Our latest research looks at the factors that most impact our cognitive performance – so individuals and organisations can understand and adopt best practices to get their employees human brain in peak condition. Last time we looked at the importance of making sure you are hydrated… this time we look at sleep and you’ll see everything is connected!
Why is sleep important?
It’s simple – sleep helps your brain work properly. It is preparing for the next day and the cognitive processes you will be undertaking. When you are asleep your body is busy repairing muscles, consolidating memories, releasing hormones and regulating growth and appetite. It is imperative to your cognitive development that you get enough sleep for the brain to replenish itself. If sleep is cut short, the body doesn’t have time to complete all of the phases and we wake up less prepared to concentrate, make decisions, or engage fully with the world.
Cognitive performance research studies conclude that sleep deprivation has a negative impact upon almost all brain functions such as decision making, solving problems, remembering things, controlling emotions / behaviour and coping with change. Reaction times may be slower, more mistakes may be made and tasks often take longer. All of these will impact mental performance and employee relationships at work.
How much sleep is enough?
According to the UK’s National Sleep Foundation, an adult of working age needs between 7 and 9 hours of good quality uninterrupted sleep in order to be in peak condition.
However, despite wanting and needing good quality sleep – often we don’t get it, for a variety of reasons.
Why is sleep elusive?
There are different types of sleep problems including difficulty getting asleep, difficulty staying asleep (waking up often and finding it hard fall back asleep), waking up early in the morning, disturbed sleep through noise, worry, children and other aspects that just wake us up.
As a consequence we can feel tired, irritable and unable to concentrate the next day – although it is also likely that we try to carry on and attempt to do the things we need to do without recognising that we are sleep deprived.
Although the benefits of getting enough rest are well known, getting a enough hours in at night in our busy, pressured lives is often difficult – but given what is at stake, it has to be worth trying to develop some new habits so that we can give ourselves a better chance to give our brains the rest it needs.
What can you do to get the best night’s sleep?
If you have problems sleeping, you’ve probably tried many of the things on this list – but skim it because there might be something you haven’t tried.
- Develop a regular sleeping schedule – go to bed and get up at the same time – this can help establish a routine, reinforcing the body’s sleep-wake cycle.
- Create a bedtime ritual – experts believe that doing the same things each night tells your body that it’s time to rest – warm baths, reading or listening to relaxing music eases the transition between wakefulness and sleepiness.
- Things to avoid before bedtime:
a) Heavy meals– leave a few hours between dinner and bed time. Leave the protein-rich meals for breakfast and lunch when your body needs the daytime energy.b) Stimulating activities, as they can tend to keep you more alert and make relaxation difficult.c) Alcohol, caffeine and nicotine (remember that caffeine lurks in many foods and drinks – including chocolate!). As stimulants they can take hours to wear off. Although alcohol may initially induce sleep, it can disrupt it later in the night as the body metabolises the alcohol, causing arousal.
- Things to bear in mind:a) If you’re going to exercise – do it during the day (not in the late evening). Relaxing exercises such as yoga can be helpful in initiating restful sleep.b) Minimize light and noise when trying to sleep – turn off electronic devices like tablets and phones as changes in light can kid your body that it’s time to wake up.
c) Maintain a comfortable bedroom temperature so your body doesn’t overheat and dehydrate while you are asleep, using up more energy overnight.
d) Manage stress – having too many things on your mind can disrupt sleep. There are many ways to address stress, depending on the source – and aren’t really the focus of this guidance. Perhaps starting with a habit of writing down the things that are on your mind may help “park” them for tomorrow.
- If you wake in the night and can’t get back to sleep, try getting up and doing something restful such as reading or listening to music, rather than clock watching and stressing about losing sleep.
Are daytime naps culturally acceptable in your organisation?
If you had a bad night, or a run of bad nights and you’re struggling to maintain concentration during the day – would you take a nap in the office? Recent pictures from the new Google office showed their sleep pods for recharging the batteries.
Providing places for naps is one thing… people feeling comfortable taking a nap is something else. Would you do it? Even if others do? And what’s more desirable – that you continue to force your brain to concentrate and perform when it really can’t – or have a power nap and recharge? This links to our research on productivity – where we explored trust and the support of managers towards their staff. If you have a supportive manager and feel trusted by them and your colleagues, then it’s more likely you’d feel comfortable taking a nap if you really need one. If you feel that others don’t value you or are sceptical about what you are doing – then taking a nap would probably help reinforce those negative perceptions!
Advice varies on the length of the nap – certainly no more than an hour and probably 30 mins may be best. Also mid-afternoon seems the best time, so that night-time sleep isn’t compromised.
Finally, remember that regular daytime napping can disturb the normal pattern of night-time sleep – so getting into a daytime habit might exacerbate night time issues!
For business leaders, managing your employees health may be something out of your depth. Although, in order to enhance mental performance and cognitive ability in the workplace, it is essential that your knowledge workers recieve enough sleep and rest in order to maxmise their effectiveness. For more information on how to get a handle on the management of your workplace, contact an AWA workplace consultant.
Give your brain a great day – get some good quality sleep!
Next time we’ll tell you all about the fourth factor – exercise, so get those walking shoes ready!