“I’ll sleep when I’m dead”, said the frazzled entrepreneur to anyone who ventured to express concern. If this sounds like you, you’re among more than a third of Americans who don’t get enough sleep, according to CDC.
But those ambitious folk burning the midnight oil with the belief they’re getting the edge on the competition need to rethink. Because too little sleep can not only damage your cognitive performance, it can even accelerate your journey on the road to death.
A landmark study, published in the Journal of Sleep Research, and based on data collected from a cohort of almost 44,000 adults in a lifestyle and medical survey conducted in Sweden from 1997, followed the fate of participants for up to 13 years after. It found that under 65s who got five hours of sleep or less on seven days per week had a 65% higher mortality rate than those getting six or seven hours of sleep.
So, it isn’t just a case of being tired now to reap the rewards of your hard work later. And if that’s the long-term payoff, what about the short-term?
Last year, research by the University of Michigan found that total sleep deprivation causes deficits in a number of high-order cognitive processes such as working memory and problem solving. The results also suggest that caffeine may not reduce costly errors in procedural performance that have been linked to sleep loss.
Dr Michael Breus, also known as The Sleep Doctor, says lack of sleep hurts our ability to concentrate at work because the neurons in your brain fire slower and weaker when we are tired.
He adds: “Poor sleep negatively impacts your performance, including your memory and cognitive skills, which help you absorb information and develop ideas. When your neurons fire slower, it also delays your reaction time, which can also be dangerous.”
Meg Riley, certified sleep science coach and editor-in-chief at sleep health website SleepJunkie.org says that, without enough sleep, we’re likely to feel irritated and be more prone to stress. It also reduces our ability to retain new knowledge and make well-thought-out decisions.
She explains: “During sleep, your brain’s glymphatic system is hard at work scrubbing away gray matter and other waste build-up, preparing it for a new day of information and stimuli, much like how your body’s lymphatic system rids the rest of your internal systems from toxins.”
Once we understand the massive benefits sleep brings to our short and long-term health, we can start to proritize sleep and use it as a tool for success, rather viewing it as a mere inconvenience.
Seven expert tips to help you sleep for success
Catnap at the office
Riley says that if your situation allows for a quick mid-day nap, then do it. But, she warns, naps are most beneficial when they’re 15 to 25 minutes long. Sleep longer than this and you’ll likely be waking up in a later stage of sleep, leaving you feeling more tired and groggy than you felt pre-nap.
Try caffeine naps
Caffeine naps are also useful for a midday pick-me-up. Drink a cup of coffee and then go to sleep for 15 to 20 minutes. Caffeine takes about 15 to 20 minutes to take effect, so you’ll be waking up as soon as your cup of coffee kicks in.
Riley suggests planning any naps at least six hours before your scheduled bedtime so as to not impede your night’s sleep.
Buy a sunrise alarm clock
One sleep-enhancing gadget everybody should consider is a sunrise alarm clock to help you start the day on a peaceful note and to reinforce your natural circadian rhythm, says Riley. At night, these sunrise alarms gradually dim, telling your body that it’s time for bed. Then, in the mornings, these alarms get brighter leading up to your desired wake time.
Download a sleep app
The CDC recommends adults get seven to nine hours of sleep each night and sleep experts advise going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, which takes planning. Sleep apps will do the math for you and help you determine the best time to wake, which is ideally during a light stage of sleep.
Create pre-bed routines
Try journaling and doing light stretches before hitting the hay, says Riley. She explains: “Journaling allows you to get your worries out on paper while gentle stretches activate the parasympathetic nervous system and help you unwind for sleep.”
Control ambient light
Dr Breus recommends using blackout shades to reduce as much light and noise pollution as possible, especially for those living in urban areas. He also suggests getting at least 15 minutes of sunlight every morning. The absence of light sends signals to the body that it is time to rest, while daylight tells us it’s time to wake up.
Improve sleep quality
Cut out caffeinated drinks after 2pm and alcohol three hours before bed, advises Dr Breus. He also says that daily exercise can improve sleep, but not if you do it in the four hours before bedtime. This is because exercise leaves us feeling energized and stimulated, delaying our transition to sleep, while body temperature stays elevated for about four hours after exercise. A falling core body temperature is required to feel drowsy.