In theory, we all know that getting good sleep will help increase productivity. Today, we’re going to look at why that happens. Getting sufficient and restful sleep is essential for optimal brain function, which in turn is critical for productivity. When we sleep, our brain performs essential tasks such as consolidating memories, processing information, and repairing and restoring cells and tissues throughout the body.
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The Link Between Sleep and Productivity
One crucial stage of sleep for cognitive function is called REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. During REM sleep, the brain processes and consolidates memories and emotions, and prepares the brain for learning and memory consolidation during waking hours. Research has shown that people who get sufficient REM sleep tend to have better problem-solving skills, creativity, and decision-making abilities, which are all essential for productivity. We’ve all felt the adverse effects of this. When we have newborns, we call it “mom brain.” We can’t think straight or focus.
Another important stage of sleep is slow-wave sleep, which is the deepest and most restorative stage of sleep. During slow-wave sleep, the body produces growth hormone, which helps to repair and regenerate cells and tissues, including those in the brain. This process is essential for restoring brain function and preparing it for optimal cognitive performance during waking hours. And we all know that when we have that newborn (or a toddler with night terrors) deep sleep can be nothing but a memory. We sleep lightly, afraid to miss their calls.
Lack of sleep can have significant negative effects on cognitive function, including attention, working memory, and decision-making. Sleep deprivation can cause irritability, poor judgment, decreased motivation, and reduced ability to focus, which can all have a negative impact on productivity.
Besides motherhood having an impact on our ability to get good sleep, you might also see these issues as a result of your neurodivergence. If you have anxiety, depression, or ADHD, you might have a hard time turning your brain off, so to speak. Whether you’re stressing about the next day or just have racing thoughts about everything, it can impede your ability to sleep soundly.
Research studies have consistently shown a link between sleep and productivity. A study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that people who sleep less than six hours per night are significantly less productive than those who sleep seven to nine hours per night. Additionally, a study conducted by the Harvard Medical School found that workers who received cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (a common sleep disorder) reported significant improvements in productivity.
How Does Sleep Improve Productivity?
One of the key ways in which sleep aids in increasing productivity is by improving cognitive function. Research has shown that getting enough sleep can enhance attention, working memory, problem-solving skills, creativity, and decision-making abilities. This means that individuals who are well-rested are better equipped to handle complex tasks and make efficient and effective decisions, which can significantly increase productivity.
As I mentioned above, lack of sleep makes it harder to focus, especially after you’ve been interrupted. Being fully rested makes it easier to return to a task after being distracted. This is of special note to those people who suffer from distractibility. If you are easily distracted normally, this will increase if you are sleep deprived.
Not getting enough sleep is one of the best predictors of burnout for adults. Many of us will push through to still perform, even if we’re not at our best. It will take its toll. If you continuously push yourself, it will lead to exhaustion which hits right before burnout.
Good sleep will enable you to make better decisions faster. Because you are able to think more clearly, you can look at a situation, weigh the information, and accurately make a decision. Again, if you normally struggle with decision paralysis, lack of sleep will magnify this issue.
Sleep helps your brain make connections and transfer information from one area of the brain to another. Getting enough sleep will help you retain what you’ve learned throughout the day and improve your recall. Working memory is part of executive functioning. Not remembering what you were doing when you get interrupted or walking into a room and forgetting why are part of working memory. Lack of sleep exacerbates these issues.
Getting enough good quality sleep can also improve mood and reduce stress levels. When we are well-rested, we are more likely to feel alert, energetic, and positive, which can have a significant impact on our productivity. On the other hand, when we are sleep-deprived, we are more likely to feel irritable, anxious, and overwhelmed, which can negatively impact productivity and make it more difficult to focus on tasks.
Tips for getting better sleep
Stick to a consistent sleep schedule:
Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps to regulate your body's internal clock and improve the quality of your sleep. It’s tempting to sleep in and “make up sleep” on the weekends, and while it might have an immediate positive effect, it’s not good for the long term. Your body needs consistency.
Create a relaxing bedtime routine:
Establish a relaxing bedtime routine that can help you unwind and signal to your body that it's time to sleep. This can include activities such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing meditation or deep breathing exercises. Having a regular bedtime routine will help you stick to a consistent schedule.
Make sure your sleep environment is conducive to sleep:
Ensure that your bedroom is cool, quiet, and dark. Use comfortable pillows and a supportive mattress to make your bed as comfortable as possible. Consider investing in blackout curtains or a white noise machine if outside noise or light is disrupting your sleep.
Limit caffeine and alcohol intake:
Caffeine is a stimulant that can interfere with sleep, so it's best to limit caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon and evening. Similarly, while alcohol can make you feel drowsy initially, it can disrupt sleep later in the night, so it's best to avoid it before bedtime.
Avoid screens before bedtime:
The blue light emitted by screens can disrupt the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep. Avoid using electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, or computers for at least an hour before bedtime.
The connection between sleep and productivity is clear. Getting sufficient and restful sleep is essential for optimal cognitive function and productivity. By prioritizing sleep and taking steps to improve its quality and quantity, individuals can optimize their brain function and increase their productivity during waking hours.