One day, in my day job someone wanted a task done and I had to think — I tried, but, I did not have any thoughts. I felt numb. I felt lethargic. I felt braindead.
I had been observing these symptoms for a couple of months now. I recently had a physical exam and everything came normal. Some of my colleagues (who were in their 40s) said our faculties slow down once we hit 40. I am getting close to that now I thought this can’t be happening to me. I was once extremely sharp and brain was razor sharp. I wondered what’s going on.
PAUSE & REFLECT
I have been reading a lot of about peak performance and how we can perform at our very best. I took note of my daily routines to see if there were obvious issues that stand out. I strapped on a fitbit to keep track of my activity, sleep, weight etc.
I was sleeping less than 5 hours a day, I was not exercising and I was not eating right. Huh! could this be what’s triggering my symptoms? I thought
I decided to explore this hypothesis and read a lot about sleep – luckily there is a lot of literature now in recent years on this. In particularly recommend, “The Sleep Revolution” – Ariana Huffington”. Several ideas in this post have been drawn from and inspired from this book.
To get started let me summarize key impacts from lack of sleep, from various scientific studies and findings:
- Lack of sleep has a major impact in regulating weight (I..e, we might be packing extra pounds by not sleeping)
- Weakens our immune system and makes it more likely to get garden variety of illnesses like common cold.
- Studies have found people with sleep disorders are more likely (2-2.5x) to get a heatstroke
- Drowsy drivers are involved in over 300,000 accidents each year and 6,400 die from it.
- Sleep deprivation greatly reduces our cognitive abilities and studies have found strong connections with every known mental disorder (including Alzheimers)
Leaving all these scary facts aside — simply put
“lack of sleep is the BIGGEST KILLER of productivity”
“Americans are not missing work because of insomnia. They are still going to their jobs, but they’re accomplishing less because they’re tired. In an information-based economy, it’s difficult to find a condition that has greater effect on productivity” — Ronald Kessler, Professor @ Harvard Medical School
So why are we still trying to avoid getting our fair share of sleep when there are so many benefits for each of us?
- FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out. We have been trained to think in our modern culture that sleep is for the weak, if we sleep we miss out on precious waking hours to get stuff done. Less sleep means more time to get stuff done.. Right? Perhaps! Thats one part of the equation, especially in modern knowledge based economy where we need to use our brains, creativity to deliver.
Productivity = Waking Hours * Productive efficiency
Lack of sleep is basically ruining our ‘productive efficiency’. We owe it to ourselves and the world around us to be our best productive persons we can be.
To make matters worse lack of sleep compounds. Let me explain, remember the all nighters or 24 hrs straight work we may have done one in a while to hit a deadline— and how we feel the next day in terms of creativity, energy? That’s exactly how we will feel if we sleep 6 hrs/day for just 2 weeks.
- DEADLINES — Yes, everyone has a deadline to hit and deliver, whether is a client waiting on a report or a software release we have to deploy before midnight. To complicate the matters most works places are setup perfectly to interrupt flow and creativity that make it even different to meet deadline in creative professions or writing software. So, we choose to resort to working laters in the day from home eating into our sleep schedule
- STRESS: Stress disturbs our ability to get to sleep and stay as sleep impacting sleep duration and quality. There are so many types and causes of stress that are having a impact on us that perhaps is a separate article. Mindfulness, Breathing exercises and exercises are proven to help reduce stress and help you get to sleep.
- TIMEZONES and TRAVEL: In the global workplace and team – working across timezone and traveling is another issues we have to deal with that hugely impacts our sleep quantity and quality. I have personally been guilty of taking call late at night to work with my teams across the globes and wake up early to be in a meeting with the teams. Travel across many timezones confuses our body clock making it tough to get back to your sleep cycle – this is famously called the Jet lag.
- TECHNOLOGY & SCREENS everywhere! We are to blame ourselves, I am guilty of watching netflix/youtube videos late into the night to get a dose of enjoyment before I sleep. I am guilty of falling sleeping with the tablet in my hands. Blue spectrum light is proven to disrupt sleep and use of mobile devices closer to bed time can cause it more difficult to fall and stay asleep.
HOW MUCH TO SLEEP?
So, how much sleep is enough? National sleep foundation gives a simple guideline that Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep (with a minimum of seven hours/night). However, each of us have to experiment as to what works best for us in that range.
SO, HOW TO DO IT?
- MEASURE – You can’t track what you measure. So, having a fitbit strapped onto my hand that gave me some interesting sleep stats (more to follow on this), was a eye opener. Whether you write down in a journal or have a device that tracks your sleep measure! Thats the best way to see whats going on as you make adjustments.
- MINDSET — Of course, I can tell this to you – but you have to make sleep a priority in your life. If you are still not a convert that sleep is important to us – read up on it there is a lot of literature and studies in this area. But, the key is to decide that getting the right amount of sleep (at least 7 hours – perhaps more) is important to you.
- NAPS – the secret weapon. I think of them as a secret mini vacation. There is no best time to nap take it when your energy is flagging. Perhaps sneak into your car- turn on the AC nap for a short time. NASA reports have confirmed that strategic naps can be used to effectively promote performance and alertness in operations settings. Several popular leaders are known to take naps including John F Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Vladimir Putin, Pope Francis and Charlie Rose — if they can take a nap each of us can!
- NO GADGETS IN YOUR BED ROOM. I am still working on this — but I am trying hard to not touch any gadgets before getting to bed. Also, remember to turn on Night shift (if you use apple devices here is a how-to ) thats helpful by cutting out the blue light that I talked above.
- TRAVEL HACKs: I am yet to try this but I have read that Argonne Anit-Jet-Lag-Diet is designed to avoid jet lag. It’s a diet created at Argonne National Labs in USA that was designed to help workers quickly adjust to shifting time zones I.e., most of us now-a-days.
There are lot of tips other include clothing, temperature, showers before bed etc to help you get to sleep see if you can read up on them there are simply too many to list here but I covered a few basic things here.
EATING MY OWN DOG FOOD
For a few months now, I started sleeping at-least 8 hours a day I shutdown at 9.30pm and wakeup at 6AM. Within about 10 days I started observing, I feel fresh, clear and I can actually think again. It felt great. I felt like I got back my capacity to think again. It felt great. And so I changed.
I have been consistent at this practice. Though, I’m still working on my sleep quality, duration etc – I target to get at-least 7.5 hrs day average sleep which I found, by some experimentation was sufficient for myself. Here are my personal Fitbit sleep insights for the last week.
“Baby steps are the royal road to skill” – Daniel Coyle
I like to keep things simple. Here is your ONE call to action:
- If you are not measuring you sleep — start it today.
- If you have been measuring your sleep and find that you are not getting enough what 1 change can you do today in this list to help you sleep more or sleep better.
On my end, I am continuing to work on getting technology out of the bedroom and experiment with naps, to take my sleep to the next level.