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How Sleep Is Essential to Work and Productivity

Adam Uzialko
Adam Uzialko

Many people sacrifice sleep for work, but doing so can make you less productive.

  • Sleep is a critical part of health and productivity that is important to learning, focus and emotional stability.
  • Roughly 1/3 of Americans do not get enough sleep.
  • Sleep deprivation is a productivity killer that costs the U.S. economy $63.2 billion each year.
  • Establishing a healthier sleep pattern can make you a better worker and happier person.

In a society based around work and productivity, it's not uncommon that sleep is the first thing to suffer. It often doesn't seem like there are enough hours in the day, so what's wrong with shaving a few off of your nightly sleep? As it turns out, sacrificing sleep could also mean sacrificing productivity and, in the long run, your mental and physical health.

Sleep is an essential part of wellness, and if you've been missing out on a few hours a night just to get more work done (or enjoy more of the day when you've finished working hard), you could be putting yourself at risk and diminishing the quality of your work. To be the best you can be, you must rest. Unfortunately, in today's fast-paced culture, that can be easier said than done.

The basics of sleeping

We all sleep, but how much do we really know about it? It's a daily activity for most but is often taken for granted in a big way.

"Sleep is an especially important and often underutilized component of brain functioning," said Lin Anderson, a psychotherapist at Family Addiction Specialist. "Adequate sleep will result in working more efficiently and effectively and subsequently being more productive and saving time in the long run."

Healthy sleep has three components: quantity, quality and regularity. Each works in tandem to ensure your brain and body are well rested and prepared to operate at an optimal level.

  • Quantity: The amount of sleep you get is important. Some people need more sleep, and others need less, but fewer than seven hours of sleep a night puts most people at risk of becoming sleep deprived. Setting a regular bedtime, even on weekends, can help ensure you get a full night's sleep.
  • Quality: While ensuring you get a full night's sleep is important, the quality of that sleep is equally relevant. While you might not be awake, your body and mind could still be restless. Avoiding things that disrupt your sleep, like stimulating activities and certain substances, can guarantee you sleep deeply.
  • Regularity: Sleep is based on the body's circadian rhythm, which helps determine sleep patterns. Think of the circadian rhythm as an internal clock that controls the production of melatonin, a hormone our bodies produce to make us sleepy. The circadian rhythm is governed in part by light received by our optic nerves, which is why consuming television or scrolling on social media before bedtime can be disruptive to sleep. Maintaining a regular and predictable sleep schedule will help your body's circadian rhythm to stay regular.

While you're sleeping, your brain is hard at work. Sleep allows your brain to clear out any waste. It also re-energizes your cells and helps consolidate information you've learned during the day. While sleeping, you also sort away that information to store as memories. When you fail to get the sleep you need, both in terms of quality and quantity, your brain cannot perform these much-needed tasks. When lack of sleep becomes a pattern, you enter a state known as "sleep deprivation."

How does sleep deprivation kill your productivity?

Sleep is essential to working effectively. Without enough sleep, not only do you lose focus and work less efficiently, but over time, you could develop serious impairments to your productivity. Beyond decreasing your ability to be present and effective at work, lack of sleep increases your likelihood of getting sick and missing work.

What happens to your brain during sleep deprivation?

Sleep deprivation induces stress for your brain. As the most complex organ in the body, and the one responsible for governing virtually all bodily functions, a stressed brain has profound impacts on all areas of health and well-being. Even short-term sleep deprivation can cause your mental, emotional and physical health to suffer. These issues will only grow more severe with time, making it essential to correct any sleep problems before they worsen.

"Being sleep deprived slows the rate at which brain neurons fire the electrical impulses that carry the 'information' of thought," said Katharina Lederle, a sleep therapist at 92 Dental. "These impulses fire slower and are weaker in themselves."

Ultimately, that means it takes us longer to think and react. In particular, Lederle said, lack of sleep impacts the central lobe of the brain, which is responsible for memory and visual perception. Moreover, sleep deprivation significantly diminishes overall mental and emotional function.

"Most of the short-term consequences are cognitive," Lederle said. "This includes impaired memory, decision-making and emotional control."

