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Why lack of sleep is making you miserable, losing you money & sending you to an early grave

It’s true. It costs the British economy £40bn a year and individuals who sleep less than six hours a night are four times more likely fall ill, worse still an American study which followed 741 late middle aged men over fourteen years found those that slept less than six hours a night were four times more likely to die than their well rested counterparts.

Those of us who do get a proper night’s sleep spend on average a third of our life in the land of nod. It may seem like a fruitless waste of time and that’s why so many of us tap into these hours to get more things done but in reality we’re short changing ourselves and the tasks we’re attempting to complete.

We fundamentally devalue sleep but in reality its just as important as bathing or brushing your teeth, we all know why we have to bathe but not enough of us know why we must sleep and what happens when we don’t. It’s more complicated than just simply being tired.

Being sleep drunk is real

Would you drink and drive? Would you go into an important meeting tipsy? Yet you do it all the time. A brilliant study equated hours awake to blood alcohol concentration and found that performance worsened as sleep deprivation increased and in fact those participants who were awake for 17 hours had an equivalent blood alcohol concentration of 0.05% which would render them an impaired driver under US law.

You’re sad because you don’t sleep

A 2010 study found that just a single night of sleep deprivation led to a negative self rated mood score compared to subjects who received a normal night of sleep, in fact (Kahn-Greene et al., 2007) found that those who were deprived of sleep for fifty-six hours were significantly more likely to measure for depression, anxiety and paranoia

Unfortunately, that dour mood doesn’t just cast a cloud over you but over those around you too, as merely being sleep deprived for two nights caused increases in irritability and the tendency to redirect blame for problems onto others and then to add insult to injury being less likely to offer amends later on to resolve any conflicts. Your sense of humour even goes to sleep when you’re tired and resisting the pull of your pillow.

If maintaining a positive work culture in which open and friendly discussion and disagreements can take place is important to you which it should be then make time for sleep. Think of it as the easiest human relations training ever.

It’s not because you’re getting older its because you’re not sleeping

You’ve got an important meeting tomorrow so you’re going to pull an all-nighter to memorise notes and have your speech committed to memory. It seems like a good idea you’re leaving plenty of room between you and the meeting and doesn’t more effort always equal more results?

No, simply no. The ability to acquire new information and commit it to long term storage and then effectively access that information when needed requires sleep.

I found this out myself when trying to memorise notes for a presentation on RealtimeCRM but I just couldn’t so I gave up and went to bed, in the morning I woke up and found the notes I was trying to remember largely in my head.

A small miracle and a pleasant discovery because I thought I had failed but going to sleep is not the same as giving up and it’s not the same as failure. Scientific studies tend to agree with my personal experience.

I’m learnding

The only constant is change, and if you are to keep your business ahead of the curve you have to keep adapting and acquiring new skills. Your competitors aren’t standing still and nor should you. Once again sleep plays its part in this. A study found that just 35 hours of sleep deprivation resulted in significantly impaired verbal learning relative to well rested subjects.

It’s that fogginess you feel when tired. The harder you think you’re working by staying awake the more impenetrable it becomes. Only sleep will clear the fog and allow new information in.

Not sleeping? You’re making the first of many bad decisions

As a small business owner the ability to accurately process information and then map out a plan of action to move your business forward is of the utmost of importance. Your business is your baby, you want it to grow and succeed and you don’t want to take needless risks with it.

Here again sleep aids you in making these executive decisions, as when sleep deprived the ability to plan and sequence thoughts appropriately to achieve a goal are significantly impaired and furthermore we find in a 2011 study that unethical behaviour from withholding effort to interpersonal rudeness and even drug taking and theft increases with sleep deprivation and that we become more risk tolerant too even in spite of incurring significant losses.

Not all inhibitions are bad and just as being drunk can lead to bad decisions, and so you avoid making important decisions about your business when inebriated. The evidence would therefore suggest you take the same care when making decisions whilst tired.

When you don’t dream you don’t create

There was something that inspired you, a spark and an idea illuminated in the dark. It gave you the energy and the drive to strike out on your own and make that idea a reality.

But that was a long time ago, and now the ideas, the inspiration no longer fall from your head. You just have bags under your eyes. You simply follow the routine rather than taking a new tack.

Well you are clearly sleep deprived:

“In Contrast to the convergent thought processes discussed above, the ability to think laterally, innovatively and flexibly appears significantly impaired by sleep deprivation”.

Harrison and Home, 2000

OK, OK I need sleep but I’ll catch up at the weekend

Brilliant!

Well not really, you can’t catch up on sleep. Some very clever people at Harvard decided to test this and you’re not going to like the results. It found that individuals who had little sleep during work or the school week were building up a sleep debt that they were not able to pay off with weekend binges in sleep.

And this can have very dangerous consequences:

“Burning the candle at both ends at the expense of sleep renders tasks such as driving a truck, operating heavy machinery or performing surgery dangerous, especially during the hours ordinarily reserved for sleep”.

Dr. Charles Czeisler, head of the Division of Sleep Medicine at BWH and co-author of study

Learning to sleep again

I hope I’ve demonstrated why sleep is important and why it helps you. Why wouldn’t you want to master a useful tool? You would and you do so here is a six point plan to get you back to sleep.

Make time in your schedule

If its important you make time for it. Think of it as a target to meet, aim for at least seven hours a night. You have to regiment yourself if you want it to become routine.

Delegate and automate

If you have recurring tasks like paying bills you should automate as many of these as possible with direct debits and standing orders. It will save you a tremendous amount of time some of which you can spend being productive asleep. Furthermore, no man is an island learn to delegate simple tasks at first to colleagues to free up more of your time.

The old saying it takes a village applies as much in business as in life.

No more blue screens of death

The blue tinge of our smartphone and laptop screens interfere with our circadian cycle, the short wave length light which appears in the blue end of the spectrum has a significant effect on phase shifting the circadian clock and on Melatonin suppression. Melatonin is an important hormone in regulating sleep and wakefulness.

Windows 10 for example has its Night Light feature which use dimmer, warmer colors at night, helping you sleep.

Turn off your phone and stop reading your emails

Work life balance, try it out. Twenty four hour stores can function because they have multiple people working shifts, you are not a twenty four hour store and no one can expect that of you. You need to make everyone aware of your business hours and when you are not available.

It might be difficult at first because you’re used to always being on call but people will understand. If you don’t set boundaries people will always walk all over you.

Exercise

Physical activity improves sleep quality and sleep duration. The increase in body temperature during the activity and then the consequent drop in body temperature after the activity is completed encourages sleepiness. Furthermore studies have shown those who regularly partake in exercise tend to sleep better than those who don’t. Plus with the other health benefits you really should be exercising.

Wind down time

After vigorous exercise you don’t just suddenly stop, you have a cool down period where you stretch and help the blood flow to damaged muscles. It’s no different with sleep, you can’t just switch off you need a period where you relax and slowly start shutting your mind down.

If your mind is at 100 mph don’t expect it to suddenly stop, a period during the evening where you read a book or watch the sun go down and let your worries drift away is essential to encouraging sleep.