As Daylight Saving Time ends, ushering in holiday hosting and financial worries, two in three people say sleep disruptions cause them to toss and turn at night. Sleep and mental health go hand in hand as prerequisites for work engagement, productivity and success. Workplace stress can disrupt sleep which, in turn, disrupts job performance. A recent study of 9,500 participants by Calm found that 78% of adults agree their quality of sleep affects their mental health. Over two in three adults (69%) report they need over seven hours of sleep to improve their mental health, but only one in three adults (31%) actually get over seven hours of sleep.
Another recent piece in Scientific American reports that just one sleepless night can make people emotionally fragile and trigger a spike in anxiety and depression the following workday. Why? Sleep disruption dampens brain regions that manage our emotions. Research shows that people who suffer from sleep disruption have lower moods and perceive daily events in a more negative light. In ordinary times, sleep is essential to every aspect of our well-being. During the extraordinary times we’re living in today, brain scientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor insists that sleep is the most important remedy at our disposal. With workplace worry and anxiety at an all-time high, more people are complaining that a good night’s sleep has never been harder to come by. The heated debate over remote versus in-office work, economic woes, threats of another World War and social and environmental problems cause tossing and turning at night that spills over into the next workday.
Sleep Is Essential For A Productive Workday
Sleep is restorative, and if you’re not getting enough, it can spell trouble for the next workday. Sleep research shows that 85% of Americans have mood disruption when they don’t get a night of good-quality sleep. Sleep deprivation lowers your resistance to stress and harms your brain and interferes with memory and learning. Your brain moves slower. You’re more forgetful. Your attention is short-circuited, and you’re grumpier. A drowsy you is more likely to nod off at your desk. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that these situations derail happiness and success. Studies also show that if you don’t get enough sleep, your body bears the burden. It’s the foundation for both a strong immune system and psychological resilience. You’re at greater risk of heart attack or stroke, and your risk of death from heart disease more than doubles. Lack of sleep is linked to depression, impaired immune system, weight gain, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes.
“When it comes to the brain, sleep is everything. Every ability you have,” Dr. Taylor told me. “When you’re walking, you have brain cells communicating with the muscles to move. The cells in your brain are constantly working. They eat and they create waste, so sleep is the optimal time for the waste to be cleared out between the cells so they can actually function. I compare it to when the garbage collectors go on strike, we know how congested the streets become. That’s exactly the same thing going on with the brain cells. If you wake up to an alarm before your system is ready to wake up, you have cut part of a cycle of sleep off that your brain wanted.”
Juli Galloway, vice president of AT&T’s global benefits, recommends a reverse alarm strategy. “Instead of setting an alarm to wake up, try setting an alert to remind you to start winding down for the night,” she told me by email. “When it goes off, start your bedtime routine, dim the lights, turn off screens and engage in calming activities like reading or meditation. You can also set the alarm 10 minutes earlier each night during the week leading up to the time change to help you adjust.”
Getting More Shut Eye Before Your Workday
Why fight sleep the night before a big workday? If your mind is still wide awake long after your body has called it quits, follow these ten steps to get more z’s:
- Go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time to keep your body regulated and make it easier to fall asleep.
- Make your bedroom cozy, inviting and well ventilated. Block out any light to create a dark room. Contrary to the usual advice of keeping your room cool, try warming your feet before bed, Galloway suggests, “Soaking them in warm water for a few minutes can promote vasodilation, which helps signal to your body that it’s time to sleep.”
- Use your bed exclusively for sleep, not for arguing or watching disturbing television news stories or movies, and go to bed only when you’re sleepy. When you think of your bed and sleeping, it’s important to have positive associations.
- Avoid bedtime when your mind is racing with worry. Try not to over stimulate your brain by overthinking a project or trying to solve a problem at work. Wait until you’ve calmed your mind with meditation or a cup of chamomile tea before you tuck yourself in.
- Avoid working on electronic devices an hour before going to bed or while you’re in bed. The National Sleep Foundation reports that the glow from electronic devices suppresses melatonin and interferes with falling and staying asleep.
- Avoid late-night meals. Eating late meals, especially heavy foods that are hard to digest, can keep you from nodding off.
- Reduce alcohol intake. Alcohol acts as a sedative at first, but when you consume too much, you might awaken in the middle of the night unable to go back to sleep. Prolonged dependency and addiction to alcohol disrupts sleep and contributes to insomnia. Limit nicotine and caffeine. Gulping down too much java, tea or energy drinks can keep you up at night. Stimulants rev up your body when your goal is to calm it down.
- Put a time limit on naps. Napping for too long during the day can interfere with your nighttime sleep. If you do take naps, limit them to 30 minutes and take them earlier than later in the day.
- Exercise early in the day or three to four hours before bedtime so you can fall asleep faster and sleep through the night. Working out too close to bedtime can re-energize and give you a second wind, making you feel as if you’re ready to embrace the day.
- Get a sleep coach if all else fails.Galloway told me by email that sleep coaching (as an employee benefit) is trending upwards. “Generally, we see an uptick in interest in sleep coaching as we head into fall and employees prepare for shorter days.”