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Sleep: the cornerstone of a sharp mind

There has been a tendency to write off the importance of sleep, simply because it is not a “visible activity”.

The growing body of evidence makes a convincing case to the contrary: getting your nightly seven to nine hours of sleep is one of the most proactive and effective steps you can take to make yourself as productive as possible.

New research in the United States, particularly in sports science, has repeatedly shown the link between good sleeping habits and high performance.

These findings are reinforced in our Vhi Health Insights report into the impact of poor sleep on employees. To illustrate the huge part that sleep plays in productivity, let’s first examine the consequences of poor sleep, before we outline some of the proven cognitive rewards you can reap when you get a solid night’s sleep.

How widespread are sleep problems in the workplace?

In the Vhi Health Insights report, the vast majority of corporate employees admitted to feeling tired, fatigued or not up to par at least several times a month. Nearly half (46%) of employees surveyed said they experienced the consequences of poor sleep on a weekly basis. Some 17% admitted to making mistakes on the job several times a month due to poor sleep.

So, how exactly does poor sleep impact productivity?

Just one night without your recommended seven to nine hours can leave you feeling fatigued, unfocused and irritable the following day. Disrupted sleep can negatively impact your levels of empathy and increases impulsiveness.

If these nights of poor sleep start to stack up, the situation becomes more serious. Brain fog sets in, making it difficult to concentrate on tasks or make decisions. Your creativity and problem-solving will suffer. Your risk of injury and accident at work (and elsewhere) increases. A tired brain will become so fatigued that it is unable to perceive how tired it is, falling into a numbed state that can lead to carelessness.

Chronic sleep debt can lead to long-term mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. One recent study highlighted how people with sleep problems experience more general productivity loss than those without them. The key takeaway was that sacrificing sleep will not help you get more done in the long run. Rather than wasted time, sleep is time wisely invested.

How can quality sleep boost my productivity?

Improved memory: Your memories are sharpened overnight. An important part of this is how sleep helps us to forget: Homer1a proteins activated when you become sleepy “declutter” the brain, removing unnecessary details so you can focus on what’s important. A good night’s sleep also greatly improves your chances of recalling information you had previously forgotten. So “sleeping on it” really can be a solid plan of action.

Better emotional control: Sleep helps us to put highly-emotive information in its proper context, so we are less likely to be driven by primitive urges and act on impulse. Anxiety will decrease and you can handle situations in a more considered, detached manner.

More agile thinking: Unconscious thought plays a pivotal role in creativity and decision-making. If you are grappling with complex problems, you may well be better off tackling them while asleep, when the brain’s ability to make connections is enhanced.

A “cleaner” mind: During sleep, the brain rids itself of harmful waste toxins that build up between cells during waking hours. This process may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. A helpful bit of cognitive cleaning that would take too much energy while you are awake.

For more articles on sleep, click here.