If you want to be a smarter worker you have to be in good health, thats a given.  We all struggle to find time to hit the gym, try to eat healthy, and maybe skip a beer on game day.  But do we underrate sleep?  Many of us stay up into the wee hours of the night trying to finish up paperwork or working on our blogs.  Some of us get up at 5am to start our commute to work.  An unlucky few have to do both.  Is sleep something we should be more concerned with?

The average person spends 36% of their life asleep.  If you live to be 90, you will sleep for 32 of those years.  Many of us see sleep as an illness or a burden.  We attempt to avoid it with energy drinks or caffiene.  Many feel that sleep is useless because we arent doing anything during it, we aren’t eating or drinking or excercising, but the truth is the brain is doing a lot more than we realize.

Sleep is turned on and off from a range of interactions in the brain.  We actually dont have a consensus on why we sleep, but 3 main hypothesis are widely believed:

  • Restoration: Certain genes activate only when sleeping which adds to this theory.
  • Energy Restoration: Energy saved during sleeping would help us during the next day.  This theory is less likely, as the amount of calories saved during a nights sleep is only about 110 calories.
  • Brain Processing and Information Consoledation: This theory suggests that we sleep so that the brain can take information it learned throughout the day and process it.  This is one of the strongest theories, because the brain processes information very thoroughly while sleeping.  When sleep deprived, the brain struggles to learn new information.

Studies have shown that a night of sleep enhances our ability to solve complex problems and come up with intuitive solutions.  This enhancement has been estimated to be as high as 3 times as strong when getting a full nights sleep as opposed to not sleep at all.  Our creativity is boosted dramatically after a good nights rest.  Good sleep increases your health, concentration, social skills, and attention to detail.  If you are struggling with a big problem, get a good nights sleep and tackle it in the morning.

Huge sections of our society are sleep deprived.  Many of us don’t get enough.  Teenagers need roughly 9 hours of sleep to have peak efficiency, but teenagers only get 5 hours of sleep on average.  Those who work night shifts, about 20% of the population, struggle to sleep during the day because the human body clock says it is time to wake up.  Not getting a good nights sleep can sometimes be as bad as not sleeping at all.  People who experience jetlag also struggle with this.

Sleep is extremely important, especially for those of us who travel a lot.  31% of drivers will fall asleep at the wheel at some point in their lifetime.   Even if it is only for a second, it could still be a deadly mistake.  100,000 accidents a year in the US are due to tiredness and loss of vigilence.  Chernobyl and the space shuttle challenger accidents were also related in part to tiredness and poor judgement because of long shifts.  Lack of sleep causes poor memory, increased impulsiveness, and poor judgement, all of which can lead to bad decisions.

So what can you do to help with sleep?  Try these tips

  • Limit your light exposure 30 minutes before you plan to go to sleep.  Going into a super bright bathroom is the last thing you should do.  Try to do anything you need to do to prepare for bed earlier in the night.  Make your bedroom as dark as possible.
  • Turn off your electronics, no cell phones, tablets, computers.  Dont watch tv until you fall asleep
  • Have the room set to a cool temperature.
  • Don’t drink caffiene after lunch
  • Open the windows to natural light in the mornings.

Myths about sleeping:

  • Teenagers are Lazy – False, teenagers just need more sleep at that age than most adults, and have a biological disposition to go to bed late and get up late.
  • We have to sleep 8 hours a night – False, that is just an average.  Everyone is different.  Some need more, some need less.
  • Older People Need Less Sleep – False, Age doesn’t change the need for sleep.