Being Your Best — The Correlation Between Sleep & Success Part 1

Years ago, our ancestors slept much differently than we do today. An eight hour block of time spent on sleeping was almost unheard of. Instead, sleeping patterns were done in separate blocks of time. For example, a person would go to sleep around the time the sun went down, sleep for several hours, then wake up. Upon getting out of bed they would eat, visit with family and friends, work a little, and pray. Then, they would get back into bed and sleep for several more hours until they awoke for the day. This is now commonly referred to as segmented sleep.

The two separate periods of sleeping blocks were referred to as first sleep and second sleep. Historical documents, diaries, and manuals were used in a study by A. Roger Ekirch, a professor from the Virginia Tech Department of History to come to these conclusions. To date, there are some people who suffer from a form of insomnia where they wake up during the middle of the night and have difficulty going back to bed. Professor Ekirch believes this is a result of years of segmented sleep dating back to our ancestors.

The change in our sleep pattern from segmented sleep to sleeping through the night stems from the invention of the light bulb, a time that changed things drastically. The light bulb took over the natural signal from the sun that it was time to go to bed. As a result, people started staying up later into the evening. Naturally, the body then started to change how it slept. Instead of going to bed earlier, the later someone went to bed the more they needed the sleep and would forego the middle of the night break.

With the invention of the light bulb, everything was different. People were able to work and visit later into the evening, and even overnight if they wanted to. People were able to work later in the day, and as time went on, companies slowly began to increase their productivity by having people come in on different shifts. A company could literally double its workforce and increase profit by keeping the machines running for more and more hours a day.

As people gradually began to change their sleeping patterns, they began to get less sleep. Add to that the change in modern technology, such as TVs, the internet, and cell phones, and it’s a wonder people today get any sleep at all. People are ‘plugged in’ sometimes twenty-four hours a day. Our society thrives on people being available round the clock, and in many cases, the work/home life boundaries have blended.

Unfortunately, the quality of our sleep affects many aspects of our lives.

Sleep and the Creative Mind

When it comes to being creative or coming up with new ideas, sleep is crucial. Studies have shown there is a connection between sleep and how new ideas are formed and problems are solved. It turns out that sleep is an important part of the brain being able to help create new solutions or ones that may not have otherwise been thought of. The same is true for solving problems. This is due in part to the brain making important connections during sleep. It allows the mind to figure out which connections are important and which ones are less important, or even which ones to get rid of.

The problem with sleep and being creative is that it’s not easily quantifiably, so people rarely make the connection of how getting enough sleep encourages creativity. People don’t readily recognize that sleep directly influences not only their choices, but their ability to come up with new ideas. So for the person with little sleep, confronting a problem can mean finding a few ways to tweak the outcome, whereas a person who has allowed their mind to rest while getting plenty of sleep may see an entirely different approach overall.

There are some larger companies that have recognized this and are doing their part to help ensure employees get enough sleep and have time to reenergize. Companies such as Google, Proctor & Gamble, and Cisco Systems have all installed energy pods. These pods allow a person to recline comfortably in a pod that blocks out noise and light. The energy pods allow the user to either take a nap or just have some mental quiet time. What this does is allow the brain to relax so that when the person gets out of the pod their brain is rested and there is higher brain functioning and creativity.

While not all companies are on board with energy pods, users feel they are truly beneficial. They give the brain a rest so that it can come back stronger, and more creative, than it was before using the pod.

How Sleep Affects Leadership

Leaders tend to have a lot of common traits. They need to be able to communicate effectively, delegate, be creative, have a positive attitude, and even know how to inspire. Although it may seem like some people were born to lead, truly effective leaders understand their own need for refueling and how it affects their leadership abilities. After all, if you can’t take care of yourself, how can you be expected to take care of other people? It can be hard for a leader to lead when that person isn’t feeling their best because of a lack of sleep.

Since sleep can impair the ability to really think clearly, it’s important to consider sleep a crucial part of anyone’s day, including those who lead others. Sleep helps a person to solve problems easier, consider different perspectives, and be able to better understand other people’s emotions. All of these are necessary to being a good leader. Sometimes taking a break and sleeping in a different place for a night or two can work wonders for individuals. Many entrepreneurs have had success with Airbnb.

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Studies have shown that different areas of the brain react to lack of sleep differently. Some brain functions can operate almost the same with a full eight hours of sleep or barely getting five or six. However, one area that is greatly affected by lack of sleep is the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain organizes and operates executive functioning, which includes more advanced problem solving, organizing, reasoning, planning, and executing those plans. In other words, the prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that helps us to function at a higher level.

