Sleep tends to be one of the most underrated values when it comes to success. You always read how this founder or that entrepreneur worked 20 hours a day, only getting an average of 3 hours of sleep a night for the first two years of their company's existence. Actually even this afternoon I came across this uplifting article on how awful the hours are in investment banking. A lack of sleep has become a badge of honor people proudly wear. It's as if people are oblivious to the fact they aren't getting enough sleep, or think they're tough enough to endure the countless hours of sleep they're losing each week. If you're sleeping over 5 hours a night, you aren't working hard enough. That's basically the implication.
Hardly getting any sleep and being able to “suck it up and power through” is a stupid, tough guy mentality that's created a culture where it's viewed as a weakness if you require, God forbid, 7 hours or more of sleep. Anyone who brags they got 3 hours of sleep or stayed up until 3 AM working to me seems like they don't have it together. They're clearly either extremely disorganized or delusional. You don't have a grip on your life if you only get a few hours of sleep. There is always more work to be done so I never understood why people stay so late. You could technically stay for 24 hours and the work will keep on coming.
When I was in school, during my freshman year for midterms, I was staying up until 4 AM, sometimes later and getting up at 8 AM for soccer practice. I thought I was doing such a great job going to class and studying as much as I could until I realized I needed to shut it down. But the only thing is, I didn't realize this until finals were over and saw how great I felt in comparison to that dreadful week of studying. I hadn't noticed how tired and out of sync I was every day. And I also looked back and realized how little I realistically get done.
I told myself I would never do that again. Until I graduated and started working at the current job I have now. With the commute being as bad as it was, and my commitment to working out at 4:45 AM in the morning, I was getting sick more frequently because of the amount of stress I was under. That with the combination of getting around 5 hours of sleep again killed me. It wasn't until the time I talked about in my previous post that I started to take sleep seriously.
I started reading about the sleeping habits of CEOs and business leaders. A lot of them have started to begin to change their opinions on sleeping behaviors. Prioritizing sleep is starting to become a mainstream topic, especially in competitive work environments like New York City, San Francisco, etc.
Some companies have even designed rooms designated for naps. Organizations are beginning to acknowledge the health problems you encounter from a lack of sleep. More importantly for them, is the drop in performance on the job as a result of sleep deprivation.
One of the most important things sleep will do for you is to improve your memory. I can vouch for this because I remember last year when I was burnt out, I literally could not for the life of me remember a single thing in my first year and a half at my new job. It was like I was a cartoon where literally everything went in one ear and out the other.
Waking up at 4:30 AM, being stressed to no end all day and finally falling asleep around 11-11:30 exhausted me. And as a result, of course, my attention was obviously impaired. A lack of sleep will without a doubt make you lose focus. You'll 100% perform less than your optimal level even if you don't realize it at the moment.
So now ever since I moved out, I make sure I start to try to go to sleep no later than 11:30, and that's only if I'm feeling really refreshed. Typically I'll try to go to sleep around 10:30-10:45 and wake up at 7. And by trying to go to sleep I mean turn off all the lights, the tv is off, I put my phone away and literally try to go to sleep without distractions. I notice it usually takes me around 30 minutes or so since I can't seem to shut my mind off right away. I should probably meditate more.
