Sleep, how often do you think about it, discuss it, get anxious about it and more importantly actually get it? It’s a topical modern problem. In days gone by people went to bed when it got dark and got up with the dawn – simple, and routinely the best way to sleep. Now we are so distracted with life whether it’s work, family time, technology, keeping up with day to day tasks, the time to sleep is lessening for many. And of course there is also the bravado and bragging rights of getting very little sleep – a bit like lunch is for wimps, sleep is for the lazy. How wrong unfortunately that way of thinking is.
We may feel shutting ourselves out of the world for 7 or 8 hours is a waste of valuable living time, but it is proven that by not shutting down and repairing our bodies, our valuable living time could actually be a lot less. And our awake state is by no means at it’s best, most productive and innovative it can be.
If we didn’t think sleep was so important why do we talk about it all the time? There are those that feel it’s a badge to say yeah I only got 3 hours sleep, I’m WRECKED but hey I’m working 15 hour days, going to the gym, doing a night class and fitting in family time and social outings – Life is for living! And then there are those who desperately want to sleep but can’t. Both categories are functioning well below par.
“If you regularly get less than 7 hours of sleep, you’re not at your best,” says Thomas Balkin, PhD, director of behavioural biology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Md. “The less sleep you get, the worse you do.”
- Attention span is diminished it’s harder to concentrate and your mind will wander. Staying focused becomes difficult for a sustained period of time.
- Reaction time is longer which is a major cause of motor accidents, not being alert and able to react quickly and efficiently. For some jobs this can be a big problem.
- Decision-making can be less rational and can result in poor choices or irresponsible action and poor judgement.
- Memory function becomes lessened, even simple things like remembering details of an article you have just read. Map this to the work environment and things will be forgotten and missed.
- Moods are affected with a tendency to think negatively, be grumpy, intolerant and superstitious.
- Weigh gain is often a symptom as the hormones leptin and ghrelin which control our feelings of hunger and fullness are affected by sleep.
If the lack of sleep is a temporary situation, perhaps there is a new baby in the home or a particular life experience that is currently impacting sleep patterns, the effects can mostly be reversed. But longterm the damage can be critical.
- An increased risk of heart attack and strokes
- Raised risk of Alzheimer’s disease
- Chronic weigh gain
- Lower sperm counts in men
- High blood pressure
- Skin ageing
In fact the list could go on and on…
So, what actually happens when we sleep that is so critical to our health and wellbeing:
- Our body is rebuilding, repairing and healing while we sleep
- Our Inner battery gets powered up
- Hormones recalibrate
- Body flushes toxins from our brain
- Brain processes and performs memory consolidation
- Sleeping enhances our creativity
- Sleeping clears and restores our mind
- We even burn calories while we sleep
Suddenly the people bragging about existing on minimal sleep are not as great as they might like to think they are. In fact with a few more hours sleep they certainly will be displaying better signs of greatness and most probably feeling greater with it!
As an employer you can most likely recognise the signs of sleep deprived colleagues quite easily. Here is what you can do about it:
- Encourage employees to get some natural bright light during the day by taking a walk outside, the exercise and light will have an alerting effect. Open blinds and curtains to let in as much natural light as possible into the work environment.
- Encourage employees to arrange important meetings or schedule critical pieces of work when they know they are at their brightest in the day, if possible.
- Monitor caffeine intake, it may be needed to get started in the day but it can effect sleep for up to 8 to 10 hours.
- Provide the opportunity if possible take a short power nap which can have an enormous reviving effect on those able to do so. Not everyone can shut off though for 10 minutes!
- Have a technical power down policy, where employees are not encouraged to be sending late night emails or responding to messages.
- Monitor workloads and be aware of employees who are taking on too much.
- Be sympathetic and encourage any chronic sufferers to get help.
According to the World Health Organisation the actual number of hours needed for adult sleep is 8 hours 36 mins. Working backwards from your normal wake-up time I’m guessing most readers (me included) will have to start getting into the PJs a bit earlier tonight!
Ingrid O’Sullivan, Operations Manager