Sleep – How Lack Of It Is Costing You

How lack of sleep is costing you!

There’s been a lot of recent research about the power of sleep and renewal and vacations to drive higher sustainable performance. A sign that the conventional media are finally catching up to some of these new ideas and their importance is shown by the fact that The New York Times gave this information such prominent display back in February 2013.

Now, the other thing about this New York Times article is, that after more than two days, it was still the most emailed article on The New York Times website.

In my opinion this is a measure of the overwhelm that people everywhere – and I’m sure you’re among them – are feeling in their jobs, and the huge hunger that they have for solutions.

Sleep-deprivationWe’re also seeing this in the rapidly rising number of female entrepreneurs and women in business who are interested in learning more about this topic and who are interested not just in helping themselves to better manage their energy (in other words to do this at an individual level), but also in bringing this information into the business themselves.

These entrepreneur’s and (in my opinion) visionaries are really rethinking what it takes to better meet the needs of their employees. In other words to create cultures that are less about getting more out of people and more about investing more in them – and that’s incredibly heartening.

I really feel that this is the beginning of a tectonic shift in the workplace. What I think that entrepreneurs are finally catching up to is the fact that they are still employing 20th Century work practices in a radically transformed 21st Century world that’s far more complex and far more demanding than the pre-internet world I grew up in just a few decades ago.

And in that world, I will tell you, ancient as it seems, sleep wasn’t a subject that was discussed much. My sense was that at that, time most people got enough sleep. I mean, yes, there were a few who had insomnia and didn’t, but if they didn’t get enough sleep the demands weren’t so great that it didn’t matter that much

But here’s what makes today’s world different.

The difference in the ‘new’ world is that the greater the performance demand the greater the need for renewal.

We live in just the opposite way though, don’t we? When the demand goes up we push ourselves harder for longer, and in the process we burn down our energy reservoirs because we continue to operate by this pervasive myth – ‘one hour less of sleep will add one more hour of productivity to our day’.

But this is just not true!

Just think about this all the way back to the time you were in school or college or University and you stayed up late on the night before a test to cram, to try to get that ‘extra’ information into your brain in time for that test the next morning.

And guess what?

You actually did yourself a disservice. Because the fact is that the most important thing ‘intellectually’ that happens during sleep, is that this is when memory and learning gets embedded, and the longer and the more deeply you sleep the more learning gets embedded.

Doesn’t that put a spin on some of our previous ‘study habits?

As we’ve gotten older we’ve continued to assume that we can always ‘steal’ an hour of sleep, but in fact even small amounts of sleep deprivation have a profound impact not just on our general level of energy but on our health, on our cognitive capacity, on our ability to be productive and effective.

A quick question; what do these have in common with health, cognitive capacity and our ability to be productive and effective?

The answer is; human error – errors start to get caused because of human error due to lack of sleep, sleep deprivation and fatigue.

Each of the absolute biggest disasters of the last fifty years, typically worldwide environment disasters like;

  • BP oil spill
  • Bhopal / Union Carbide gas leak
  • Three Island meltdown
  • Challenger crash
  • Chernobyl explosion
  • Exxon Valdez oil spill
  • Ferry sinking in South Korea

Every single one of them had one of two causes;

  • either people who were in charge in these situations were deeply sleep-deprived or
  • they were working during late hours, hours when their bodies wanted them to be asleep.

Generally speaking, these disasters happened during the middle of the night or the people involved were up very late and they were sleep-deprived.

This is a pretty telling fact – especially when the kinds of arenas in which people are often sleep-deprived – are when they’re on boats and when they’re working in nuclear plants and when they’re working at NASA.

But the more common area where we see this happening is in the training of doctors. You know, the macho approach – ‘I don’t need much sleep and I didn’t get much as a doctor when I was training so why should you get it?’

That approach has been alive and well in the medical training world for more than a hundred years, and for most of those years it was common to work thirty hours consecutively if you were on call. And there’s still places where that continues to be the case.

And God save you – because only God could save you – if you had an emergency when one of those residents was in his or her twenty-fifth or twenty-eighth hour of being awake and working.

Aside: it certainly happened to me when I started in Veterinary practice. Working longs days, many consecutive nights on call, etc. I’m sure that this still happens to some degree in our industry – maybe not so much. But you will know better than I do.

I’ll leave you now with this final thought; why is it that thirty hours or twenty-five hours or even twenty consecutive hours without sleep – is so costly?

BIO: Diederik Gelderman

We would love to hear how many hours of sleep are you averaging per night? Post you comments below