What is it you can give to the world? What is the one asset you have? All you’ve truly got is yourself. You are the asset. And if you want to make a dent in the world, you need to take care of your asset, of yourself. Take care of your mind and your body. Don’t diminish your asset by not taking good care of it. Don’t let it dwindle by not giving it enough attention and energy. Don’t destroy it by not having enough sleep. You may feel like a hero who gets lots of things done by not sleeping, but in the process, you are destroying your asset that makes the achievements possible. You are killing your golden goose. You are on your way to burnout.
After some serious research, K. Anders Ericsson came up with the idea that mastery requires a significant amount of deliberate practice. He looked at violinists and found out that those who played at a master’s level practiced significantly more than others. And they used a particular type of practice. He showed that to become truly great at something, talent is less important than the actual effort. Ericsson also found another thing. The best violinists not only practiced better and more but also slept more! According to Ericsson, they slept 8.6 hours a day. A significantly more than is the average in the population. In fact, they also napped 2.8 hours a week. Sleep was important for regenerating and being at their best when they practiced. Practice or any type of work when you are tired doesn’t have the same impact as when you are fresh. You may work longer hours, but that doesn’t mean you are more productive.
Lack of sleep is like being drunk
In an interview with Bronwyn Fryer, Dr. Charles A. Czeisler, a professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, suggests that the culture of sleeplessness and overwork is not only nonsensical but outright dangerous. The adverse effects on cognitive performance are similar to those of being drunk. According to Czeisler, 24 hours without sleep has the same impairment effect as a 0.1% blood alcohol level.
What’s worse, the effects of sleepless nights can add up. If you sleep only four or five hours a day for five consecutive days, you will reach the same equivalent as being 24 hours without sleep.
Czeisler mentions a study of hospital interns who would work for at least 24 consecutive hours. Their chance of stabbing themselves with a needle or scalpel increased by 61%, and their risk of crashing a car increased by 168%. He notes that it is estimated that 80,000 drivers fall asleep at the wheel every day in the US, with 10% of them running off the road. Tired drivers are then responsible for 8,000 deaths in the US annually.
Four factors impacting our cognitive functions
Our brain likes routine and needs a decent amount of sleep to function correctly. According to Czeisler, there are four sleep-related factors that impact our cognitive functions.
The first factor is the homeostatic drive for sleep at night. It is a mechanism our brain uses to tell us we are tired. As the day progresses, this drive is stronger and stronger. At some point, it seizes control over us, and we fall asleep whether we want it or not.
The second factor is the overall accumulation of tiredness over the period of several days, as mentioned above.
The third factor is the circadian phase triggered by the so-called circadian pacemaker, which is set opposite the homeostatic drive. This circadian pacemaker sends its strongest signal to stay awake in the afternoon and several hours before our regular sleep time and its strongest drive for sleep several hours before our wake-up time. The reason seems to be to allow us one long uninterrupted period of sleep time. We may already be tired in the late afternoon after a day at work. The homeostatic drive would just let us fall asleep. Still, the circadian pacemaker keeps us awake for a couple more hours until our regular bedtime. That is why in the early afternoon, our drive to sleep might be higher than in the late afternoon. After lunch, we are already a bit tired, but the circadian pacemaker doesn’t step in yet.
In the morning, it is the other way around. The homeostatic drive would already wake us up, but the circadian pacemaker keeps us asleep for a bit longer, so we get a full night’s sleep without interruption. Under normal conditions, these two forces work well together to allow us good periods of rest. It is when we don’t have regular sleep hours that they can get out of whack and mess up our ability to have a good refreshing sleep.
The fourth sleep-related factor is the so-called sleep inertia. It is the time immediately following our waking up when we are still sort of half-asleep. We need between five to twenty minutes to fully wake up, and it can take up to several hours for us to reach our peak efficiency when it comes to cognitive functions.
It is not so easy to catch up on the lack of sleep
In another study, researchers tested how long it takes to recover from prolonged periods of sleep restrictions. The study subjects were observed for 21 days with four days of regular life to establish a baseline, ten days of partial sleep restriction (30% of the individual sleep needs), and seven days of recovery. The results clearly showed deterioration of reaction time and accuracy in cognitive abilities as measured by the Stroop task during the sleep restriction phase. More importantly, even a week of recovery wasn’t sufficient to return to the baseline values before the ten-day sleep restriction period.
Don’t get sucked into the craze of being always-on. Learn to switch off your digital assets and regular times and ensure you get a good night’s sleep. And if you struggle to fall asleep, consider creating a routine that will allow you to get to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends. And if even that doesn’t help, consider moving a bit more. As I wrote in You Were Born To Run, there is a relationship between exercise and sleep. Studies found that regular exercise has a positive effect on the quality of sleep.
Sleep deprivation not only leads to poor performance but also impacts your decision-making. It then leads you to do things without really thinking about them. It leads to poor prioritization. Sleep protects not only your productivity but also your ability to work on the right things.
Exercise and sleep properly, and you will protect the only real asset you have – yourself.
What is your take on the topic? Do you get a regular good sleep? How many hours a day do you sleep? Is it enough? When was the last time you were so tired that you fell asleep during the day? Do you see impact on your cognitive functions when you are tired?
Photo: Alexas_Fotos / Pixabay.com
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