Sleep, blessed sleep. We all crave it. Many of us do not get enough of it. In today’s world, it would seem that there are fewer hours in our day to accomplish the ever-increasing number of items on our “To-Do List.” One of the first corners we cut is the number of hours we devote to sleep. You go to bed an hour or two later than you should and rise from your bed (or computer chair) feeling less rested than the day before. A sacrifice begrudgingly made in order to meet that almighty deadline at work while maintaining the status quo in our day to day home life. After all, it is only a few hours of missed shut-eye that can be made up on your time off. Right? Our performance at work, measured in quantity and quality of our assignments, will benefit from the time shaved from sleep and repurposed for task completion. Correct?
We reason that we can and will adapt to chronic sleep loss. We couldn’t be more wrong.
Sleep is Vital
Our bodies depend on the time we spend asleep to repair and clear away damaged cells, aid our immune system, rest our brains and cardiovascular systems, and take the many thoughts we have during our day and commit the most important of them to memory. Most humans require 6-8 hours of sleep every day.
All of us cycle in and out of REM and NREM sleep. Approximately 75% of our time asleep is spent in the NREM (non-rapid eye movement) cycle. It is during this sleep phase that important hormones are released, cells are repaired and replaced and energy is restored. The remaining 25% of the time we are sleeping, REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is taking place. This is when we dream, process emotions, centralize memories and handle stress.
Restorative sleep is not just relished it is also essential to our physical and mental well-being.
The Bottom Line
The National Sleep Foundation states that fatigued individuals are notably less productive. Their studies have shown sleep deprivation leads to poor memory and information processing, impaired motor skills, poor decision making, involuntarily falling asleep on the job, decreased ability to comprehend and communicate in rapidly changing environments, an immune system unable to fight off illness, elevated stress levels, a decrease in creativity and an impaired ability to multi-task. To be clear, this list is certainly not all-inclusive.
Lack of restorative sleep among individuals in the workplace causes the United States to suffer productivity losses in the billions of dollars every year. That is a loss, to the employer, of, approximately, 11 days or $2,280 a year per average employee. Sleep deprivation is cited as a primary cause of industrial accidents and unscheduled absenteeism. It is noted, as well, that, irritable from lack of sleep, workers can become less tolerant of fellow employees possibly leading to poor work relationships. This friction may contribute to job dissatisfaction and higher than average employee turnover rates. As a rule, this costs an employer time and money.
As you can see, recognizing the early signs of chronic fatigue in a coworker, or yourself, followed by corrective actions may help to ensure an employer’s bottom line remains stable.
Sleepy or Sleep Deprived
Feeling tired (sleepy) and actual fatigue (sleep deprivation) are different in that the first is a temporary and occasional state of being while the second is noted to present a more severe list of symptoms.
Sleepiness refers to the physiological desire to sleep. We all feel this way once or twice a day as our energy levels ebb and flow.
Fatigue is a response to prolonged wakefulness, poor sleep quality, sleep loss, and/or an increased workload. Fatigue is described as an impairment that includes tiredness, sleepiness, lower energy and a need for increased effort to perform tasks as expected. You will note a decrease in your ability to stay focused and on-task. Your decision-making skills and creativity will take a turn for the worse. Intervention of some kind is necessary at this point to prevent one’s progressing to a state of chronic fatigue due to long-term sleep deprivation.
Chronic fatigue has been found to have an impact on one’s health, increases the potential to be involved in or cause a work-related accident and often causes a marked decline in the quality/quantity of the work you do. Your end product may become “less than” what you were once capable of. Eventually, this exhaustion will creep into every corner of your life, negatively affecting nearly every aspect of it.
Fortunately, there are many tried and true tactics that have helped others return to the experience of consistently achieving healthy restful sleep. These tips and tools are considered “best practices.”
Tips and Tools For Restful Sleep
Establishing healthy sleep habits is considered good sleep hygiene. These habits are meant to help you fall asleep faster and remain asleep longer.There are as many tips for promoting restful sleep as there are people on this earth. It is up to each individual to establish a combination of them that will routinely provide them with quality sleep. You owe it to yourself, your family, your boss, and your co-workers to make sleeping well a priority.
There are several specific activities one should avoid within 2-3 hours of bedtime and others that will aid your transition into and enhance your time at rest.
Going to bed when you are sleepy is one of them. If, after about 20 minutes, you find yourself tossing and turning, by all means, get up. Read a boring book in low light.
Listen to quiet slow paced music until you feel as if you could fall asleep.
The consumption of alcohol and caffeinated beverages before bed is discouraged. They actually increase the number of times you will wake during the night.
Nicotine acts as a stimulant so it is best to refrain from its use before bed. Better yet, if you are hopelessly addicted to nicotine, joining a cessation group is a great idea. Sharing like experiences, laughing, and talking with others while working toward a goal has been shown to create a sense of well-being. This, in turn, promotes relaxation.
Eating anything more than a light snack may cause digestive issues (upset stomach) while you are trying to rest. A glass of warm milk is ideal before bed as it contains tryptophan. Tryptophan is a natural sleeping agent.
If you must exercise before bed, consider limiting yourself to a short walk. Strenuous exercise increases your level of alertness which is not conducive to rest.
Use your electronics (cell phone, tablet, computer) sparingly, if at all, before you plan to go to bed. Studies have shown a correlation between wakefulness and the light generated by these devices.
A bedtime ritual might include meditation or yoga to quiet your mind before bed.
A warm bath before heading to bed is essential to some people.
It is highly recommended that you reserve your bed for sleep and intimacy only. This strengthens the association between your bed and sleep. Reading, watching television, playing games, etc…while in bed will make it more difficult to wind down.
Try to sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows.
Keep the ambient room temperature between 60 and 67 degrees F. A quiet darkened cool room will assist you to remain in a state of undisturbed deep sleep for longer stretches of time.
You will sleep better if you are able to clear your mind of work-related thoughts. It is suggested that you write yourself a list of the more prominent work-related issues that are keeping you from relaxing and put it on the nightstand to be dealt with in the morning. This is an example of how to separate your work life from your home life.
If you experience sleep disturbances after doing your best to take to heart these suggestions I would venture to say that a trip to your family physician is in order. Your doctor has many diagnostic tools and treatment modalities at the ready. Your physician knows what pre-existing conditions you might have and will be able to counsel you regarding these and, also, any medications or supplements you might take. Sometimes a mild non-narcotic sleeping medication, taken for a short time, is all you need to re-establish your sleep regimen.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that is said to regulate wakefulness. It is available by prescription and over the counter. There are many that swear by this and others that doubt its efficacy. (It is recommended that you consult with your doctor before taking any medication or supplement.)
Studies over the years have shown that following a set sleep schedule 7 days a week/365 days a year contributes dramatically to living your best life.
A life where you are rested, alert, focused, creative and ready for whatever may come!