Don’t sleep on this wellbeing hack
Your personal wellbeing should be one of your highest priorities in life, although in the UK, the percentage of adults in the UK that reported very high levels of life satisfaction has decreased over the last year, according to the Office for National Statistics.
There are so many tips, tricks and hacks about how to improve your wellbeing, but the biggest ‘hack’ of all is sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the largest factors in improving your mental wellbeing, productivity and creativity.
Hustle culture is a large phenomenon in workplace culture currently, but especially in the startups scene. When building a business from the ground up, it is of course important to put in hard work and have dedication to ensure success, though it can easily crossover into a quite toxic space.
There is a dark side of this culture which is often seen as a badge of honour amongst professionals. Workplaces and networking circles are inundated with people boasting about how little they sleep, and how they were up until silly o’clock in the morning finishing up work, only to be having to get back into the office a few hours later. Sleep deprivation is seen as marker for how hard people work.
The sleep schedules of business moguls are often cited as a large factor of their success. Reportedly, Richard Branston gets five hours sleep a night, Donald Trump comes in at three hours, and PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi reports only getting four hours of sleep per night. On the flip side, Jeff Bezos, one of the richest and most successful business men on the planet, makes sure to get his full eight hours in. And he isn’t alone in this. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, and Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft, both claim to get seven hours of sleep a night.
So while this myth probably won’t go away anytime soon, Startups Magazine is here to tell you that consistently getting a lack of sleep can actually hinder your chances of success.
So why is ensuring you get a good night’s sleep so important?
It’s highly unlikely that you feel at your most productive on only a few hours sleep. A study on sleep found that sleeping 7-8 hours per night increases productivity by 20%, while sleeping less than five hours per night decreases productivity by 29%. Not only that, but the quality of work that is completed on a bad night’s sleep is often not of the same quality as that completed on a full night’s sleep. Further research has shown that a lack of sleep impairs a person's ability to focus and learn efficiently and to consolidate memory. Sleep deprivation also impairs judgment. You are unable to assess a situation thoroughly and are more likely to take bigger risks and ignore the consequences of losing, which in the case of growing a startup, can cause large problems.
Research conducted by Casper and Gallup found that workers who typically get a poor night’s sleep report more than double the rate of unplanned absenteeism compared to other workers, which results in an estimated $44.6 billion in lost productivity each year. With about 155 million workers (full- and part-time) in the US workforce, the 7% who reported poor sleep over the last month represented an estimated 11 million people in the workforce who are executing their jobs with substandard levels of rest, followed by another 25% who report only fair sleep. Poor sleepers are consistently badly rested that unhealthy days resulting in missed work are more than doubled compared with all other workers, independent of other health-related issues.
There is a strong link between sleep and mental health, and lack of sleep has a profound impact on our ability to function. When you’re sleep-deprived, you’re more likely to get angry or frustrated, feel anxious, act impulsively, or behave unpredictably. Your mood is highly impacted, and you won’t act like you normally should. This can then have an impact on the team around you, which further impacts the entire team’s productivity and wellbeing.
Sleep is closely connected to mental and emotional health and lack of sleep has demonstrated links to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other conditions. Sufficient sleep, especially REM sleep, facilitates the brain’s processing of emotional information. During sleep, the brain works to evaluate and remember thoughts and memories, and a lack of sleep is harmful to the association of positive emotional content. This can influence mood and emotional reactivity and is tied to mental health disorders and their severity, including the risk of suicidal ideas or behaviours.
Getting a good night’s rest can also boost creativity. REM sleep aids with pattern recognition and is beneficial to the creative process. A study found that REM sleep helps the brain connect unrelated ideas, which in turn can aid creativity. A neurologist at Harvard Medical School found that REM sleep helps people come up with creative solutions to problems. So, while there is a myth that being tired can lead you to be creative, in reality it is rest that improves your ability to creatively problem solve and come up with fresh, new ideas.
A lack of sleep has been linked to poor cognitive function, low creativity and increased mistakes, which are all functions needed to succeed in the startup space.
While there’s no single cause of burnout, the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases classifies burnout as an occupational phenomenon with three aspects: “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy.”
Not getting enough sleep or struggling to fall asleep are stressors that can make burnout worse. Sleep helps with your emotional regulation, making stress easier to manage or let go. One study conducted by Marie Söderström et al., monitored burnt out employees for two years, gauging stress, sleep habits, and burnout severity through regular clinical assessments. The researchers found that too little sleep was the primary determinant of clinical burnout. Whilst work demands and thoughts of work during leisure time also contributed, lack of sleep had the strongest impact of all.
I hope this article has encouraged you to prioritise a good night’s sleep. Not only does your mood automatically improve, but your brain will finally be able to solve those problems that it doesn’t have the capacity to when you’re surviving on only a couple of hours sleep. So tonight, log off at the time you always tell yourself you will, and tomorrow you’ll feel the improvement.