Sleeping Your Way to the Top (No, Not Like That)

By: Justin Keller

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You spend most of your waking hours at work. And if you’re like 55% of all adults, you spend some of your sleeping hours at work too, because that’s how many adults have to nap at least once during the week due to poor sleep hygiene. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most of us working adults are straight up bad at sleeping. Spoiler alert: Being bad at sleeping definitely leads to being bad at work and other things. Maybe you’re not an operator at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the captain on the Exxon-Valdez, or the guy at Three Mile Island (all massive catastrophes due to human error caused by lack of sleep), but at the very least your sleeplessness is impacting your health, your relationships, your performance at work and may be impeding your career growth.

#Fact: being well rested is one of the most important elements of being successful at work. Let’s break down exactly why that is:

Taxman, Meet Sandman

Let’s talk about “sleep debt.” Sleep debt is exactly what it sounds like: every hour of sleep you lose is an hour of sleep you owe to yourself later. You can only pay down your sleep debt by getting extra sleep, but just like financial debt, there’s a point at which it becomes impossible to recover and the long-term effects start taking a toll.

How does sleep debt show up in your day? You know those moments when you’re in a meeting or at your desk and you suddenly nod off? That’s called “microsleep” and your brain forces you into it to help recover on your sleep debt. Maybe you can shake it off and become alert again, or maybe it’s a tougher fight to regain consciousness. Either way, microsleep is a bigger deal than you might realize because it’s bookended by a haze of inattention, diminished cognitive capacity and lower productivity.

37% of adults say they’re so tired during the day that it interferes with their daily activities. Let’s look at this phenomenon two different ways:

  1. If you can get good, consistent sleep, you already have a competitive leg up on over one-third of the workforce. Dream state. Go get ‘em!
  2. If 37% of the economy’s workforce is struggling with these issues, can you imagine the massive economic toll that must take? Don’t imagine too hard because I can tell you: It’s somewhere between $30b and $103b every year in the US alone. That’s a nightmare.

Amygdala vs. Prefrontal Cortex: FIGHT!

You’ve got two super useful sections of your brain called the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. Your amygdala is basically responsible for your fight or flight response. That is, when you’re confronted with a threatening stimulus (i.e. a bear, your boss, too long of a line at Starbucks) a bunch of lights and bells go off in your amygdala telling you to fight, flee, freak out or else.

Lucky for you, your amygdala is nestled safely behind your prefrontal cortex, the thinking brain. Your PFC is the part of your brain that regulates emotions and other complex cognitive behaviors and influences decision making. It’s the voice in your head that says, “Hey, don’t worry about that bear because you’re in an office building and bears don’t go into office buildings.” Things typically work out for the best when these two things are working together– you don’t get eaten by office bears, but before that goes too far you’re able to rationalize that office bears aren’t actually a thing.

What happens to these two when you’re sleep deprived? You guessed it: bad stuff. Some researchers at Berkeley ran some experiments to find out how bad it is. Turns out when you’re poorly rested, your amygdala is activated with a remarkable 60% greater magnitude. And even more remarkable- it stays activated for three times longer than people that are well rested. So if you’re poorly rested, you freak out 60% more often and stay freaked out 3 times longer. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as being “cranky,” “crabbypants,” or “grumplestiltskin.” Right now, you’re thinking of friends and coworkers that fit this description. And maybe… yourself.  

Give Sleep a Chance

When you get extremely busy, sleep is one of the first things to go. Even if you’re cramming for a big presentation or a major deadline- make it a priority to catch some Zzz’s. It will decrease your odds for burnout. It will increase your working memory capacity (that thing where you’re able to remember words and details). It will improve your creativity and productivity. Those benefits are all pretty obvious, so how about this one: It will actually make you more money.

Wait, more money what? Oh, now you’re awake and listening. Yep. As the Wall Street Journal points out, over the long run people that get just one extra hour of sleep per night end up getting paid an average of 16% more. That might have seemed counter-intuitive before you read this, but now you’re basically a sleep ninja.

At RethinkCare, our sleep training has emerged as our most popular programs to help people chill and get more out of life. According to research, looks like “getting more” can also mean getting paid.

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