An upset in rhythm, and depletion due to lack of sleep, expresses as a reduced feeling of happiness, disturbances of the endocrine system, and problems in assessing situations
COLUMN - Don't lose the rhythm
Is it a waste of good time or an essential aspect of your professional performance? SHIFT TO’s Arjan Eleveld, Managing Partner at Jonathon Warner, tells us why sleep is important in the long run.
A good night's sleep is important and the oft-heard advice is that you should get eight hours’ sleep each night. Some of us, however, get only five or six hours of sleep each night and seem to carry on just fine. But the question is really how well you are functioning. So - how important is sleep anyway? And what effect does sleep, or the lack of it, have on the professional decisions you make?
Why sleep anyway?
Of all the demands of the body, sleep dominates: there is no other single function in our lives we will spend as much time doing. With an average lifespan of 80 years, we can expect to spend over 25 years of it sleeping. Even the worst workaholic won’t clock that many working hours over their lifetime.
And yet we still really don’t know exactly why we need to sleep so much. After a good night's sleep you may feel thoroughly well-rested, but sleep is not essential to restoring the body after the day’s exertions. In fact you could also achieve that simply by relaxing on the couch for eight hours watching Netflix. Indeed, the need for sleep seems to exist fairly independent from your level of physical activity. After a day of such sedentary activities as sitting, talking and writing, you're just as tired as when you’ve exercised.
What we do know, meanwhile, is mostly about what happens immediately before and during sleep. You fall asleep due to hormonal changes, especially the production of melatonin – a natural process in the body that is stimulated by the receding light of evening. If you stay sitting too long behind the luminous screen of your laptop, however, things go wrong in this melatonin-production process and you may have difficulty in falling asleep. Incidentally, female sex hormones play an important role in sleep, and it is scientifically recognised that women are more likely to have sleep problems than men.
The best way to sleep
So how much sleep is healthy? The experts aren’t in agreement, and neither are we sleepers. Some swear by eight hours of sleep, denigrating the tales of those who say they thrive on five hours of sleep as the boasting of machos. But it is indeed those ‘night people’ who go to bed late and still have to get up and get active early, who are breaking with their natural sleep rhythms and depleting their bodies. This upset in rhythm, and depletion due to lack of sleep, expresses as a reduced feeling of happiness, disturbances of the endocrine system, and problems in assessing situations.
Although we don’t understand sleep thoroughly, we do know that a significant part of the importance of sleep is in keeping our brains functioning properly. Not only do you not feel very well without sufficient sleep, but your cognitive abilities are diminished. Research has shown that people who lack sleep are less alert, more easily influenced, and tend to make demonstrably poorer decisions.
It is also known that the need for sleep may be significantly reduced by building moments of rest into your day – for example by incorporating short power naps, or a few minutes of meditation into your schedule. The impact is much greater than most people realise. Here is a simple ‘hack’: The combination of at least six hours of quality sleep at night, one or two moments of deep relaxation during the day - and resisting the urge to work behind your screen until bedtime. This is the best alternative to supporting healthy sleep that in turn supports your performance and decision-making abilities.
Arjan Eleveld is Managing Partner at Jonathan Warner, a company that provides leadership advice for management teams, executive boards and supervisors. Originally he is a psychologist. After studying psychology, Arjan has been active in various places in business. He worked in sales, HR as well as operational positions. In 1998 he joined LTP, an organisation of business psychologists. During his time as Managing Director he founded Jonathan Warner, and has been Managing Partner to date.