"In many a music, it's the pause or rest, that gives the piece its beauty and its shape." – Pico Iyer, author - The Art of Stillness
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A good night’s sleep is one such pause; a necessary reset before the next day to help us fully appreciate its essence.
Experts have been harping on getting seven to eight hours of a good night’s sleep while most of us are busy clocking 6 hours on average. In this hyper connected world, our work lives and personal habits have changed to the degree that we are oblivious to the signs of a building sleep deficit.
Sleep deficit hinders our ability to stay focused at work. It hinders our ability to stay cheerful and collaborative in social settings, to be innovative and creative when working alongside our teams; essentially impacting the key ingredients of a “winning team” in any workplace.
We all have experienced one or more of these signs of sleep deficit. Just remember how we feel after spending late nights either working on assignments or binge-watching our favorite shows.
5 Signs of Sleep Deficit
1. Episodes of Micro-Sleep, Which Impacts Alertness
Micro-sleep is your body’s kill switch forcing you to take some rest. This is half a second to ten seconds of lapse in consciousness. When these episodes of micro-sleep get frequent, it is hard for us to stay focused.
2. Poor Recall, Which Impacts High Productivity
People may not realize the role that restful sleep plays in forming long term memory. During deep sleep our brain consolidates newly acquired facts and information, storing important information in long-term memory banks and discarding unimportant information.
As you can imagine, with prolonged lack of sleep, the process of creating these long-term memory stores is impaired resulting in poor memory or inability to recall.
3. Poor Social Behavior, Which Impacts Collaborative Spirit
Research shows that sleep-loss affects the brain’s prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that is responsible for social behavior and executive functions such as planning and decision making. Evidence suggests that sleep deprivation impacts social behavior and alertness and may have an impact on decision making.
4. Lack of Creativity, a Necessity For Innovation
Our prefrontal cortex is also responsible for creativity which is a vital factor in innovation. The phrase “sleep on it” is quite an accurate solution to tough problems you may have been distraught over all day.
5. Fatigue, Resulting in Poor Reflexes
Sleep deprivation causes loss of muscle control due to fatigue. An increase in insulin resistance prevents glucose to be released in cells to create energy. As a result, we feel fatigued, have poor muscle control, in turn, resulting in poor reflexes.
As you can see, sleep plays a key role in developing an overall sense of well-being at a workplace with genuinely cheerful, focused and creative employees.
Building the importance of good night’s sleep, however, is both a professional and a personal choice. Our work environment needs to support a balanced culture, and we as individuals need to develop habits that allow a full night’s rest on most nights.
A key factor in the quality of sleep we receive, through the night, is the actual process of how we fall asleep. Our personal habits that create the right environment before sleep determine how easily we fall asleep and how long or how deep our sleep is.
4 habits that make falling asleep easier
1. Exercise Daily
Stress is a common cause of sleep problems. Even a few minutes of daily exercise can release anti-stress hormones improving one’s mood. However, rigorous exercise just before bedtime can hinder sleep. Allowing time to relax before sleeping is necessary.
Yoga, stretching and regulated breathing can help lower cortisol levels and help you relax before bed time. This form of slow exercise has been found responsible for increasing the amount of deep sleep—the most restorative phase of sleep. Many leaders have the habit of reading or listening to music as a way of unwinding before bed.
2. Keep a Healthy Diet and Eating Habits
Going to bed either hungry or stuffed may impact our quality of sleep. A light and healthy meal a few hours before bedtime is considered best for sleep.
Caffeine or nicotine take time to wear off and disrupt sleep if taken too close to bedtime. Even though alcohol makes us drowsy and helps falling asleep, it can hinder breathing which may increase episodes of apnea during sleep. Alcohol before sleeping can also interfere with REM sleep.
3. Create a Quiet, Comfortable Ambiance for Sleep
When it comes to the right environment to fall asleep think: comfortable, uncluttered, quiet, cool and dark.
To begin the process of falling asleep as soon as you enter your bedroom, associate your bed with a place where you relax. Avoid having a television set or a work desk near a bed setting. Wear cool and comfortable clothes to sleep, avoiding overly layered and bulky or tight and restrictive clothing. Adding a sound machine, a fan and aromatherapy also help with the process of getting ready for bed and falling asleep easily.
Maintain a Consistent Sleep Schedule, Limiting The Use of Electronics Before and After Bedtime
Our body’s circadian rhythm is designed to respond to the day and night cycle. It wakes us up at the daylight, dips once during the day and slows our body down as night falls to prepare for sleep. For most, sleep occurs between 11 PM and 7 AM give or take an hour.
When our personal habits or jobs require us to go against this day/night rhythm, there is an imbalance created in our internal body clock. Prolonged imbalance can lead to severe exhaustion or worse, medical problems such as obesity, diabetes, depression, and dementia.
To avoid circadian rhythm disorder, maintaining regular sleep-wake times is extremely important. To help develop a regular cycle that coincides with the natural day-night cycle, it’s important to regulate exposure to sunlight. Those with an earlier than normal sleep cycle should increase exposure to daylight. Those with later than normal sleep cycles should minimize light from electronics, which mimics sunlight and hinders sleep, about 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime.
While employees work on developing healthy sleep habits, employers should support them to balance their life between work and personal commitments.
4 ways to encourage and support the importance of rest
1. Create Awareness About the Importance of Sleep
Despite the recent popularity of wearable tech that measures the quality of our sleep, many of us are unaware of how the lack of sleep impacts our behavior, productivity, and health.
To cultivate mindfulness about the sleep epidemic, conduct open conversations on healthy sleep habits with employees when signs of sleep deprivation are seen in the workplace.
2. Determine the Reason for Consistent Long Working Hours
Most of the conditions that cause consistent longer working hours are systemic. These circumstances require employees to compensate by working overtime.
Poor definition of scope, estimation and resource planning of projects
Insufficient definition and consensus of requirements, causing changes in requirements mid-project without a change in deadlines
If employers took the time to understand and change these conditions, there would be less stress in the workplace. Employers can reduce these situations by establishing project management processes and rewarding both business and employee satisfaction.
3. Reward Smart Work, Not Just Longer Work
Create a culture of proper planning and expectation management before execution. Encourage initiatives that replace mundane, time-consuming tasks with automation. Reward on-time and on-budget initiatives in addition to those who go the extra mile.
4. Encourage Time Off to Recover
Time away from work is how employees hit the reset button to recharge. When employers do not offer paid personal or sick days, employees choose to come to work in sub-optimal conditions instead of staying home. This could impact their productivity and possibly that of their coworkers.
Developing a healthy work culture that sustains employee productivity and growth is key to attracting and retaining a talented workforce. Whereas developing good personal habits, necessary for sustained high productivity, is key to each individual’s professional growth and personal happiness.