The value of sleep has come under increasing prominence recently with a number of articles associating sleep deprivation. A March 31st article by the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-39444997) referenced a study, published by the Rotterdam School of Management which said that lack of sleep does not only mean tired workers, but can also cause “unwanted” behaviour, which it links to lower levels of self-control. The study says that such sleep-related disruption can cost billions in lost productivity.
“Unwanted behaviour in the workplace often stems from selfish impulses that are not kept in check by self-control,” says researcher Laura Giurge of the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University in the Netherlands. It further postulates that lack of sleep can also make it more difficult for people at work to overcome feelings of failure, leading to heightened workplace stress.
Sleep studies have linked lack of sleep to obesity, mental health challenges and stress. These are cyclic conditions as they can initiate poor sleep, and then lack of sleep exacerbates and amplifies the condition itself. You are now on a spiral.
Social media is thought to be our latest attack on sleep. According to a University of Pittsburgh report (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26791323) “fear of exclusion” is driving people to sacrifice sleep in order to stay on top of their social media streams, leading to stress, binge eating, substance abuse and stress. The corollary, of course, is that sleep can reverse all of these health trends so more sleep can improve physical and mental health – and social media engagement should never cause you to defer sleep as you attempt to sip information from a fire hose of data.
Yet these aren’t the only circumstances where sleep is our friend, Sleep can be a vital buffer in decision making, giving our complex brains the opportunity for background processing and for more nuanced and thoughtful strategies to emerge. Your “back brain” is great at context and insight and you’ll often find the result to be more than you imagined. This is especially true in workplace communications where reaction can lead to regret, and resentments provoke risky behaviour.
In situations where you feel undervalued, exploited or not listened to it is tempting to write the classic email or vent at a meeting, letting the target have it with both barrels. As a general therapeutic rule you should definitely write that email, giving full vent to the demon on your relationship(s), and absolutely taking no prisoners. You need a catharsis to vent out your pain and frustration, but under no circumstances address the email which prevents an accidental “send”!
Give yourself a night and then edit your communication to reduce or eliminate the emotional and focus only on actions that drive desirable outcomes. Telling someone how you feel in these kinds of exchanges rarely yields the results or reactions people expect, and forcing a defensive position isn’t conducive to compromise or collaboration. Taking the heat and immediacy out of the situation allows your “cool head” to prevail.
Sleep is your friend, so sleep on it – but make sure you sleep. This brings me on to “where” and “how much”.
The first rule of sleep club is to get comfortable. Consider your sleeping environment. Select your duvet filling to maintain but not over heat you, pillows supportive but allowing airflow. If your mattress is old then at least get a topper. You need to be cradled and maintain good room and body temperature, with airflow.
The “how much” question is hotly debated. Historically, the eight hour sleep recommendation is a relatively recent phenomenon. Historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a 2001 paper reflecting 16 years of research which showed that before the late 17th Century and before urban street lighting, that most people slept in two phases; a first sleep and a second sleep. The circadian nature of that anecdote was born out by psychiatrist Thomas Wehr’s 1990 experiment in which a group of people were plunged into darkness for 14 hours every day for a month. Towards the end of the period people adopted a very distinct sleeping pattern of four hours sleep followed by two hour of wakefulness and then another four sleeping hours.
In modern environments, when we wake during the night we either re-engage with distractions brought to our bedrooms by mobile devices which mask our demand for more sleep, or we worry about oversleeping, or we simply can’t return to sleep in a condition known as sleep maintenance insomnia. The important thing to remember is not to panic or assume there is a problem. Don’t force the hours, as there is evidence from a Japanese study that oversleeping is as bad for our metabolism as under sleeping, and don’t worry if two phases of sleep work best for you as history is on your side!
Look at sleep as an essential tool, not only for a better quality of life but for a better quality of engagement. Start tonight.