Maybe sleeping your way to the top isn’t such a bad idea after all?
Here’s a summary of what we read in the headlines every day (in an annoyingly chipper tone, no less):
- Do more.
- Work harder.
- Accomplish more!
- Get up early and take a cold shower!
- No pain, no gain!
Here’s what we should be reading: sleep more.
Huh? Isn’t hitting the snooze button counterproductive?
Yes and no. Allow me to explain…
Most of us think of sleep as “powering down,” as if we’re putting our computers in sleep mode. However our brains are very active machines buzzing with activity even while we sleep.
Now here’s the cool part: our brains are factories for passive learning. They’re working around the clock on our behalf as long as we practice good habits.
To see where and when the learning happens, let’s start with the 4 phases of sleep
Stage One (N1):
Light sleep. Lasts only a few minutes.
Stage Two (N2):
A slightly deeper sleep. Your brain experiences a sudden uptick in activity and then slows down.
Stages Three and Four (N3):
A deep sleep. No rapid eye movement. This is when your body shifts into repair mode and releases human growth hormone. Cell turnover stimulates muscle and tissue regeneration.
Deep sleep equates to more energy, learning power and improved immune function the next day.
Begins about 90 minutes after falling asleep and will occur 5-6 times per night.
Your brain becomes more active and you experience dreams while your eyes literally shift back and forth. This is also when your brain consolidates memories and events from the day. It’s the time we rejuvenate our emotional health.
Photo courtesy of howsleepworks.com
Over the course of one evening you’ll move through these phases in a disjointed manner, waking up after you’ve completed the process several times.
Pretty cool, huh? Now let’s talk about what happens when these phases get hijacked
- Sleep Inertia
You’re probably familiar with this concept without even knowing the official term. It’s when you wake up feeling terrible even though you’ve been asleep for a long time.
It happens because you woke up in the middle of a sleep cycle, which interrupts whatever physiological repair is going on before that cycle has ended.
Very brief episodes of sleep that usually happen without our conscious control. You’ll wake up feeling disoriented and maybe even a little surprised you were able to nod off in such a short period of time.
This is your brain saying, “Danger! Danger! I’m beyond exhausted!” According to health science experts[note] Caputo, P. The Vital Role of Sleep and Rest. Health Science (08838216). Fall2015, Vol. 38 Issue 4, p13-26. 3p.[/note], our body produces extra adrenaline when we miss the 11pm cutoff.
Our bodies have to work harder to clean out excess stress hormones during deep sleep. If we fail to clean out all the gunk, we feel as though we’re moving through life under water.
- Mood Swings
We know this one all too well. Impaired sleep disrupts communication between the emotion center and the control centers of your brain[note]What Happens When Your Brain Doesn’t Sleep? Science.mic infographic[/note].
As a result, it doesn’t take much to send our tempers straight through the roof…and watch out for anyone in our way!! Next thing you know, we’re crying in the corner because we feel guilty for whatever we just said.
Sleep deprivation lowers our hormones (like the ones that let you know you’re full), leading to a greater likelihood of feeling depressed and hangry.Insomnia intensifies the side effects of psychiatric disorders[note]Harvard Health Publishing[/note]. This in turn leads to more insomnia, creating a cascade effect.
- Impaired Cognition
We’re more likely to have our head in the clouds. Case in point: sleep deprivation was to blame in the case of the Exxon Valdez, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters. When sleep deprived, we’re more likely to disengage and phase out of our visual sensory network.
Here’s the good news
You’ll see a big difference in your performance with even just small boosts in your sleep game.
How many times have you fallen asleep with a problem hanging over your head, only to wake up with a creative solution? Four studies conducted at Harvard University[note]Harvard Men’s Health Watch. Feb2012, Vol. 16 Issue 7, p4-5[/note] tested for the extent we learn while we sleep.
In 2010, college students showed improvement in their creative mapping skills when given the opportunity to sleep for 90 minutes. NREM sleep was all they needed to boost virtual maze solutions.
Which just goes to show what an hour of extra sleep can do for your work performance and mental sharpness.
In addition to creative problem solving, here are some other perks:
- You’ll learn a new skill faster[note]Vaughan, B. Why you need MORE SLEEP.Good Health (Australia Edition). May2015, p44-47. 4p.[/note]
- You’ll increase focus and attention span
- You’ll manage conflict better
- You’ll make better decisions
- You’ll plan ahead better
- You’ll communicate better
Moms (especially new moms) are prone to deficits in two major areas: time and sleep. We think maybe if we squeeze a few more things into our day we’ll feel better. By the time we get to sleep, we can’t shut off our brains. This leads to less and less sleep, making us feel worse.
It’s a vicious cycle.
Try to switch your focus to what is accomplished during rest. Knowing that you’re getting things done – even passively – might help you feel better about stopping whatever jobs you’re working on late at night.
Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a sleep hack. You just need to do it well, and do it often.