- Sleep disruption takes a toll on our professional success as much as it does our personal happiness.
- Lack of sleep has been shown to reduce the quality of our work and create problems in our professional relationships.
- Determining the causes of our sleep problems and implementing solutions can get us back on track.
How are you sleeping lately? During this trying time, reports suggest that sleep may be yet another casualty of the pandemic and the consequent change in our social and work structures. Most of us are familiar with the toll a lack of sleep can take on our mood and general happiness – but often we bring a ‘push through it’ attitude to these challenges, refilling our coffee cup to keep us going. After all, there’s work to be done. But what about the toll a lack of sleep takes on our work? There are two serious impacts sleep deprivation can take on our success, and that of the teams we manage and lead:
Quality: Lack of sleep has a myriad cognitive impact, including poorer decision making, reduced ability to focus, and increased errors. Quite simply, when we are not sleeping, we are less able to do our jobs efficiently and effectively.
Relationships: How well do you deal with disagreements when you are tired? Research shows that tiredness is correlated with increased anger and hostility, especially in circumstances where frustration is high. Given the many adaptations we’ve been asked to make in recent months and the unavoidable challenges that come with rapid change, lack of sleep increases the likelihood that we’ll act – and react – in ways that could have a detrimental effect on our relationships with peers and teams. So, what can we do? After all, sleep problems are in issue even without the added stresses of the current moment. Fortunately, there are some simple tips we can implement that are proven to help with sleep difficulties:
The Problem: Disruptions in Schedule.
The Solution: Establish – or re-establish, your sleep schedule. Choose a realistic bedtime and stick to it.
With schedules disrupted and work from home the ‘new normal’, our usual sleep routines may have suffered. We may be waking and going to bed at different times, working later than usual, or shifting our working hours to accommodate childcare, home schooling or elder care responsibilities. Often as adults, we assume we can easily adapt to less predictable sleep and wake hours, but research shows that adult benefit from a regular bedtime.
The Problem: Too many screens.
The Solution: Shut down an hour or two before bedtime.
With the shift to remote work, it can be difficult to delineate work and personal time. Additionally, with other avenues of entertainment such as gyms and restaurants closed, we may be relying more than ever on technology to fill our spare time. But the blue light emitted by phones and devices is known to disrupt our bodies’ natural sleep cycles. Additionally, information overload can set our minds buzzing, making it hard to wind down at the end of the day. By shutting off our devices at least an hour prior to sleep time, we can decrease some of the sleep-disrupting effects of tech.
The Problem: Too little physical activity during the day.
The Solution: Exercise.
Another side effect of the work-from-home shift is that, for some people, their natural forms of exercise and activity have been removed. No longer do we need to walk to the subway station, go up and down stairs between floors, or walk a few blocks to grab lunch. Additionally, with gyms and other activities shut down, our physical activity may have fallen by the wayside. Evidence is strong that exercise improves sleep, although it may take some experimentation to figure out what time of day works best for you (for example, exercising in the evening might be energizing for some, and a morning workout might work better in that case). Whether it’s a walk or run, a workout video (you’re sure to finds a workout you’ll enjoy on YouTube) or even working more lifestyle exercise into your day (through household chores, walking to do errands when possible, etc.), bumping up your physical activity can help you sleep better.
The Problem: Stress & anxiety.
The Solution: Find a relaxation technique that works for you and work it into your day as often as is realistic.
Stress & anxiety are particularly insidious causes of sleep problems because they can trigger a vicious cycle, where your lack of sleep is causing anxiety, and the increased anxiety aggravates your sleep problems. Disrupting this cycle is critical. There are a multitude of stress management techniques you can try: exercise, progressive relaxation, deep breathing, walks in nature, and meditation are some of the most common. Whatever you choose, try to practice regularly to keep stress & anxiety at bay.
As always, when your physical or mental health becomes a concern, speak to your medical professional. In addition, the National Sleep Foundation offers these quick tips for improving sleep.