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8 of the biggest health benefits from sleep
- Keeps your heart healthy: a lack of sleep can lead to an increase in cortisol, which is a stress hormone; increased cortisol makes your heart work harder and doesn't rest as much as it needs
- Prevents you from gaining weight: a lack of sleep increases production of ghrelin, which increases your appetite, and also decreases the hormone leptin, which gives you the feeling of being full; with this combination on top of becoming more stressed with lower energy, you'll inevitably cave in and succumb to that late night pizza
- Strengthens your immune system: a good night's sleep keeps your immune cells and proteins in your immune system healthy, allowing them to fight against germs better, which explains why I kept getting sick so often last year
- Keeps your brain from getting fried: even one bad night of sleep sets you back making you feel out of focus; your memory recall isn't as good and everything you do is slower, which is exactly how I felt, it was terrible
- Prevents headaches: some people can get headaches from stress; a lack of sleep on top of the stress at work will make you less able to cope with the said stress and increase your anxiety even more; all of that can give you a pretty awful headache
- You'll be in a better mood if you sleep well: you make yourself cranky or at least set yourself up to feel lethargic the entire day, making you more vulnerable to get angry, irritated and/or anxious
- Your pain threshold is lower: a study from the journal Sleep split participants into two groups, one that slept 9 hours and one that slept 7 hours for 4 nights straight. Participants were asked to hold their finger to a heat source and those who were in the 9-hour group were able to last longer
- Last but not least, it improves your relationships: obviously being cranky, stressed and overall in a cranky mood isn't something you want to spend your time around; you don't realize it, but you affect everyone around you when you don't get enough sleep
Consequences of not getting enough sleep
Okay, enough about the benefits. Let's look at some of the consequences you face when you don't get enough sleep:
According to The Huffington Post, (one of the worst things I can think of) sleep deprivation causes your skin to age faster! That seriously sucks. But I'm not surprised. I mean, after looking at my face when I've had an awful night's sleep and stared at the computer screen all day, I have some serious bags under my eyes. People at work literally ask me if I'm okay and I'm all like “lol it's all good guys I'm so chill right now.” While I inhale 5 cups of coffee in the morning.
According to a clinical trial run by Estée Lauder, sleep-deprived women showed signs of premature skin aging. It also revealed their skin had a lowered ability to recover after being outside in the sun. Some of the characteristics they found were more noticeable fine lines in the skin, uneven pigmentation and reduced skin elasticity. It honestly sounds like their faces are about to crack and fall off. I'd rather just take a nap, thanks.
They also said less sleep weakens the skin's ability to repair itself at night, which makes sense I guess since there's less time for it to do that if you sleep less!
Oh yea and also I did read not getting enough sleep is as bad for your focus as getting drunk is. Here's an article from The New York Post on it.
So what's being done to increase awareness?
Well for one, CEOs are taking a stand and acknowledging the harmful effects sleep deprivation can have on you. One great example is Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. For him, getting 8 hours of sleep is the optimal amount he needs to bring his A game each day. He says it prevents him from falling victim to decision fatigue.
According to researchers from the Harvard Business Review, it was shown that all four of the most prevalent leadership characteristics were negatively affected by a lack of sleep.
Unsurprisingly, Arianna Huffington is a huge proponent of getting enough shut-eye. Hence, the large number of articles that popped up on Google from the Huffington Post on sleep and sleep deprivation! In her guide to a better night's sleep she wrote for Time, she gives some tips on how to sleep better.
She hit a critical moment in her working career in 2007 two years after founding The Huffington Post. She collapsed and hit her head, breaking her cheekbone and waking up in a pool of blood from her 18 hour days, a lack of sleep and overall burnout. Since then, she's advocated a proper night's sleep like nobody else. Her advice is if you feel yourself on the verge of burning out, slow down and take a break.
Your health is the most important thing, it's all you've really got. Huffington says the collapse was the best thing that ever happened to her because it was a huge signal something needed to change. She now gets 8 hours of sleep and reports she is much more effective because she isn't sleep deprived anymore.
Companies taking notice
The good news is companies are finally doing something about this. Google has nap pods on their campuses for employees when they need to recharge their batteries. And now even Uber, Zappos, Capital One Labs, Ben & Jerry's and PWC have adopted some form of accommodation for napping. Lifehacker has a great article on why naps are so great for you if you want to check it out yourself.
Given how little vacation time we get in the United States compared to other parts of the world, it's refreshing to see companies acknowledging the tolls sleep deprivation takes on our bodies and minds when we work all day into the late hours. It may not be in the too distant future where every company adopts some form on a napping policy. In Japan, napping shows dedication and can even land you a promotion. Maybe that'll be us one day, who knows.
The bottom line is, if you don't pay attention to your sleeping behaviors now, you could run into some serious health risks down the line. It's not worth the extra hours of work. Whatever you have to get done will always be there in the morning and then some. It never stops, which is exactly why you should stop and get the sleep you need.
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