When the brain doesn’t get enough sleep to reenergize, the functions of the prefrontal cortex are greatly disturbed. Problem solving, organization, and reasoning all seem more difficult and can impact the outcome of any actions. Because of this, it’s easy to see how getting enough sleep is so important for leaders.

Sleep and Confidence Levels

Although a lack of sleep can make anyone feel irritable, sleep impacts our bodies in many more ways. One of those ways has to deal with our level of self-confidence. Self-confidence is how we perceive ourselves in our actions and abilities. A recent study suggests that optimism and self-esteem are related to duration of sleep.

In the study there were a total of 1,805 study participants, men and women between the ages of 30 and 84 years old, living in the U.S. The individuals with insomnia scored lower in both categories of optimism and self-esteem, regardless of their age or sex. Sleeping less than six hours a night was directly related to the results, as participants who got between seven and eight hours of sleep scored much higher in optimism and self-esteem. The result of the study was that good, sufficient sleep is directly associated with many positive personality characteristics.

Being sleep deprived can also lead to feeling more sensitive, which directly impacts confidence. Say for example you invited a friend to do something and when they didn’t respond, you immediately feel shunned. Instead of thinking they’re busy at work or haven’t gotten your message, you immediately turn this situation internally, making it personal. These kinds of situations can happen at work and with family and friends, and thinking this way over and over again can lead to issues of lower self-confidence, even if the situations weren’t as they seemed.

The Importance Sleep Has on Your Health

Studies have shown how a lack of sleep can affect several hormones related to weight gain. One of these hormones called Ghrelin can increase, essentially telling your body to eat more. Another of these hormones, Leptin, that tells the body when to stop eating because you’re full, actually begins to decrease. Another hormone, Cortisol, is one that can stimulate your appetite, making you want to eat more and eat more frequently. So when these hormones are in flux, the body has natural responses that aren’t healthy.

There have also been studies done on how many calories the body burns during sleep. Interestingly, the body burns the most calories when the mind is most active at night, during Rapid Eye Movement, commonly called REM. REM is the time in which the mind dreams. Since the majority of REM occurs during the last couple hours of sleep, people who wake up early or after about six hours of sleep don’t experience REM, or are getting just a small dose of it. Since the body burns more calories during REM, people who lack sleep can actually have weight gain over time since they are missing out on burning these calories.

Not only can sleep have an impact on weight, being tired throughout the day can feel terrible and make a person irritable. During important things like meetings or conferences, it can be easy to doze off or not be able to pay attention. Sleep, being healthy, and feeling good all go hand in hand. Being mindful and using uber or lyft to take you to important meetings is another way many professionals have decided to feel refreshed when they arrive to work.

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A lack of sleep over time can also lead to health conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Because of this, it is essential for everyone to get enough sleep. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), an adult needs between 7–8 hours of sleep every night, teens and school aged children need a minimum of 10 hours each night, preschool children need 11 to 12 hours a night, and infants should be sleeping between 16 and 18 hours a night.

According to Harvard University, there are three ways to study sleep: sleep deprivation studies, questionnaires, and long-term studies that track sleeping patterns. The sleep deprivation studies can be done in a controlled environment where immediate results are evident. Questionnaires are filled out by study participants and then the data is analyzed. Long-term studies are proving to be the most beneficial though.

Not only do these studies track sleep patterns and habits, but researchers believe they are beginning to show links between a lack of sleep and an increase in chronic disease. Although there is no way of telling if a person will get a chronic disease because of their sleeping habits, researchers believe this to be true. Study participants begin the study healthy, but many with poor sleeping habits end up with a chronic disease in the long run.

Some of the chronic diseases researchers are seeing include heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Over time, all of these conditions can contribute to a shorter life span.

The Impact of Sleep on Productivity

Lack of sleep can greatly impact productivity at work. Researchers have known that sleep deprivation is closely related to decreased productivity, a lack of focus, less innovation, unethical behavior, and lower job satisfaction. Overall, not getting enough sleep hurts not only the individual, but the company as well.

It’s not uncommon to hear someone talk about how they can, and do, function on five or less hours of sleep per night. However, this hurts creativity and thinking skills, resulting in lower levels of productivity on the job. Many people report they don’t get enough sleep, which can also lead to stress. When a person doesn’t get enough sleep, it impacts their work, which can lead to feeling stressed out. So essentially, it can be a vicious cycle, one in which the quality of work is greatly affected.

It has even been suggested that on average, just one sleep deprived worker can negatively influence a business by $2,500 each year. That results in billions of dollars lost by companies each year.

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