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How Much Sleep Is Enough to Keep You Interested in Your Job?

Topics: Data & Research
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Sleep can be a wonderful thing. New moms and dads miss it. Teenagers are addicted to it. Small children don’t know what they’re missing. But when it comes to your career, have you considered how much sleep is affecting your job satisfaction?

A new survey shows a link between lack of sleep and intent to leave. Using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, The Sleep Judge surveyed 1,011 people who worked full- or part-time at a physical location, and found a correlation between sleep deprivation and looking for a new job.

The site also found that those who came to work tired every day were more likely to report that they wanted to change jobs. Over 17 percent of employees who came to work tired just one day a week said that they were looking for another position. Among those who came to work tired five days a week, 36.6 percent wanted to make a change. And among folks who were tired all the time (six or more days a week), 52.8 percent were ready to jump ship.

Lesson being: If the company’s workforce is coming to the office exhausted, they’re likely going to be pretty disinterested in sticking around for long.

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The Connection Between Inspiration And Relaxation

Rest helps us think better. The opposite is also true. When those surveyed had only one day of poor rest under their belts, they were 73.3 percent likely to find inspiration at work. When they were going on five days of too little sleep, that plummeted to 37.1 percent.

Finding the right amount of sleep for your creative spark can be very personal, but a few nap pods sprinkled around the office can’t always cut it. Still, short rests like a nap can help recharge your brain. Just don’t use naps too often. They’re a Band-Aid, not a long-term sleep solution.

The Negative Impact of the All-Nighter

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When you stay up too late, there comes a point where you simply aren’t functioning as well as you should. A succession of late nights, or even the occasional “all-nighter” for work, can leave you struggling to do basic tasks — much less your best work.

“Sleep deprivation impairs the ability to focus attention selectively: Research shows that after roughly 17 to 19 hours of wakefulness (say, at 11 PM or 1 AM for someone who got up at 6 AM), individual performance on a range of tasks is equivalent to that of a person with a blood alcohol level of 0.05%,” write Nick van Dam and Els van der Helm at the Harvard Business Review. “That’s the legal drinking limit in many countries. After roughly 20 hours of wakefulness (2 AM), this same person’s performance equals that of someone with a blood alcohol level of 0.1%, which meets the legal definition of drunk in the United States.”

After years of writing about the problems stemming from a lack of sleep, writer Sarah Wu didn’t actually follow her own advice, but instead took on lots of work and put sleep aside. Her wake-up call (literally) was a mid-morning car crash.

“I didn’t consider [my lack of sleep] a problem that needed to be fixed; it was just a fact, the result of nights spent crossing every single thing off my to-do list instead of going to bed at a reasonable hour,” Wu writes in Teen Vogue. “One year after I waxed eloquent on beauty sleep, I drove my car straight into a concrete pillar in an underground parking lot.”

How Much Sleep is Enough Sleep?

The National Sleep Foundation offers sleep recommendations for all age groups. They say that adults (ages 26-64) should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and no less than six hours per night.

There have also been studies that show that women need more sleep than men, but they’re often tasked with work at home that hinders their rest (like taking care of small children or doing a greater proportion of housework). Or, they’re dealing with issues (like menopause or pregnancy) that increase insomnia or restlessness at night.

Lose the “No Sleep” Badge of Honor at Work

Happy Worker Raise

Successful entrepreneurs like Ariana Huffington and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian advocate getting enough Zzz’s. Ohanian used to go to bring work into the bedroom until his normal bedtime around 2 a.m., but no longer.

“I try not to have the computer in the bedroom,” Ohanian said. “I used to sleep with it, though. I used to wake up spooning my laptop.”

Huffington has spearheaded a movement that aims to end the idea of lack of sleep as a badge of dedication. She wrote The Sleep Revolution and has given many public speeches about the need to reclaim our sleep from too much deprivation in the name of hard work.

You’ve certainly heard this a time or two in your professional career. Someone remarks, “I was up till 3 a.m. getting this finished,” or “The team pulled an all-nighter!” or “They’re so committed, they slept here last night!” This type of bragging about passing on sleep sets up a culture that puts work over the employees’ well-being, and Huffington agrees it has to go.

“One of the most important parts of this cultural shift [over sleep] is changing our workplace culture — perhaps the single biggest factor in taking back our sleep,” she points out in her book. “If we don’t continue to chip away at our collective delusion that burnout is the price we must pay for success, we’ll never be able to restore sleep to its rightful place in our lives. The good news is that more and more business leaders are realizing that what’s good for their employees’ well-being is also good for business.”

How to Cope with a Sleep-Deprived Workplace

Humans need sleep in order to function. By encouraging workers to go without, companies are compromising their ability to produce. But you’re not in charge (yet), so what can you do?

  • Look for culture clues. When you’re job searching, pay attention to how companies describe themselves. If you see a lot of discussion about dedication and a fast-paced environment, and not much about work-life balance or wellness, you might want to reconsider.
  • Discuss healthy work/life balance policies during the interview. You don’t need to come right out and ask the hiring manager, “Hey, when do you let people leave around here?” You can finesse the question by asking about what a typical workday looks like.
  • If there aren’t existing policies, set your own and stick to it. Don’t bring work home. Sign off at the end of the workday and go on with your life. Don’t work through vacation when you should be unplugged. And get that sleep in!

Ways to Find More Sleep in a Busy Schedule

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There are lots of ways to “just say yes” to more sleep, especially if you find yourself in work mode until you turn off the lights at night.

  • Banish tech from the bedroom. No phones, tablets, or laptops while you lay in bed. Make the bedroom a place for sleep, not work.
  • Try a little meditation. Guided meditation, ASMR sessions, soothing white noise or nature sounds — these can all set the stage for better sleep.
  • Seek some professional medical help. Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing a lot of sleep problems. You may want to participate in a sleep study to get a better idea of what’s making you not feel refreshed in the morning. But don’t abuse medication like prescription or OTC sleep aids.
  • Add in some exercise. Being more physically fatigued from vigorous exercise (at some point in your day) can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.
  • Nix the caffeine, nicotine and/or sleep-depriving foods before bed. That evening latte better be decaf if you want to get a good night’s sleep. Likewise, food that we eat can interfere with the amount of rest we get, from lactose to pizza.

When you prioritize sleep, you’re putting your health, well-being and productivity first.

Banish Work From Your Bedtime Routine

Besides banishing tech, you should stop all work-related activities at least an hour before bedtime. Laptops in bed are one problem, but so is keeping your phone as an alarm clock. That invites the inevitable “one last email” game and compulsive checking of your inbox.

And try to tune your brain to non-work things, as well.

“Too much thinking is another enemy of late-evening drowsiness,” write Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter at the Harvard Business Review. “Conceptual activities like intense conversations, replying to emails, working, or reading can arouse your attention and suppress your natural sleepiness. In contrast, perceptual activities like doing the dishes, going for a walk, or listening to music can help you better catch the wave of melatonin as it rises.”


How have you prioritized sleep to make your workday better? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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