack of sleep. This does not have to be a nap where you are lying in bed under the covers, but rather shutting your eyes for an extended period of time. Try to plan 10 to 25 minutes where you can close your eyes and shut down. It is interesting to note that our own internal sleep-wake cycle is set up in such a way that we automatically experience a drastic dip in the afternoon – in other words, our bodies are actually programmed to nap in the afternoon. By planning a mid-afternoon nap, you are doing what your body naturally wants to do, which can provide you with much needed energy for the second half of your day.
Lastly, to get more sleep in your life, you may have to make sacrifices. For example, when you get home late from work, instead of watching an hour of television before bed, get an extra hour of sleep. Instead of watching television for an hour, read a book for 30 minutes. Fixating your eyes on a television actually hinders melatonin secretion because of the blue light that is omitted from the screen.
This impacts sleep because melatonin is needed to help our mind and our body shut down when it is time for bed. This area was particularly difficult for me because breaking habits is difficult. While changing these habits may be difficult at first, it will not take long before you start seeing the benefits of a more effective night’s sleep.
To make sleep more effective, start focusing on quality instead of quantity. Make the necessary sacrifices at night to help you get to sleep faster. Find time in your schedule to sneak in a brief nap.
Incorporating these strategies, taking your sleep more seriously, can help you wake up with more energy, feel recharged throughout your day, and perform up to your capabilities.