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8 Ways Sleep Can Help (or Hinder) Your Work Performance

Americans have a sleep problem, and that means we have a work problem. We're getting less and less sleep (especially on work nights), to the point that the CDC has declared sleep deprivation a public health epidemic.
Entrepreneurs are particularly susceptible to sleep deprivation given the pressures and massive workloads that are common for business owners of all stripes. But insufficient sleep will cost you in just about every way -- physically, mentally, financially, and on the job.

In contrast, high-quality sleep can up your game and give you a competitive edge over the caffeine-addicted zombies wandering the office hallways. Here's a run-down of the many ways that sleep can help (and harm) productivity.
How Sleep Helps

If anything remotely like a panacea for all problems exists, then sleep might be the closest thing to it. Here's just a sampling of the ways that getting enough sleep can improve work performance.

1. It repairs our brains. Sleep is critical for repairing the neural pathways in our brains, a process that's necessary for maintaining memory functions and learning new skills. In short, the only way to keep growing and improving at work is to consistently get a good night's sleep.

2. It keeps us firing on all cylinders. Sleeping well on a regular basis keeps us sharp by improving logical thinking, heightening our sensory perceptions, and enhancing our abilities to problem solve, pay attention, be creative, and make good decisions. In other words? Sleep is a vital component of pretty much all the characteristics that make for an exceptional leader at work.

3. It prevents burnout. Getting enough sleep reduces stress, rejuvenates our bodies and brains, and promotes long-term job satisfaction so we remain productive for the long haul.

4. You'll be a better coworker. Adequate sleep improves our mood and decreases the chances that we'll be chronically irritable or impatient. Sleeping well also helps us regulate our emotions and behavior so we don't lash out at coworkers or clients.
How Sleep Deprivation Hurts

Some experts posit that even mild sleep deprivation is so damaging to productivity that it's worse than not eating for days. Not convinced? Here are just some of the ways that not getting enough sleep can wreak havoc on our performance at work.

1. It reduces our cognitive capacity. When we aren't sleeping enough, our brains lose their ability to process learning that takes place during the day, and our short-term memory goes down the tubes. This means that sleep deprivation makes us less able to consolidate information, process tasks, and concentrate at work, and it increases the chances of making a mistake on the job.

2. It decreases engagement. Sleep deprivation can cause us to feel less invested in our work, thereby reducing work performance. It's also been linked to decreased quality of life at work--meaning tired people aren't just less interested in doing their jobs well; they also feel miserable while working.

3. It costs us money. Harvard researchers have found that the average worker loses 11 days of productivity every year because of insomnia. That amounts to $2,280 per worker per year, or a whopping $63.2 billion annually.

4. It makes us sick. Not sleeping enough (or well enough) puts us at risk for a variety of physical and mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and immune system deficiencies. Whether mild or severe, these health problems can severely inhibit our ability to be productive workers.

Need one more reason to make sleep a priority? All the top performers are doing it. Increasingly, research is finding that great performers make a point of getting enough sleep (at least eight hours a day), and companies are starting to take notice. More and more, top companies are enlisting sleep experts to weigh in on office culture and encouraging employees to get the rest they need--even if that means taking naps in the office.

Make sleep a priority in your own life by advocating for your personal sleep needs, practicing good sleep habits (e.g. not using electronics in bed and keeping the bedroom dark and cool), and enlisting the help of sleep supplements if necessary. Your body, mind, coworkers, and business will thank you.