Getting some shuteye can benefit your productivity and overall health.
Tossing and turning the night before a big presentation at work, or going without sleep for reasons you just can’t explain – there’s little doubt that failure to get a good night’s sleep leaves you groggy and dazed, at best. But the cognitive effects of sleep deprivation, whether you miss an entire night or just an hour each evening, could cost you in ways you never imagined.
Evidence from University of California–San Diego researchers suggests sleep times are directly linked to earnings. Their findings, currently under review, found that sleeping one extra hour each night increased average earnings by 16 percent. For their average study participant, this meant an extra $ 6,000 per year.
“The worst bout of insomnia I’ve had in my life, I went five nights without sleeping,” recalls 36-year-old Amanda McCauley of Omaha, Nebraska. “I was on a business trip, so I had to work the entire time. I had to be up, moving around, engaging and productive pretty early in the morning, and pull a few late nights.”
McCauley, who works in IT, says she hasn’t seen the long-term effects of her sleepless nights, but knows her insomnia has definite mental effects, which, in turn, affect her at work.
“I have to try and keep busy [on those days], because if I don’t keep busy, that’s when I start to suffer,” she says.
Sleep and Your Mind
The cognitive skills we depend on in our professional lives are affected when we fail to get good sleep. Our abilities to focus and concentrate, reason, remember and make good judgment calls all suffer. Emerging research suggests our brains depend on a nightly bath of sorts to keep them functioning at their best.
“It’s been coined the glymphatic system,” says A. Thomas Perkins, a sleep expert and director of the Sleep Medicine Program at Raleigh Neurology in Raleigh, North Carolina. “This system sort of flushes the brain of all metabolic waste, and it does this every night, getting in between the cells and neurons, purging the brain of the metabolic byproducts of the day.”
In 2013, a team of researchers at the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York found that the brain actually makes room for this nightly flushing of cerebrospinal fluid. Space between brain cells increases during sleep, letting it essentially wash the brain of “toxic molecules.”
Perkins explains that not getting enough sleep or not sleeping deeply enough hinders your brain’s ability to perform this nightly flush, possibly leading to the cognitive effects you experience the next day.
“You essentially have a brain trying to function the next day with junk laying around – metabolic byproduct and wastes that interfere with its functioning,” he says.
When your job involves major responsibilities, a lack of sleep could be disastrous. The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters, the Exxon-Valdez oil spill and the 2013 deadly Bronx commuter train derailment were all blamed, at least in part, on fatigue.
For the average person, a lack of sleep could translate to the inability to focus on what’s being said at a meeting, to pull information together into an important report or to engage with co-workers in a collaborative and collegial manner.
Effects on Work Relationships
“Once I hit the pillow, I’ll be knocked out right away,” says 47-year-old Ruthie Williams, a social worker in a skilled nursing facility in Wilmington, North Carolina. “It’s torture because sometimes I feel like, ‘Oh, this is going to be a good night; this is it,’ and then a few hours later, I’m wide-awake.”
Williams averages between three and five hours of sleep each night. Her days are punctuated by periods of high energy and extreme exhaustion at the most inopportune times. For her, a lack of sleep means a shorter temper, something her co-workers might experience more often than she, or they, would like.
“I’m already Type A, but when I’m tired, I’m just in a bad mood,” she says. “I can feel myself being snappy.”