Sleep and Productivity…

Time & Life Management

 Sleep and Productivity…

Sleep is one of the key factors for our cognitive functioning to, well…function. You can probably recall a time when you didn’t get enough sleep and you were not as effective as you could have been: You forgot important information, your memory was foggy, and maybe you weren’t as speedy or focused as you normally are. There is a reason why there are so many sleep aids available – because it is simply too important NOT to have a good night’s sleep. For years I have been sharing sleep information with my clients who either don’t value having a regular sleep schedule or can’t seem to make one happen consistently. It’s worse when you are actually in bed trying to fall asleep and then can’t sleep because you are so worried about NOT falling asleep. There is a name for that: Sleep Onset Insomnia (SOI) and a neuroscientist at Washington University in St. Louis shared that the pre-sleep stage (when your lights are off and your eyes are closed and you are starting to ‘let go’ of your day) is necessary. If you can’t fall asleep because you have too much on your mind – think of something else – like name cities that start with the alphabet in order…anything to help your mind let go.

Sometimes we have so much on our minds that we need to be able to give our brains a rest – literally! I recommend a bedtime ritual where you spend a good 45-60 minutes ‘getting ready’ for bed and sleep. When we were babies, our parents had us on a schedule and we got accustomed to it. As we got older and went to school, we may have skipped a few steps. As adults, we may do nothing beyond a few minutes to brush our teeth and change our clothes before falling into bed. For some they sleep – for most they toss and turn. If you take time to let your body ‘wind down’ and you adhere to some consistent rituals every night, that will signal to your brain (and most of your thoughts) to slow down and get ready to sleep. It works.

If you find that you are struggling with sleep on a pretty regular basis – you may have a condition that can benefit from medical assistance. This article on sleep disorders goes deeper into several sleep conditions and ways you can deal with them. However, it is important to note why sleep is so very important to us – from a productivity perspective.

Here are a few reasons why sleep is so very important in terms of our ability to do things during the day – and the research behind it:

~ Sleep deprivation can affect perception, memory and many executive functions (Killgore, 2010). What are executive functions? They are the what allow you to perform a ton of things which originate in the prefrontal cortex (frontal lobe of the brain). The main executive functions are: working memory, planning, prioritizing, organizing, goal setting and achievement, focusing, and the ever-present issue of time management. Functional MRI’s have indicated that creative thinking and innovation are actually more hampered by lack of sleep (Kaufmann, T., et al, 2016).

~ Sleep deprivation can severly affect the connectivity of three resting-state networks, including dorsal attention, which is the ability to focus one’s attention to a task; default mode, which has to do with our level of happiness; and hippocampal networks, which affects our ability to learn and remember (Kaufmann, T., et al, 2016)

Imagine the sleep deprivation effects on a college student! This is why pulling all-nighters are strongly discouraged at all costs. If someone were to study to memorize all day and night, then not sleep before a big exam, there is a very good chance that all the hard work will be a complete waste of time as the recalling of material could be negatively affected by the sheer lack of sleep. The common recommendation to get a good night’s sleep before a big event or something where you have to be ‘on your game’ – is really important. Now, hopefully, you will know a bit more about why that is, and ways you can do something about it.

You can start to improve your sleep by creating an evening or bedtime ritual a solid hour before you plan to actually be asleep. That includes putting away all your devices (this is a great time to plug everything in for the night so they are charged and ready for the next day), and relaxing. Many like to stretch or meditate before bedtime, others read some light material before bed – Magazine articles or short blogs are often great because you don’t get sucked into a lengthy storyline preventing you from stopping on time. Set your clothes out for the next day in advance, and make sure your day is pretty well planned out the night before so you can sleep soundly and not wake up in the middle of the night worrying you will forget something that could have been written down. If managing the tasks in your life is part of the problem, see some of my other blog posts, or consider coaching to tackle that particular issue. Anxiety can make sleeping a challenge, so do what you must in order to reduce any, and all, potential roadblocks to getting to bed on time and falling asleep easily. Nighty-night!

Kaufmann, T., Elvsåshagen, T., Alnæs, D., Zak, N., Pedersen, P. Ø., Norbom, L. B., … & Westlye, L. T. (2016). The brain functional connectome is robustly altered by lack of sleep. Neuroimage, 127, 324-332.

Killgore, W. D. (2010). Effects of sleep deprivation on cognition. Progress in brain research, 185, 105-129.