More (or better) Sleep Might Be the Answer To Your Work Success
It starts with getting enough sleep and ends with success.
Arianna Huffington wrote a brilliant book called Thrive. In that, she opens with the time she found herself in a pool of her own blood, on the floor. The x-ray said broken cheek bone. But her doctor’s diagnosis? Exhaustion. At the height of success, she was working all hours. At the expense of her sleep. As a result she was getting 3–4 hours of sleep a night and was on a fast-track to burn out. Something needed to change. The cheekbone was the manifestation of years of working too hard and sleeping not enough. Successful? Yes. Being present and enjoying life? No.
That moment, the pool of blood one, it kickstarted her fascination and prioritisation of her sleep. And what happened when she move from 3–4 hours to 8, solid, hours of joyful sleep?
“I’m much more present in my life, much more joyful. I am, without question, a better leader, because I can look ahead with more clarity.” — Arianna Huffington
Sleep, Work and Me
When I entered the workplace I was full of naivety, ambition and a lot of energy*. *side not here, I’m not in anyway comparing myself to Arianna Huffington, she is way older than me anyway. I was ready. For whatever this was. The first first few months were a whirlwind of learning, listening, processing. I was new to the world of work and there was a lot to learn. When the adrenaline finally wore off and I was left, exhausted. Tiredness. Absolutely exhaustion. I looked back on my first few months in the job and realised a bit of a scary pattern forming.
7:00am: Wake up, get ready, go to work
8:30am — 4:30pm: Work
5:00pm: Arrive home, dinner, shower
7:00pm: In bed, sleep
One of my biggest, scratch that, the biggest problem was getting enough sleep. Although I am someone that needs a lot of sleep and I mean a lot, it was a little bit curious the amount I needed. I would get home, eat some beige food (chips, nuggets and beans most likely) and I would just collaspse. I kid you not, back then I was getting 12 hours of sleep.
Dead from the world of work. When you first start anything new it’s a total adjustment. But starting work — well that’s an adjustment to say the least. Gone are the days you can survive off of pot-noodles and netflix. You’ve got to prioritise your health and that starts with getting enough sleep, else you end up falling asleep on the motorway. Better sleep leads to success.
Sleep is the best meditation — Dalai Lama
The Sleep Science
Sleep is pretty poorly understood — although the average human will spend 25 years of their life asleep (yes 25 years), we know relatively little about the activities that happen whilst we are asleep. What we do know is how shit we feel if we don’t get enough of it. A late night studying or partying (same thing) and you know how you feel the next day. You’re less responsive, foggy, unfocused and mostly just thinking about when you can get some shut eye.
Our sleep cycle is essentially 90 minutes of REM and NREM. One sleep cycle is the combination or cycle of moving from NREM to REM. It’s said that a ‘good’ nights sleep is between 4–6 cycles per night. For people aged between 18–64 years old, the recommendation is that you get between 7–9 hours sleep.
Our Bodies – Better Sleep Leads to Success?
The sleep cycle (hypnogram) from Wikipedia
Importantly, our bodies don’t like inadequate sleep. A study done whereby the participants were monitored having a full ‘good’ nights sleep and then no sleep for a night showed that the protein Amyloid Beta increased by 5% across all of the participants. That same protein is seen in early onset Alzheimers.
Russell Foster from Oxford University, who knows a thing or two about sleep said “by stabilising sleep, we actually reduced the severity of psychiatric symptoms”. If you want to know the impact of sleep, there it is in a sentence. By getting the right amount and right quality, psychiatric symptoms can be reduced in severity.
When we don’t have enough sleep it’s quite interesting what happens. Tony Wright from Cornwall, UK decided to attempt the world record previously held by Randy Gardner of 264.4 hours without sleep. It makes my eyes water just thinking about it. During the time of the attempt, Wright documented his thoughts and feelings of which you can see obvious signs of hallucinations. Along with hallucinations, the science shows that we are more likely to have mood swings, fatigue and difficulty learning new things when we are sleep deprivated.
How Do We Apply That To Work? – Better Sleeps Equals Success
So does better sleep lead to success? Now all the science is out the way, we can apply these thoughts to our working life. If we aren’t getting enough sleep, it’s obvious to see how our careers might be impacted, or maybe impaired is a better word. When we are having difficulty learning new concepts, focusing, if we are moody and fatigued we are hardly going to be on the fast track to promotion. We need to be conscious of the amount of sleep we are getting and prioritise it. Long gone are the days that not getting enough sleep is a mark of honor.
“I can sleep when I’m dead” is a little ludicrous given all the implications of sleep deprivation.
I think it’s really important to hammer home the criticality of getting enough sleep whilst early in your career. Your life and your work is build on good habits. Getting enough sleep is a habit that is worth investing the time in. It’s one of those foundational parts of your life that will have immeasurable benefits if you get right. It’s crippling when we get sleep wrong. To thrive at work you need to get enough sleep.
We can strive to be articulate, dynamic, strategic, influential even but those will fade pretty quickly if you don’t get enough sleep. Better sleeps leads to success.