Sleep is essential to performance. Think about it: you feel and do your best when you’re well rested. When you don’t get enough sleep, it’s tough to concentrate, and you don’t have the energy you need for peak physical performance. You’re more likely to work slower and make mistakes. In fact, being sleep deprived can have an effect similar to being drunk.
But getting the sleep you need could be key to improving your performance. It allows you to rest, recharge, and prepare to give each day your best shot.
What Sleep Does to Productivity
People who don’t get enough sleep are less productive. Your reactions are slower, and you may struggle to solve problems or make decisions. It’s more difficult to focus and think creatively, too. In fact, a 2010 study of thousands of workers found that workers with insomnia or insufficient sleep had large productivity losses.
Sleep deprivation is a particular problem for your mental performance because your brain needs sleep to learn and retain information. Your memories are consolidated in REM sleep, but when you’re not getting enough sleep, it’s often REM sleep that suffers. When you’re not getting enough, you can’t remember as well.
Sleep and Physical Performance
It’s not just your brain that suffers when you’re short on sleep, but your body, too. Sleep is when your body recovers from physical activity, building muscle and boosting your strength and endurance. When you don’t get enough sleep, you’re likely to have slower reaction times, longer recovery, and overall lower performance.
Not getting enough sleep can hurt athletic performance in both the short and long term, as recovery is essential for sustained performance. Additionally, you’re at a greater risk of injury when you’re short on sleep. A study of adolescents found that athletes playing a game on less than eight hours of sleep were nearly twice as likely to get injured.
What You Can Do To Improve Sleep
Sleep is important to supporting your mental and athletic performance. But sleeping well is often easier said than done. How can you set the stage for better sleep?
- – Practice healthy sleep habits. The first step toward healthy sleep is in your regular sleep habits. You need to give yourself enough time to sleep each night, which means at least seven to nine hours of rest, plus time to fall asleep and wake up. You should keep a regular sleep schedule, so you’re getting to sleep and waking up about the same time each night and day, which can help your circadian rhythm stay consistent. And a regular bedtime routine, which you repeat every night, can help you recognize when it’s time to start getting sleepy.
- – Create a healthy sleep environment. Your bedroom should support good sleep. That means it should be quiet, dark, cool, and comfortable. Consider your bedding, and look for a mattress, sheets, and blankets that are appropriate for your needs.
- – Manage stress before bed. Sometimes, it’s tough to get to sleep, thinking of a big meeting, performance, or event the next day. That’s normal, but you can banish stress and get better rest. Use stress management tools like relaxation techniques, including yoga and meditation. Consider aromatherapy, a hot bath, or any other activities that help you wind down, relax, and take a load off.
- – Address sleep disorders. If you’re having a hard time sleeping at night, it could be a chronic issue that needs to be treated. Talk to your doctor if you’re regularly struggling to sleep at night. You could have a sleep disorder such as insomnia or sleep apnea that can make it tough to get the rest you need, but treatment can help.
- – Don’t sacrifice sleep for work or exercise. Reaching your goals is important, but you won’t get far if you don’t give yourself downtime. Make sure daytime activities aren’t interfering with the sleep you need at night. Exercise late at night could make you too stimulated to get to sleep. Working into the night can have a negative effect as well, confusing your circadian rhythm as you’re exposed to the blue wave light from screens.
Getting the sleep you need is key for making the most of productivity and performance. Make sure you’re taking steps to improve your sleep — and it’s likely your performance will improve along with it.
Sara Westgreen is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck. She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.