Do you think you got enough sleep last week? Can you recall the last time you woke up without an alarm clock feeling refreshed, not craving caffeine? If the answer to either of these questions is “no,” you are not alone. Two-thirds of adults throughout the developed world fail to get the recommended eight hours of nightly sleep.
Sleep is one of the most, if not the most, underrated "activities" in our daily life. Many people believe that sleep is the enemy of productivity and stigmatize people who prioritize sleep as lazy. Science paints another picture entirely. Underslept employees are less creative, less productive, and often choose to take on easier challenges at work.
We can't achieve peak performance without good quality sleep. It just can't happen. Within the brain, sleep enriches a diversity of functions, including our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions and choices. Sleep recalibrates our emotional brain circuits, allowing us to navigate social and psychological challenges with cool-headed composure.
The recent coronavirus quarantine offers both challenges and opportunities. On one hand, we're all a little more stressed than we'd normally be right now. On the other hand, we also have more time at home, less time commuting, and a need to establish a new routine for ourselves. This could be the perfect opportunity to focus on our sleep and try to develop healthier sleep habits.
So, let's see how you can enhance your sleep, feel better, and improve work performance.
To understand the effect of light on our sleep, we first need to talk about melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the internal body clock to tell us when to go to sleep and when to wake up. The production of melatonin is heavily affected by light. Sun goes down, melatonin goes up, you feel sleepy.
Daily exposure to sunlight is key to regulating daily sleep patterns. Try to get outside in natural sunlight for at least thirty minutes each day. If possible, wake up with the sun or use very bright lights in the morning. People actually produce more melatonin in the evenings if they are exposed to the bright lights in the morning.
Another thing you need to work on is your screen time. You probably have heard about the effect of blue light produced by screens. These blue lights actually inhibit the release of melatonin. So, try to unplug at least one hour before bedtime.
Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. As creatures of habit, people have a hard time adjusting to changes in sleep patterns. Sleeping later on weekends won’t fully make up for a lack of sleep during the week and will make it harder to wake up early on Monday morning. Set an alarm for bedtime - seems counterintuitive, but it will help you develop consistent sleep patterns. Relax before bed. Don't overschedule your day so that there’s no time left to unwind. Try adding a relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music to your bedtime ritual.
Food and beverage
Avoid caffeine and nicotine. The effects of caffeine can take as long as eight hours to wear off fully. Even a small cup of coffee in the late afternoon can make it hard for you to fall asleep at night. Nicotine is also a stimulant, often causing smokers to sleep only very lightly. In addition, smokers often wake up too early in the morning because of nicotine withdrawal. Also, avoid large meals and beverages late at night. A light snack is okay, but a large meal can cause indigestion, which interferes with sleep.
Exercise is great, but not too late in the day. Try to exercise at least thirty minutes on most days, but not later than one to two hours before your bedtime.
Creating SleepTemple* will dramatically improve your nights.
A dark, cool,gadget-free bedroom is recommended. Get rid of anything in your bedroom that might distract you from sleep, such as noise, bright lights, an uncomfortable bed, or warm temperatures. You sleep better if the temperature in the room is kept on the cool side. A TV, cell phone, or computer in the bedroom can be a distraction and deprive you of needed sleep. Individuals who have insomnia often watch the clock. Turn the clock’s face out of view so you don't have to worry about the time while trying to fall asleep.
Finally, do not take work into the bedroom. This will create a spike in your cortisol level, a hormone associated with stress and wakefulness. It will also make your brain associate your bedroom with work and activity, when you want it to be associated with sleep.
Sacrificing sleep is the first thing most people do to gain time because it's the easiest thing to sacrifice. We think it only affects us. The reality is that it may take a toll on many things, including our relationships and our performance at work.
At Spark Digital we encourage our team to practice healthy sleep habits. We take pains to maintain a healthy work/life balance. We offer stretching, meditation, massage, and have various company soccer teams to help keep our team members healthy, relaxed and productive.
If anyone out there has more ideas on how companies can help their team adopt and maintain healthy sleep practices we’d love to hear from you!
About the author
This article was written in collaboration with one of our favorite software engineers who has 11+ years of experience and who has been on the Spark Digital team for over 7 years. As a backend engineer, here at Spark Digital, he’s been part of different teams building applications and systems with different languages, frameworks, and technologies. He’s a travel enthusiast and, in his free time enjoys hanging out with friends, film, sports, and reading novels.