How Sleep Deprivation Kills Your Productivity

Productivity requires determination and focus. To reach your full productive potential, you’ll need more than willpower. You’ll need sleep. Sleep deprivation, that’s anytime that you get less than seven hours of sleep, can make or break your productivity goals. When you put sleep at the top of your priority list, you’re making room for success in other areas of your life.

The Brain Works While You Sleep

You may be unconscious while you sleep, but that doesn’t mean your brain and body aren’t hard at work. During sleep, hormones that shrink cell size are released, leaving room for fluid to flush through and clean out the molecular waste that’s built up between brain cells. Without enough sleep, the brain doesn’t have the time it needs to rid itself of these toxins that can break down cells and slow brain signals.

Sleep is also when the brain consolidates and organizes memories. While you sleep, the brain takes old memories and applies them to new ones so both can be used adaptively. Essentially, you’re learning while you sleep. Without sleep, this process slows down, which can’t help but impact how effective and productive you are.

Concentration and Focus

Sleep deprivation also hits certain areas of the brain harder than others. Most notably, the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain responsible for your executive functions like logic, reasoning, attention, and focus. It also plays a major role in creativity. When you’re tired, activity in the prefrontal cortex goes down, which in turn slows any activity that requires prolonged focus or attention.

In fact, the brain can slow enough that you experience “microsleeps” where brain waves will slow to a sleep state for brief periods of time. These microsleeps create lapses in memory, slowed reaction times, and breaks in concentration. They aren’t enough for you to register that your brain has fallen asleep, but you can see the effects as you struggle to stay focused on the task at hand.

As the prefrontal cortex’s activity goes down, the emotional center of the brain, the amygdala, experiences increased sensitivity to negative thoughts, emotions, and events. It leads to emotional responses that may be out of character for you. Higher emotional responses may cause you to lash out at a coworker or become angry about a phone call or incident with a client. Emotional changes create another avenue for distractions to interfere with your productivity goals.

How to Get the Sleep You Need

Good news—a few nights of adequate sleep and the effects of sleep deprivation disappear. The average adult needs a full seven to nine hours of sleep for the body to fully restore itself. There’s a lot you can do to help your mind and body prepare for better sleep.

  • Keep a Regular Bedtime: The human body loves consistency because it adapts the release of sleep hormones to follow your schedule.

  • Establish a Bedtime Routine: Bedtime routines are as good for adults as they are for children. Start your routine at the same time every night and include activities like reading a book or meditation that help you feel calm and relaxed. As your brain adapts, the start of your bedtime routine will signal the release of sleep hormones.

  • Sleep Supportive Diet: Many foods and natural supplements contain nutrients that support healthy sleep. Bananas, almonds, sour cherries, and dairy products are a few options that have the potassium, melatonin, magnesium, and calcium your body needs to produce the hormones that start the sleep cycle.

  • Regular Exercise and Time Outside: Exercise tires the mind and body for better sleep. Exercise outside and you’re also increasing your exposure to natural light, which helps regulate your sleep cycle.

Increased productivity starts long before you sit down for work. As you make time for sleep and develop healthy sleep habits, you’ll be ready and able to meet your productivity goals.

This is a guest blog from Sarah Johnson

sjohnson@tuck.com

Tuck is a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. Tuck has been featured on NBC News, NPR, Lifehacker, and Radiolab and is referenced by many colleges/universities and sleep organizations across the web.
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