How Sleep Deprivation Affects Your Performance

Athena Coaching, Linda MurraySleep deprivation as torture isn’t just an urban myth, it’s the real deal when it comes to enhanced interrogation techniques. Really.

It’s not just about how alert you are either; sleep deprivation has serious and long term effects on your physical and mental health as well as your metabolism and weight. Diabetes, heart disease, depression and appetite can be severely affected by insufficient or poor quality sleep.

Sleep is the chain that ties health and our bodies together.” – Griff Niblack

From a performance and business perspective sleep deprivation can be a massive problem, particularly in industries or roles where long hours are expected and spending extremely long hours chained to your desk is almost seen as a badge of honour.

Busy executives will experience real challenges in their resilience, response times, decision making skills and general work performance if they are not well rested.

We are programmed with a homeostatic need for sleep determined by how long we have been awake. The earlier you rise the sooner the switch turns on, and if you are undertaking a dangerous activity where alertness is essential, driving for example, it takes only 3-4 seconds for the brain to tell you sleep time is now and your car to veer off the road.

Your sleep bank, or the amount of sleep you achieve over a period of days or weeks has a serious impact on cognitive performance. If you manage less than 7 to 8 hours sleep per night over a period of days or weeks, then your capacity to perform is compromised. Busy executives who start their days early with breakfast meetings whether that be with employees or their families, and then round off long days with dinner meetings, will find burning the candle at both ends soon catches up with them. Your sleep debt can increase to the point where your cognitive impairment is equal to alcohol intoxication or having been awake for 24 or even 48 hours. You don’t need to be a scientist to realise the effect this would have on performance.

Ever been woken suddenly from a deep sleep by a crying child, a ringing phone or a flight attendant? That groggy feeling is the transitional phase between you waking and your being fully functional and can take 5-20 minutes and doesn’t reach peak performance for a couple of hours. If you feel like you are still dragging your feet by morning tea it’s not just in your head, or actually it is, you may not have woken properly quite yet. The lesson here is don’t make major, spur of the moment decisions directly upon waking or you might not have a full set of brain cells to help you!

We don’t want our employees coming to work drunk and that’s in fact what you are facing if they are sleep deprived. Encouraging a culture of long hours by setting a poor example yourself is counter-productive to performance and can even be downright dangerous.

Tired workers are cranky, rude and make unsound decisions and make poor ambassadors for your organisation, and it doesn’t matter where they sit in the hierarchy but their capacity to wreak havoc is probably greater the closer they get to the top.

So don’t overwork yourself or your employees and if necessary create policies limiting the number of hours a day, or a week that any employee, including yourself, works. There will be times of higher workload than others that may be unavoidable. When things slow up ensure workers and yourself, take some time out and rest to catch up. Don’t allow workers to take red eye flights or international flights and expect them to jump straight into work. Never allow workers to schedule meetings straight after a flight where they are expected to drive. Putting aside any lapses in performance you do not want lives to be put at risk.

There is no known substitute for sleep, and there is a science in getting to sleep and achieving maximum rest so it is a topic bigger than we can address in one article but the message is clear. Sleep is power and performance, so make sure you get enough!

Athena Coaching, Linda Murray
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