You likely already realize how sleep deprivation can negatively impact your performance at work. You’ve gone to bed late and woken up the next day feeling sluggish, groggy, and unable to focus. All of us have, and some of us experience these symptoms on a regular basis.
However, you may be underestimating the severity of the impact of sleep deprivation on your career—and you may misunderstand how sleep deprivation can manifest. In this article, you’ll learn more about the nature of sleep deprivation, and how to improve your sleep hygiene.
How Sleep Deprivation Works
You know you’ll be sleep deprived if you only get an hour of sleep at night, but sleep deprivation can occur in many different ways, and at different levels of severity. For starters, you can be sleep deprived not just by getting an inadequate number of hours of sleep, but also an inadequate quality of sleep. In other words, planning to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep during the night may not be enough to prevent you from experiencing the effects of sleep deprivation.
Sleep deprivation can also be both acute and chronic; if you miss a single night of sleep, it probably won’t have a long-term impact on your health. Instead, it will likely only affect you throughout the day. However, if you miss a quality night’s sleep on a regular basis, the negative effects will gradually accumulate and grow in severity—even if you’re only missing a couple hours per night.
The Effects of Sleep Deprivation
The effects of sleep deprivation can be separated into two categories: short-term and long-term. You’ll feel short-term effects like these if you miss a night or two of high-quality sleep:
- Lack of focus. First, missing sleep can decrease your ability to focus your attention. If you’re in a meeting listening to a client or in a lecture hall taking notes, you’ll find it much harder to pay attention. This can sharply decrease the quality of your work, and cause you frustration as you try to accomplish your responsibilities.
- Diminished cognitive function. Even after just an hour or two of missing sleep, you’ll have a harder time employing your higher cognitive functions. You’ll have increased difficulty solving problems, thinking through challenges, and running calculations in your head. You may also have a harder time managing your conversations or thinking through your words. Everything you use your brain for will get harder.
- Increased risk of accidents and errors. People who are sleep deprived are much more likely to make mistakes, due to confusion or lack of awareness. They get involved in accidents more often, and make more errors in their work. If you’re operating heavy machinery, or if people depend on the accuracy of your work, this can be downright dangerous.
- Decreased memory. You’ll also have trouble making new memories if you’re sleep deprived. You’ll have a harder time retaining the contents of meetings and lectures, and you’ll find yourself struggling to remember if you finished those last few tasks on your list.
Over time, if you continue missing sleep, these effects will negatively impact your work:
- Depression and anxiety. Over time, if your sleep deprivation is chronic, you’ll be more susceptible to mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. If you’re overly anxious, you’ll be much more vulnerable to the effects of stress, and if you’re depressed, you’ll feel unmotivated, with a lack of energy, on a regular basis.
- Increased risk of illness. Missing sleep can also increase your risk for various diseases. Over time, you’ll be more likely to develop chronic ailments and diseases like cancer, and because your immune system will be weaker, you’ll find yourself more susceptible to the flu and the common cold. This can result in missing more work and a sharp decline in your health.
- Obesity and heart disease. People who are sleep deprived are also at higher risk of obesity and heart disease, conditions that bring their own set of risks, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke. If you aren’t careful, these factors can cut your lifespan.
Making Sleep a Priority
If you care about your performance, your career, and your overall wellbeing, sleep needs to be one of your top priorities. You need to schedule sufficient hours of sleep the same way you’d schedule any obligation or priority in your life. You should invest in a good mattress and pillow. You should analyze and improve your daily habits, optimizing them for sleep; for example, you can exercise daily, eat healthier food, avoid digital screens after dark, and moderate your consumption of caffeine and alcohol. If you minimize the effects of sleep deprivation on your life, you’ll be amazed how much more you can do.