This article has been contributed by Matt Ross.
Professionals across nearly all industries, but particularly those in creative careers, know that a wide range of problems can impact their productivity. From lack of sleep to distractions around them, they can find their productivity negatively affected despite their best efforts to focus and stay on task. The most common problems that affect productivity, however, are lack of sleep and poor quality of sleep.
How Sleep Affects Productivity
It is well known that sleep deprivation has a wide range of negative effects on our physical health – check out the infographic below for some examples. In addition to the impact on your body, there’s tremendous consequences for your mind too.
The impact of poor sleep quality or lack of sleep on productivity and performance can’t be understated. Sleep experts agree that it affects crucial cognitive functions in a variety of ways, including:
You don’t communicate as effectively when you’re tired. You talk more slowly, stopping and starting more frequently. You ramble more, are prone to repeating yourself unnecessarily and may lose your place in the conversation. If you’re saying, “Where was I?” more often, you may need more sleep.
Your performance will deteriorate over time the longer you go without proper rest. This includes less focus and slower response when faced with problems and having to make decisions. Your thoughts will be more scattered and you won’t be able to formulate solutions as readily. Tracking your work, keeping on schedule and following up on projects will all suffer. As long as you’re not getting enough sleep, your forgetfulness will increase.
You’ll have more difficulty focusing on your work and will be easily distracted by minor issues when you aren’t sleeping properly. Background noise, people walking by and other issues that aren’t usually problems can become problems when you’re overly tired.
Errors of omission increase sharply when you aren’t getting enough rest. You aren’t able to focus on fine details, leading you to forget crucial steps. You will also make more mistakes when completing tasks, potentially ruining in just minutes a project you’ve spent weeks on. The need for do-overs is commonplace for people who are sleep deprived, which is a waste of time and resources.
Decrease in Creativity
Intuitive leaps and innovative thoughts tend to dry up when you don’t get enough quality sleep. Problem solving and creativity are complex cognitive skills that suffer dramatically when you are tired because your body has to focus on essential functions rather than new ideas.
Image source: Johns Hopkins Medicine
Steps You Can Take for A Good Night’s Sleep
Fortunately, there are several ways you can get a good night’s sleep if you take a few simple steps. If you put a few of these in place, you’ll soon see an increase in both productivity and creativity as your brain benefits from increased rest and recovery.
1. Stay on Schedule
A regular sleep schedule will help you fall asleep more easily each evening. Over time, your body will come to anticipate a regular bedtime and begin shutting down for sleep. Plan on getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night. If you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, you will create a sleeping/waking cycle. Although it may be tempting to stay up late and sleep in on weekends, avoid this when possible. If you do deviate, try not to change the schedule by more than an hour.
2. Make Your Bedroom Conducive to Sleep
Your bedroom should be the ideal place to fall asleep easily and stay asleep. This means removing distractions such as televisions, electronics and other items that don’t encourage rest. Your bedroom should be dark, cool and quiet.
Room darkening blinds will help keep the room dark and setting your thermostat so the temperature drops to around 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 21 Celsius) at night will help. Turn off the television and stereo and close the door to promote quiet. If your home is noisy, consider running a fan or using a white noise machine to mask distracting sounds.
If you’re a clock watcher, turn your clock around or tuck it into a drawer before going to bed. Realizing it’s after midnight can increase your frustration and inhibit sleep. Clock watching will make the time seem to crawl and you’ll soon be checking the clock every few minutes instead of focusing on sleep.
3. Invest in a Great Bed & Bedding
The quality of your bed and accessories cannot be understated. If your mattress isn’t comfortable or you constantly have to re-arrange your pillows, you won’t sleep soundly. The most important investment you can make for a good night’s sleep is a quality mattress. Studies have shown that individuals with memory foam mattresses are happier with their sleep quality than individuals with traditional mattresses.
If you find yourself tossing and turning at night, unable to find a comfortable sleep position, check out memory foam mattresses. They react to your body weight and conform to your body’s curves, cradling you and eliminating pressure points. Consider new pillows as well. Try a few options, including feather, memory foam and buckwheat pillows until you find the right style to support your head and neck properly.
Finally, invest in quality sheets that are smooth and breathable. Natural fibers such as cotton or bamboo are breathable, wicking away sweat and preventing overheating. A soft, lightweight comforter will keep you warm without being too hot.
4. Wind Down Before Sleeping
If you go to bed and are still wired from the day, you may not be able to shut your brain down to rest. If you lie in bed for more than twenty minutes without falling asleep, get up and read, listen to some relaxing music or do some other restful activity for 20-30 minutes, then try again.
To prevent sleeplessness, take an hour or two at the end of the day to unwind and prepare your mind and body for sleep. A few ways to do this may include:
- Do yoga or another relaxing form of exercise. Avoid activities that will increase your heart rate. This is not the time to go jogging. It is the time for stretching.
- Listen to soothing music.
- Read a book or magazine.
- Avoid blue light such as your computer and cell phone.
- Take a soothing bath or shower about an hour to 90 minutes before bed.
- Try meditation or deep breathing exercises.
Image source: Tuck
5. Be Active During the Day
Be as active as possible during the day. If you’re working long hours, it is especially important to take breaks throughout the day to walk around the block, jog up and down the stairs or simply do some stretching.
