Didn't sleep well last night? Focus on the difficult things today!


It's a bit ironic... the day I'd planned to write this blog, I woke up at 4.55am and couldn't go back sleep. The topic...? The impact of sleep deprivation on our brains and performance at work.

Why is this important?

Sleep deprivation is likely to impact us all at some point throughout our careers. Yet, we tend brush it off as ''just not sleeping well'' forgetting about, or not being aware of the consequences it can have on our brains.

Most scientists agree that lack of sleep can impact our brains and performance negatively at work and that a many of us get less sleep than we need.

Several reports state that 50% of us get less than 7 hours of sleep/night. This may or may not be an issue, as whilst it is widely believed that 8 hours are the ''required amount of sleep'', the actual hours we need vary. The same reports, however, also illustrate that 30% of us get less sleep than we feel we need and 30% of us have fallen asleep, or nearly fallen asleep at work...

Interestingly, it's not the lack of time available to sleep that is an issue (although some consultants and bankers might disagree here). Only 13% of us believe our work schedule has a negative impact on the hours available to us to sleep.

Thus, the majority of us have time to sleep, we just don't sleep when we can.

Whilst there are thousands of factors that could impact the quality of our sleep, having reviewed the research available, stress and technology seem to be the two main contributing factors to the quality of our sleep, and they can also feed each other negatively.

Research shows that stress is closely correlated with shortened, fragmented and reduced sleep. Ironically, shortened sleep also increases cortisol levels, further exasperating the effects of stress.

It becomes a vicious circle.  

In addition, the activation of thoughts when e.g. reading messages, combined with luminous displays on phones and laptops disrupt our sleep as melatonin levels are supressed and cortisol released, which can lead to poor sleep... Data illustrates that a vast majority of us bring our phones or laptops (or both!) to bed and more than half of us believe this is having a negative impact on our sleep. Yet, we still do it.

How does sleep deprivation impact our brains?

It impairs cognitive performance that depends on the Prefrontal Cortex such as language, executive functions, creative thinking and attention. We think, we act, we react slower, we make more mistakes and it affects our mood. Interestingly, performance declines more when we perform simple, routine and repetitive tasks than when we perform complex tasks.

What can you do?

First of all, leave phones and laptops outside the bedroom. Secondly, a lot of academic research, as well as our own ongoing research, #Exercise4BrainFitness, illustrate that exercise, meditation and mindfulness can reduce stress levels and thus, also have a positive impact on the quality of your sleep.

Personally (hard as it is) I try not to use technology after 8pm, I exercise in the morning and I meditate at night. That seems to work for me.

What works for you? What makes you sleep better?