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It is increasingly common not to get enough sleep due to various factors such as children, noisy neighbours, work worries or bingeing on the latest series. Unfortunately, an ongoing sleep debt puts you at risk of significant mental, emotional and physical health issues which will affect your personal and professional performance.

I recall learning many years ago working in the resources sector that operating with sleep deprivation is exactly the same as trying to work with a blood alcohol content and can lead to the same impairments and potential safety risks.

In addition to the common physical issues caused with long term sleep loss; even in the short term, a lack of sleep can impact your memory, decision making, focus, mental agility, clarity, problem solving ability and learning capacity. Not to mention the emotional impact on both you and those around you as your emotional fuse shortens and your ability to regulate your emotions reduces, anxiety decreases and irritability and aggression can increase. This can lead to a reliance on emotional crutches such as caffeine, alcohol, food, smoking and other drugs to change your energy levels and alertness, further enhancing the mental and physical impacts.

Sadly, despite claims from famous figures that they can successfully survive on 4 hours of sleep per night; there is no hack that will allow you to thrive and perform optimally with poor sleep health. Thanks to the circadian rhythm, our bodies are never designed to get used to ‘all nighters’ or even regular rostered night shiftwork for the likes of Doctors and other health professionals, those that work in manufacturing plants or other 24/7 work environments. Leaders and HR professionals need to ensure that they are supporting these employees as much as possible to ensure they are fit for work.

The recommended amount of sleep is between 7 – 9 hours per night and less than that will lead to an accumulated sleep debt which can only partially be overcome through attaining additional sleep on future nights. Realistically, this can be difficult to achieve especially if the reason for lack of sleep is ongoing and not easily or quickly within your control to resolve eg. Stress, a big project deadline or noisy neighbours.

Ideally, the best solution is to prevent or minimise the sleep debt occurring in the first place by focusing on good sleep hygiene. Common recommendations include creating a regular routine that creates the conditions for sleep:

  • go to bed when you feel tired and ideally at a set time that gives you the potential to achieve at least 7 hours of sleep
  • switch off all forms of technology prior to bedtime which can disrupt your circadian rhythm by tricking your body into thinking it is still day time
  • reduce / stop consuming stimulants such as alcohol and caffeine. Caffeine can stimulate your system for up to 6 hours after consuming, so opt for a caffeine-free tea like lemongrass and ginger or mint for afternoon catchups which are better for your digestive system also.
  • you can use natural remedies to encourage calm and sleep such as chamomile or valerian based teas. Equally, using lavender products such as hand cream or pillow sprays can be helpful.
  • going from a warm environment to slightly cooler conditions promotes sleep eg. Have a warm bath or shower right before going to bed in a room which isn’t overly heated 
  • ensure your room is as dark as possible including no blue lights from modems / gadgets
  • try a form of meditation or other relaxation method to influence your thinking in order to slow it down, reduce distraction and anxiety

It is important to make sleep health a priority to support better mental, emotional and physical performance; which will lead to more successful and enjoyable outcomes both at home and in the workplace. Sleep is an investment you can’t afford not to make and will give you super powers!