I’ve been feeling really tired lately. It’s that tired feeling that drags on for days and days until you finally give in and have a real rest from work (I’ve planned a week off in October). Trying to work on projects that require lots of thought, mental clarity, and—I can’t even think of the word I want, because I’m tired, which proves my point: It’s hard to do good work when you’re tired.
But there’s a lot of nuance to how sleep affects our work. Apart from feeling tired, sleep deprivation affects our health and our ability to focus, and sleeping well (or taking naps) can help us learn faster and improve our memory recall.
Understanding how sleep affects my productivity and my ability to produce my best work has made me prioritize getting lots of sleep every night. I’ve been experimenting with what works best for me, and these days I average about seven hours asleep, from eight and a half hours in bed.
I wanted to share with you some of the ways sleep can affect your work, and some of the best tips I’ve found in my research to help you get a better night’s rest.
Being Tired Will Hurt Your Productivity
Being tired sucks. It’s hard to even make it to lunchtime when you’re struggling through a workday without enough sleep. Sleep deprivation makes it hard to concentrate, and makes us more likely to get distracted—a terrible combination.
We also tend to fall back on our old habits when we’re tired. This is great if we’ve built healthy habits, but if we haven’t, being tired means we won’t have the willpower to make healthy choices. Instead, we’ll give in to those old habits of eating low quality food, not exercising, and watching lots of TV. The good part about this is that you can build up whatever habits you want to have, and once they’re really ingrained, you’ll fall back on them when you’re tired.
So if you have a habit of going for a run every morning, when you’re tired and lacking willpower, you’ll get up and go for a run—because it’s a habit, it’s the easiest thing to do. You don’t have to think about it or make any choices, you just do it because it’s what you always do. Other habits like eating a healthy breakfast, drinking lots of water, walking to work, or reading at lunchtime will work the same way.
Naps Can Help You Get Back on Track
Not everyone can nap on a workday, but I hope that will change soon. If you’re lucky enough to work from home or to have a napping spot in your office, you can take advantage of the benefits during your workdays. If not, maybe the research into napping will help you lobby your boss to set up a napping spot. And of course, you can still take advantage of a good nap on the weekends.
Napping has lots of benefits, but perhaps the most obvious is that it makes you less tired. And in fact, it’s one of the most effective ways of boosting your energy levels when you feel the day dragging. A quick nap is more effective than a cup of coffee, so if you get the chance to grab a nap in the afternoon, give it a go. You can also have a cup of coffee before your nap so it kicks in when you wake up. Combining caffeine and naps is even more effective than either solution alone.
Naps are also useful for learning new skills and committing things to memory. Sleeping after you’ve learned something new lets your brain take it from temporary storage to a more permanent location. You brain is then free to fill up with more learning once you wake up. Your memories are solidified somewhat during sleep, so learning something new and revising it after you’ve slept is a great way to reinforce new skills or information.
How Much Is Enough?
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to get eight hours of sleep every night. Although it’s easy to remember because we hear it so often, this is too simple a guideline to apply to everyone. The truth is, our sleeping needs change as we age (teenagers actually need to sleep later, so don’t give them a hard time for sleeping in!) and can even change from day to day, depending on how much energy we’re expending and how much sleep we need to catch up on from previous nights.
You’ll need to experiment to work out what’s right for you, but most adults need around seven to eight hours of sleep on an average night. Sleeping too much can be a health hazard as well (ever wake up after a big sleep-in and still feel tired?) so don’t go overboard.
Five Ways to Improve the Quality of Your Sleep:
Once you’ve got the number of hours worked out, here are some other ways to improve the quality of your sleep:
1. Go to bed at the same time every night
And get up at the same time. Your body will adjust to a regular schedule for sleeping and waking times, helping you fall asleep and wake up faster.
2. Get plenty of natural light
Exposing yourself to natural light helps your internal body clock to regulate itself. Even on a cloudy day, being outside will give you plenty of natural light exposure, helping you to wake up faster in the morning and fall asleep easier at night.
3. Put your screens away at night
The blue light that comes from computer, tablet, and phone screens reduces your levels of melatonin, which helps your body know when to sleep. Put away electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime to help your body get ready for sleep. If you’re struggling with this, at least try an app like f.lux to dampen the effects of looking at screens late at night.
4. Wind down before bed
Get your body ready to sleep with a winding down routine. Avoid heavy meals or strenuous exercise right before bed. Try a warm shower or drink and read a book to help you relax and go to sleep faster.
5. Check your sleeping position
We all have our favorite sleeping positions, but you might need to switch it up for optimal sleeping. Lying on your stomach, for instance, can lead to neck pain. Check out this guide to sleeping positions to find the best one for you.
Even if you can’t nap on the job, getting enough good quality sleep every night can make a huge difference to how productive you are. With so much to get done every day, the last thing you want to be worrying about is staying awake!
Have you found anything else that helps you improve your sleep? I’m always collecting good sleeping tips, so let me know in the comments if you have one that I missed.