27 September 2023

Working into the night can kill your career

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Travis Bradberry* says so-called high performers, who claim to get though their days on less than six hours of sleep, are storing up trouble for themselves.

The next time you tell yourself that you’ll sleep when you’re dead, realise that you’re making a decision that can make that day come much sooner.

Pushing late into the night is a health and productivity killer.

The short-term productivity gains from skipping sleep to work are quickly washed away by the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on your mood, ability to focus, and access to higher-level brain functions for days to come.

We’ve always known that sleep is good for your brain, but new research from the University of Rochester provides the first direct evidence for why your brain cells need you to sleep.

The study found that when you sleep your brain removes toxic proteins from its neurons that are by-products of neural activity when you’re awake.

So when you don’t get enough sleep, the toxic proteins remain in your brain cells, wreaking havoc by impairing your ability to think.

Sleep deprivation is linked to a variety of serious health problems, including heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

It stresses you out because your body overproduces the stress hormone cortisol when it’s sleep deprived.

While excess cortisol wreaks havoc on your immune system, it also makes you look older, because cortisol breaks down skin collagen.

In men specifically, not sleeping enough reduces testosterone levels and lowers sperm count.

Too many studies to list have shown that people who get enough sleep live longer, healthier lives.

Consider this — not sleeping enough makes you fat. Sleep deprivation compromises your body’s ability to metabolise carbohydrates and control food intake.

Sleep deprivation makes you hungrier by increasing the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin and makes it harder for you to get full by reducing levels of the satiety-inducing hormone leptin.

People who sleep less than six hours a night are 30 per cent more likely to become obese than those who sleep seven-to-nine hours a night.

Here are some strategies to follow for a good night’s rest.

Stay away from sleeping pills

This is anything you take that sedates you so that you can sleep, including Valium and alcohol.

Have you ever noticed that sedatives can give you some really strange dreams?

As you sleep and your brain removes harmful toxins, it cycles through an elaborate series of stages, at times shuffling through the day’s memories and storing or discarding them (which causes dreams).

Sedation interferes with these cycles, altering the brain’s natural process.

If getting off sleeping pills proves difficult, make certain you try some of the other strategies (such as cutting down on caffeine) that will make it easier for you to fall asleep naturally.

Stop drinking caffeine (at least after lunch)

You can sleep more and vastly improve the quality of the sleep you get by reducing your caffeine intake.

Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that interferes with sleep by increasing adrenaline production and blocking sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain.

When you do finally fall asleep, the worst is yet to come. Caffeine disrupts the quality of your sleep by reducing rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the deep sleep when your body recuperates most.

When caffeine disrupts your sleep, you wake up the next day with a cognitive and emotional handicap.

You’ll be naturally inclined to grab a cup of coffee or an energy drink to try to make yourself feel more alert, which very quickly creates a vicious cycle.

Avoid blue light at night

Short-wavelength blue light plays an important role in your mood, energy level, and sleep quality.

In the morning, sunlight contains high concentrations of this blue light.

When your eyes are exposed to it directly, the blue light halts production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and makes you feel more alert.

This is great, and exposure to morning sunlight can improve your mood and energy levels.

By the evening, your brain does not expect any blue light exposure and is very sensitive to it.

The problem this creates for sleep is that most of our favourite evening devices — laptops, tablets, televisions, and mobile phones — emit short-wavelength blue light.

In the case of your laptop, tablet, and phone, they do so brightly and right in your face.

This exposure impairs melatonin production and interferes with your ability to fall asleep as well as with the quality of your sleep once you do nod off.

If you must use one of these devices in the evening, you can limit your exposure with a filter or protective eye wear.

Wake up at the same time every day

Consistency is the key to a good night’s sleep, especially when it comes to waking up.

Waking up at the same time every day improves your mood and sleep quality by regulating your circadian rhythm.

Roughly an hour before you wake, hormone levels increase gradually (along with your body temperature and blood pressure), causing you to become more alert.

When you don’t wake up at the same time every day, your brain doesn’t know when to complete the sleep process and when it should prepare you to be awake.

No binge sleeping (in) on the weekend

Sleeping in on the weekend is a counterproductive way to catch up on your sleep.

It messes with your circadian rhythm by giving you an inconsistent wake-up time.

When you wake up at the same time during the work week but sleep past this time on the weekend, you end up feeling groggy and tired because your brain hasn’t prepared your body to be awake.

I know many of you reading this are thinking something like “I know a guy (or gal) who is up at all hours of the night working or socialising, and he’s the number one performer at our branch”.

My answer is simple: This guy is under-performing.

Being number one in your branch is an accomplishment, but I guarantee this guy has his sights set on bigger things he isn’t achieving because sleep deprivation has him performing at a fraction of his full potential.

*Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of the bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the co-founder of TalentSmart. He can be contacted at talentsmart.com.

This article first appeared at talentsmart.com.

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