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Sleep: The Other Key To Career Success

Last month, we discussed the correlation between confidence and career success. Confidence leads to myriad work-related boons including increased productivity and improved communication skills.

There’s something else, however, that can produce the same benefits, if not more for your career: quality sleep. Not getting enough of this essential human function can have disastrous consequences, hindering our ability to perform and exceed at work and in life.

Career-ruining consequences of poor sleep

A study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research examined the cognitive effects of sleep deprivation among shift nurses, but I think it’s safe to apply some of their findings to any sleep-deprived employee.

Sleep deprivation and altered circadian rhythm affects the cognitive performance of an individual. Cognitive impairment leads to fatigability, decline in attention and efficiency in their workplace which puts their health […] at risk.

Cognition was assessed by Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) questionnaire, which found that sleep deprivation led to an increase in mathematical errors; poor vigilance and memory performance; reduced reaction time and attention span; and overall general intellect. In other words, cognitive impairment was statistically significant among sleep-deprived employees.

Another study examined the cognitive and physical effects of sleep-deprived university students and found that acute sleep deprivation or an “all-nighter,” has significant effects on post-workout blood pressure and reaction times, with less impact on cognitive functions.

These studies suggest that something like one night of poor or little sleep can significantly impact you physically, while long-term sleep deprivation leads to both significant cognitive and physical impairments.

Making good sleep a required skill

Whether you’re preparing for an interview, going back to school, or vying for a promotion at work, it’s critical to put your best, sharpest self forward. This makes sleep an essential skill to have. I’m not suggesting you list “excellent sleeper” on your resume or job application, but you should treat your ability to sleep well as an aptitude to maintain and/or develop.

Thankfully, there are a number of things you can change and work on to improve your sleep skill.

1. Cool your body

You’ve probably heard a lot about the right sleeping temperature, which ranges between 62 and 68 degrees fahrenheit. However, it’s not as simple as setting your thermostat or infrared heater.

Fabric and bedding have a profound effect on your sleep temperature, so it’s important that you change your sleepwear and blankets according to the seasons. Studies show that, at 62 degrees, wearing wool helped subjects fall asleep easier than cotton. Wool also acts as an efficient insulator that again, can promote sleep onset and sleep quality at the lower, more desired sleep temperature.

Your mattress can also trap heat in an unfavourable way. According to Casper’s senior mechanical engineer Jordan Lay, “there are significant fluctuations in relative humidity under the covers.” Lay says this fluctuation is “often caused by dense bedding products that restrict proper airflow.” As a response to this data, their mattress was engineered with a custom foam layer “that helps to balance heat and move it away from the body” in order to help achieve the optimal, cooler sleep temperature.

The National Sleep Foundation also recommends replacing your mattress every eight to 10 years, so it may be time to look for something that will better support your body’s delicate temperature needs.

2. Calm your mind

Both the brain and your mind are very sensitive to various forms of stimulation, including noise, light and your own thoughts.

Do what you can to limit your exposure to light by putting your phone and other blue light-emitting devices away a couple hours before bed. Our circadian rhythm is meant to be regulated by the rising and falling of the sun, so blue light at night especially disrupts this cycle. If there aren’t lights outside that you need to keep out, avoid closing your bedroom curtains and position your bed so that it’s in line with the sun, allowing its light to naturally wake you up.

Whether you experience disruptive noise or not, white noise has been found to be a great tool for inducing sleep more quickly, with 80% of study subjects falling asleep within five minutes in response compared to only 25% who fell asleep that quickly on their own. There are a number of machines and apps available to try.

Finally, how to stop those spinning thoughts, especially if you’re going through a career change: try meditation. Among adults with sleep disturbances, standardized mindful awareness practices resulted in improved  sleep quality, beating out a sleep hygiene intervention.

Formalized mindfulness-based interventions have clinical importance by possibly serving to remediate sleep problems among older adults in the short term and this effect appears to carry over into reducing sleep-related daytime impairment that has implications for quality of life.

Bonus: Meditation and other mindfulness practices have also been proven to directly and positively impact work performance and employee happiness, and there are a number of great apps that make a meditation habit more convenient.

3. Get help

While many things about getting better sleep are in our control, many aren’t. According to the American Sleep Association, approximately 50 to 70 million adults in the US have a sleeping disorder, with insomnia and sleep apnea being the most common. Shift work sleep disorder is another issue specific to shift workers.

If you’ve been suffering from insomnia or believe you may have another sleeping disorder, the first step is to track your symptoms and sleeping patterns by keeping a sleep diary. If you’ve tried a variety of self-help remedies like those discussed above and are still suffering, it’s important to speak to your primary care physician for a reference to a sleep specialist for proper treatment.

Don’t let poor sleep be the thing that holds you back from achieving your career goals.

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About the Author Kelly Nicolette

Kelly Nicolette is a freelance writer born and raised in New York. Writing has always been her passion and she's never without a notebook and pen. When she's not writing down her thoughts or researching her next topic, she can be found walking her dog, Lucky.