Not Getting Enough? (Part 1)

We’ve all heard it:  Americans are sleep deprived. Recently I listened to a sleep expert address sleep deprivation and decided I must learn more about the topic. I must confess: I am the poster child for sleep disorders. Not the medical kind – called sleep apnea. Just the kind that manifests itself with a cycle of falling asleep and waking up a few hours later one night, not being able to sleep the next night, and no defined “sleeping times”.  Admit it — you know what I’m talking about.

So, here is what I learned. Many Americans seem to thrive on the fact that we can “get by” with so little sleep. We talk about it too! In every elevator in every office building we overhear,  “OMG – I worked so late last night answering emails from my important client in Japan and with the time change, I only got 4 hours of sleep, but that is about the standard for me today”  while  holding a giant cup of coffee in hand. Often we wear this fact like a badge of importance or pride.

Why are we, productivity and efficiency consultants, writing about sleep? We certainly value time management and tout the benefits of effective calendaring, project and task management, etc. However, we also know that good health impacts overall success. When we interviewed successful, productive executives and professionals many stated making time for exercise and putting a priority on good health was an important factor in their success.

What are the causes for sleep deprivation? Lots of reasons: caffeine, watching the late night news, stress, and technology. We seem to have problems “turning off.” Many of our clients say the only time they have time to deal with the emails is after the rest of the family has gone to bed. We sleep with our cell phones next to our beds. Yesterday a friend told me she was up at 4 AM as she had received a text message – that was sent in error no less – and it woke her. When I asked why she didn’t turn off that alert at night, she said she might get an important text! That’s crazy. If there is an emergency in the middle of the night, and we hope there is not, chances are you will get a phone call — not a text. We don’t take sleep seriously; we don’t make it a priority. We don’t have a routine. We don’t have good sleeping habits.

OK. No routine. No habit. The cost of sleep deprivation is enormous. In 2013 the  country’s top sleep researchers and corporate leaders came together at the Corporate Sleep Health Summit, hosted by Harvard Medical School,  to discuss the latest research and the impact of sleep deprivation on the American work force and corporate bottom-line.

Most of us have heard that the cost of not enough sleep results in a number of health issues such as:

  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease

The mental costs are just as insidious:

  • Impairs memory
  • Dumbs us down
  • Causes accidents
  • Impacts creativity and innovation
  • Lowers job satisfaction
  • Compromises decision making
  • Limits your ability to think on your feet

Lack of sleep affects the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the area that controls innovation, self-control and creativity. A 1999 study found that just 24 hours of sleep loss impairs innovative thinking and flexible decision making.

Two-thirds of Americans report that getting too little sleep was a major source of stress for them in the past month, according to a recent HuffPost survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults. And the effects of both stress and sleep deprivation could be seeping into their work lives.

Sleep Deprivation And Stress Are A Vicious Cycle.

“In the sleep world, stress is to sleep as yin is to yang — opposite forces that are forever linked,” Chris Winter, M.D. told The Huffington Post in April. “Stress prevents sleep. Sleep deprivation increases stress and its consequences.”

So our work lives are causing us to become stressed (eight in 10 Americans are stressed about their jobs), and in turn, we are less able to get our work done because we’re not getting enough sleep. One study found that 24 hours of sleep deprivation can significantly raise stress hormone levels.

24/7 Jobs Are Taking A Big Toll On Sleep Health.

Changing work cultures and constant connection to smartphones and digital devices is wreaking havoc with many Americans’ sleep patterns. The cost of more flexible work schedules is that many of us find that we never really turn off, responding to emails past midnight and working through weekends and vacations. According to new sleep survey data presented at the Summit, 72 percent of American workers polled said that they sleep with their smartphones next to their beds in the on position, and 45 percent send emails and texts often or always right before they fall asleep at night.

Today I spoke with two employees at a large law firm who shared the following: They receive an email from a partner stating that work must be done by early morning. They are expected to delegate the work – even in the middle of the night – so the partner’s request will be met. Then come early morning, the partner in question never acknowledges the request; it is expected that their requests will be met 24/7 without any additional thank you.

“As a result of us being so connected, we’re not only having a negative effect on ourselves, but we’re having a profound effect on those with whom we work,” said Leslie Perlow, Harvard Business School professor and author of Sleeping With Your Smartphone, in a 2012 Harvard Business Review webinar.

Now that you know the “cost” of sleep deprivation, try to get to sleep and in our next blog we will give you practical advice – from the experts – as to how you can learn to become a better sleeper.  Good night!

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