Left unchecked, sleep deprivation can compound and develop into serious mental and emotional disorders, as well as put you at risk for serious physical ailments, said David Gregg, chief medical officer of StayWell.

"Long-term sleep deprivation can impact a person's immune system," he said. "It can alter their normal hormone production and lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack or stroke. It can also impair sex drive and lead to depression and obesity."

Sleep deprivation is a significant problem in the American workforce. From 1975 to 2006, the number of "short-sleepers," those who get six or less hours of sleep nightly, increased 22%. This lack of sleep has a costly effect on the economy, translating to roughly $2,300 in lost productivity per worker each year. That's a total cost of $63.2 billion nationwide annually.

How many hours of sleep do you need to be productive?

So, how many hours of sleep do you need each night to remain at your peak performance? The answer is different for everyone, but most experts recommend 7-9 hours of sleep for a healthy adult.

"Sleep is one of the most essential things for proper brain function," said Amy Serin, a neuropsychologist at the Serin Center and author of The Stress Switch (Simply Good Press, 2019). "With adequate sleep, not everything will be perfect, but without it, you can be assured you're going to experience major problems with your mood and everyday functioning."

According to Serin, one-third of Americans don't get the recommended amount of sleep each night, and the majority of American teenagers are sleep deprived. To correct this problem, a cultural shift and increased awareness toward "sleep hygiene" are critical, she said. That all starts with developing consistent habits to promote healthier sleep patterns.

How to establish healthier sleep patterns

Understanding the benefits of sleep is one thing, but establishing a healthier sleep pattern can be a challenge. There's no silver bullet for sleeping better each night, but there are a few things you can do to prepare your body for the most restful sleep possible.

Neil Kline, a doctor and spokesperson for the American Sleep Association, said establishing a healthier sleep pattern is achievable in a few easy steps. Consistency is key, and forming a proper nighttime routine can help you sleep longer and more deeply, he said.

"Sleep is essential for our physical and mental well-being," Kline said. "There are several things we can do to help us get better sleep. Following these simple sleep hygiene recommendations can be very valuable."

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule. It's important to set your body on a routine by going to sleep and waking up at roughly the same time every day, even on weekends. Otherwise, you will seldom be tired when you should go to sleep, and you could feel excessively groggy when you wake up.
  • Prepare your bedroom. Your bedroom should be dark, quiet, and cool to better facilitate a deep and restful sleep. Clear the room of any distractions. If you work overnight and need to sleep during the day, consider installing curtains that block out any ambient light.
  • Avoid caffeine for a minimum of six hours before sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant that can make it difficult to fall asleep and will disrupt the quality of your sleep. It's best to avoid caffeine a minimum of six hours before you go to bed, though many experts recommend cutting off caffeine intake as many as 10 hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid cigarettes and alcohol. Cigarettes, alcohol and some over-the-counter medications can disrupt the quality of your sleep and fragment your sleep cycle. Do your best to avoid nicotine products and alcohol, and if you take any over-the-counter medications, understand how they could impact your sleep pattern.
  • Exercise during the day. Vigorous exercise is a great way to tire out your body, but when exercise is performed too close to bedtime, it can keep you awake and restless. It is best to exercise in the morning or during the first half of the day to promote healthier sleep patterns.
  • Avoid stimulating activities before bed. Stimulating activities, especially those that involve electronics, should be completely avoided before going to bed. Certain activities, like watching television or playing video games, not only elicit stress and excitement reactions but also flood your eyes with blue light. Blue light disrupts our circadian rhythm because it closely mimics the light we receive from the sun during the day.

Adjusting to a new nighttime routine can be difficult, but sticking to it is rewarding. If you are able to create a healthier sleep pattern for yourself, the results will show in your life and work. A better mood, more energy, sharper focus and emotional buoyancy are all just a good night's sleep away.

Image Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock
Adam Uzialko
Adam Uzialko
Business News Daily Staff
Adam Uzialko is a writer and editor at and Business News Daily. He has 7 years of professional experience with a focus on small businesses and startups. He has covered topics including digital marketing, SEO, business communications, and public policy. He has also written about emerging technologies and their intersection with business, including artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and blockchain.