Friday, March 16, 2018 is World Sleep Day, an annual awareness event created and hosted by World Sleep Society. With this day dedicated to sleep awareness, the Society focuses bringing researchers, health professionals, and the public together to recognize sleep and its important impact on health.
The 2018 event incorporates the slogan, “Join the Sleep World, Preserve Your Rhythms to Enjoy Life,” intended to emphasize the importance of circadian rhythms in healthy sleep, and inspired by the recent Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine assigned to three researchers who have dedicated their studies to circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms refer to cyclic events within the body such as rhythms in hormones, body temperature and alertness levels. Biological clocks from within the body produce circadian rhythms, but environmental factors such as sunlight also affect them. Preserving regular circadian rhythms have been found to lower the risk of sleep disorders, mental health disorders and chronic health issues such as obesity and diabetes.
The 11th Annual World Sleep Day has partnered with Thrive Global, Westin Hotels & Resorts and Ferring Pharmaceuticals.
Karen Plum, director of research and development for Advanced Workplace Associates, addresses sleep and workplace performance in the article below.
The Impact Of sleep On Your Performance At Work
By Karen Plum
The latest research from Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) identifies the factors that carry the greatest impact for cognitive performance — so organizations and individuals can understand the importance of sleep and implement practices to make sure everyone is able to perform at their peak.
We’re often reminded of how important getting a good night’s rest is, but we also read headlines about business moguls functioning on just a couple of hours each night. What we’ve found is that sleep is connected to many other areas of our lives and relates to the factors we need to bring our best brain to work with us.
How important is sleep? Simply put, sleep helps our brains to perform properly, it quite literally prepares us for the following day. When you are asleep your body is busy repairing muscles, consolidating memories, releasing hormones, and regulating growth and appetite. If you’re not getting enough sleep, your body doesn’t have time to complete all of the phases, and as a result, you’ll wake up less prepared to concentrate, make decisions, or engage fully with daily tasks.
Research studies conclude that sleep deprivation has a negative effect on almost all brain functions including decision making, problem solving, memory, control over our emotions, and behaviors, as well as our ability to accommodate change. Without sufficient sleep, our reaction times may be slower, we’re likely to make more mistakes, and take longer to complete tasks. All of these will impact overall performance and also relationships at work.
According to the American Sleep Association, a working-age adult needs an average of eight hours of uninterrupted, good quality sleep in order to be in peak condition the next day. However, despite wanting and needing good quality sleep, its often difficult to achieve, for a variety of reasons.
Poor quality sleep can be the result of different causes including difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep (waking up often and finding it hard to get back to sleep), waking up early in the morning, disturbed sleep through noise, worry, children, and other aspects that just wake us up. As a consequence, we may feel tired, irritable, and unable to concentrate — it’s also likely that we will still try to function as normal and attempt the things we need to do without recognizing that we are in fact sleep deprived.
Despite being well aware of the benefits of sleep, getting a good night’s sleep in our busy, pressured lives remains difficult. However, given what is at stake, trying to develop some new habits so that we can all perform better in the long run, is undeniably worth it. If you’re one of the many people suffering from difficulty sleeping, you’ve probably already explored a few things that are supposed to help but do keep trying as there may be something that you haven’t attempted, that could work for you.
A regular sleeping schedule can have a big impact. As often as you can, make an effort to go to bed and get up at the same time each day. This can help establish a routine, reinforcing the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Try creating a bedtime ritual — experts believe that doing the same thing each night tells our bodies that it’s time to rest. Taking a warm bath, reading, or listening to relaxing music eases the transition between wakefulness and sleepiness.
Leave a few hours between dinner and bedtime, being sure not to eat a heavy meal right before bed. Reserve protein-rich meals for breakfast and lunch when your body needs the energy. Don’t do any stimulating activities, such as working out at the gym, right before bed — they tend to keep you more alert and make relaxation difficult. Alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine are all stimulants and they can take hours to wear off. Although alcohol may initially induce sleep, it can disrupt it later in the night as the body metabolizes the alcohol, causing arousal.
Struggling to concentrate? Sleep on it. Sleep pods are popping up everywhere in the latest workplaces, and they do provide a designated place to go and rest, but if you’ve had a bad night, or a run of bad nights and you’re struggling to concentrate during the day, how many of us could say we’d happily take a nap in the office? That being said, providing places for naps is one thing, whereas, employees feeling comfortable enough to take a nap is something else.
Is it more important that you continue to force your brain to concentrate and perform when it really can’t? Or, would it be more economical to take a power nap and recharge? This links to our research on productivity — where we explored trust and the supportiveness of managers towards their staff. If you have a supportive manager and feel trusted by them and your colleagues, then it’s more likely you’d feel comfortable taking a nap if you really need one. If you feel that others don’t value you or are skeptical about what you are doing — then taking a nap would probably help reinforce those negative perceptions.
Whether you are an employer or employee, if you’re seriously considering rest breaks in your workplace, you’ll need to discuss it and establish naps within the range of acceptable work practices. Gauge opinions and ensure you have mutual trust and sound working relationships, so that when you come to implement sleep as a workplace behavior, everyone is on board and understands what is expected.
As director of research and development for UK-based Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA), Plum is responsible for the R&D activities undertaken under AWA’s Workplace Performance Innovation Network (PIN). A Business studies graduate, Plum spent her earlier career in HR before joining AWA, over 10 years ago. In her consulting work, she specializes in working as a senior coach with leaders, supporting them in creating the conditions to bring about strategic change in the way their people work.