If you can exercise each day for at least thirty minutes, you’ll sleep better at night. Whether you take long walks, swim, take a spin class or practice karate, your body will produce endorphins and serotonin as a result. Both of these chemical responses lead to a more restful sleep at night. As a bonus, exercise is tied directly to increased creativity during and following your workout.
Keep in mind, however, that vigorous exercise should not be done immediately before bed. Exercise earlier in the day or at least four hours before retiring so your body and brain have the chance to relax and unwind.
6. Avoid Stimulants
Caffeine is notorious for keeping people awake, so avoid it in any form in the hours before bedtime. This includes chocolate, coffee, tea, cola and even some over-the-counter pain relievers. Keep the caffeine earlier in the day to supercharge your creativity.
Smoking is also a stimulant that you should avoid for a few hours before retiring for the night.
Many people like to enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail before bed, but this is not a good idea. While alcohol may make you drowsy in the short term, it may interfere with the quality of your sleep. You won’t sleep as soundly and will wake more easily during the night, so your sleep won’t be as restful.
7. Watch What You Eat
You shouldn’t go to be hungry, but don’t stuff yourself right before bed either. Big meals or heavy snacks like pizza a few hours before bed can make you uncomfortable. Your body will be actively digesting food, making your sleep lighter. On the other hand, being too hungry will prevent a good night’s rest. Have a reasonable meal at least three to four hours before retiring. If you must have a light snack, eat it at least an hour before bed and keep it small. Dairy products or a small portion of carbohydrates are best.
Avoid drinking too many liquids in the hours before bed. Too many drinks, including water, will lead to you having to get up frequently to go to the bathroom. For some people, it’s difficult to fall back to sleep once they’ve woken in the middle of the night.
8. Limit Naps
While it’s tempting to catch up on lack of sleep at night by taking a nap during the day, this can backfire if not handled properly. A nap during the day should not last longer than 30 minutes. If you tend to sleep longer, be sure to set an alarm, then make yourself get up when it goes off.
If you must take a nap, don’t take it too late in the day. If you nap after 4:00 pm, you’re going to throw off your body’s sleep cycle. A quick nap after lunch or even in the late morning are better bets and leave you feeling refreshed without interfering with a good night’s rest.
9. Manage Your Stress
Worry is one of the most notorious culprits for lack of sleep. It shouldn’t be surprising that it also interferes with creativity because it crowds out other thoughts and occupies higher thought. Managing your stress and coping with worry can dramatically increase restful sleep. There are several ways to cope that may work for you. Try several until you find one that works for you:
- Write down what’s worrying you before heading to bed, then resolve to put it aside until morning.
- Make a to-do list for the next day if you’re fretting about how much you have on your plate.
- Try meditation. Not only will it help improve your sleep but it’s a key habit in unlocking creativity.
- Acknowledge your worries, then consciously let them go.
- Focus on your concerns if you must, but schedule a time at least an hour before bed, address your worries, come up with some solutions, then resolve to set them aside before bed.
- Focus on tensing then relaxing various muscles. By focusing your mind on something else, you break the worry cycle and help your body relax at the same time.
10. Try Over-the-Counter Sleep Aids
If nothing else has worked for you, it may be time to consult with your doctor about sleep aids that will help you get the rest you need. There are a variety of remedies that can help you get the rest you need. Your doctor may suggest taking a supplement or over-the-counter sleep aid for a short time to help get your sleep cycle back on track and encourage restful sleep.
While there are non-prescription medications as well as supplements that can encourage sleep, you should always consult with our physician before taking them. Keep in mind these are short-term fixes rather than long-term solutions. A few popular options that some doctors may suggest include:
- Melatonin, a hormone that influences your wake-sleep cycle. Taking a melatonin supplement in the evening can help you fall asleep sooner and more easily. It’s a relatively mild effect, so it’s a good starting point.
- Lemon balm, an herbal supplement.
- Magnesium, an essential mineral that can be taken to improve the quality of sleep. Magnesium depletion contributes to inflammation and interferes with restful sleep. Taking an evening dose of magnesium may help you sleep more deeply and comfortably.
- Valerian root extract, which helps calm anxiety and promotes relaxation for better sleep, is usually prepared in an herbal tea. This is an herbal supplement with few side effects that is non-habit forming, so it is considered safe for most people.
- Diphenhydramine, an antihistamine that makes you drowsy. You can find it in Benadryl and some over-the-counter sleep aids combined with pain relievers. This should only be used occasionally as a short-term aid, as your body builds a tolerance to it over time. You may also feel sleepy the next morning.
- Doxylamine succinate, the active ingredient in OTC sleeping pills. Once again, you shouldn’t take these long-term or every night, as they will stop working and you can become dependent on them.
Always consult with your doctor before taking any sleep aid, including supplements and non-prescription medications. They can guide you toward the best solution for you and monitor any possible side effects. If all else fails, your doctor may prescribe a short-term prescription medication.
Long-Term vs. Short-Term Sleep Tips
While short-term solutions can get you back on track if you’ve had insomnia for a long time, the best solutions are long-term ones. Focusing on things you can change that will continue to benefit you long after your sleep has improved will ensure you don’t run into problems down the road. Investing in a top-quality memory foam mattress, light-blocking curtains or shades and high-quality bedding will promote relaxation and better sleep that will give you restful, restorative sleep for years.
About the author: Matt Ross is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and Co-Founder and COO of The Slumber Yard.