If you've been reading this website, or paying attention to your own energy level, you already know that going without sleep is very bad for you. It can make you gain weight. It can increase your risk of Alzheimer's. And it can shorten your life.

But if all that isn't enough to convince you that getting enough sleep is really, really important, then consider this: Being sleep deprived makes you suck at your job. In a recent post on the Psychology Today website, clinical psychologist and sleep expert Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., explains all the ways not getting enough sleep messes with your cognitive functioning. Some of them are things you might not expect to result from lack of sleep. 

You can read the full post and learn about the science of sleep deprivation here. Here are three of the most surprising ways lack of sleep interferes with your performance:

1. It messes up your memory.

You probably already know that sleep deprivation makes it harder for you to focus. But it also makes it hard for you to remember stuff. Your memory in the sense that you can't remember things you know or things that happened in the past, whether yesterday or ten years ago, Breus explains. But missing sleep also affects your ability to make new memories--that is, to be able to recall later things that are happening right now. If you go into a meeting sleep deprived, there's a better chance that by tomorrow you won't remember what was said or which tasks were assigned to you.

How does missing sleep makes it harder to remember things later? Because of a process called memory consolidation, Breus explains. He writes:

"Memory consolidation is the brain's process of storing new memories for long-term retrieval. It's a complex, multi-phase process, and it's one part of the important work the brain undertakes while you're snoozing."

As you may know, during a full night's sleep we cycle through the different stages of sleep several times. It turns out that several of those stages are needed for memory consolidation, including deep sleep, which takes a while to reach. Skip sleep and your ability to remember things will suffer. People who don't know what's going on may simply thing you're not as smart as you really are.

2. It stops you from making smart decisions.

In business, as in life, we constantly have to make decisions where we weigh risk against reward. Is it smarter to take the safe and predictable route or risk disaster in pursuit of something more? While starting a business is an inherently risky thing to do, once they've made that leap, most good entrepreneurs are wisely cautious about, say, burning through their funds too quickly.

But sleep deprivation changes that dynamic. In a fascinating experiment, two groups of people were asked to choose each day between receiving a set sum of money or taking a riskier option in which they would either receive more money or none at all. The experiment ran for five weeks, during which one group slept eight ours a night and the other group five hours a night. As the weeks wore on, the sleep-deprived subjects were more and more likely to choose the risky option. But they themselves could not perceive that their decision-making was changing. Clearly, making decisions while sleep deprived could be very hazardous to your company.

3. It makes you less innovative.

As Breus notes, we all experience moments when great ideas come to us just as we're falling asleep. That might lead you to think being sleepy is good for your creativity but the opposite is actually true. REM sleep--i.e. dreaming--is extremely important for creativity and inspiration. We cycle in and out of REM sleep throughout the night, but the longer we sleep, the more we dream, and our most intense period of dreaming is in the last couple of hours of a good night's sleep. This is why we so often are dreaming right before we wake up in the morning.

Whatever business you're in, chances are your ability to think creatively and find new solutions to problems is an important asset. If you don't get enough sleep, you're throwing that asset away.

Getting enough sleep is important for your health, but if that's not enough to convince you, then consider how important it is for your company as well. There's no point dragging your yawning self to work if you're going to do your job badly. So if you're short of sleep, it might be smarter to give up for the day, go home, and get into bed.

Published on: Dec 28, 2018
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