"Get some sleep," your coach used to say the night before the big game. (With coaches it was always sleep; with mothers, food.) And did you listen? OK, maybe you did. But do you listen now? Of course you don't. And why not? Because you think the big games are over? You're wrong, my friend. Every day's a big game. And you're in the lineup. But according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), the odds are that you're not ready to play.
Most of us, NSF statistics show, get significantly less than the recommended eight hours of nightly rest. Half of U.S. workers say sleepiness interferes with the amount of work they get done; nearly 20% say it causes them to make mistakes. And sometimes those mistakes are bad ones: government investigations of human errors in both the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the space shuttle Challenger explosion cited sleep deprivation as a "direct cause" of those accidents. Other studies show that sleepy drivers are as dangerous as drunk ones. The point is, skimping on sleep is a risky strategy for you, your business, and the people around you.
Bad habits hurt fast. Shave off just an hour of sleep a night, and in a couple weeks' time you'll have accumulated a "sleep debt" guaranteed to sap your creativity, stunt your productivity, and make you grumpy to boot. "The brain keeps an exact accounting of how much sleep it is owed," warns Stanford University sleep expert Dr. William C. Dement, who has found a direct correlation between sleep and mental acuity.
In our blaring, always-on society, there's plenty to distract us from the body's silent signal that it's time to shut down and recharge. But the urge to nod off becomes overpowering for good reason. Contrary to popular belief, a sleeping mind is often busier than one that's awake. During sleep the brain may record long-term memories. It dispatches the hormones and chemicals that repair damaged cells and replace dead ones. Shortchange yourself on sleep, and you not only will be inattentive but will age faster, too. "Sleep touches on nearly every aspect of our physiology and psychology," says Dement. Indeed, as Dement sees it -- and he's been looking at the phenomenon for close to 50 years -- a solid night's sleep is the secret to peak performance.
If you're among those who perpetually crave caffeine, fantasize about naps, and yawn through meetings (all symptoms of sleep deprivation), don't despair. First, figure your own personal sleep budget. Most people need one hour of sleep for every two hours they're awake. Second, go to bed on time. If your first instinct when the alarm goes off is to hit the snooze button, chances are, you went to bed too late.
Don't depend on diversions like TV to lull you into dreamland, either. "You need to teach your body how to fall asleep without any crutches," advises Dement's associate Eileen Leary. Try to spend five minutes concentrating on absolutely nothing -- least of all your business. "Some people have a really hard time turning the day off," says Leary. "It's very important not to bring business into the bedroom."
Not convinced? Try this: for two weeks, give sleep some respect. Make a commitment to it. See if you don't like that game face you forgot you had.
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