Have you ever needed your “A” game but not had it due to tiredness or fatigue? Do you find yourself losing steam in the afternoons or struggling to concentrate at work? Lately, I have realized I am in a constant cycle of incurring sleep debt and then paying it back. As an avid fan of Robert Ludlum and the Jason Bourne book series, I am reminded of something he said in The Bourne Ultimatum: “Rest is a weapon.” Bourne knew that without rest, he was less effective and less likely to survive in a hostile environment. We can apply this lesson in the professional sphere by recognizing that rest is a competitive advantage.
Stay Effective by Staying Sharp
Steven Covey addresses this truth in his classic blueprint for professional development, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, with habit number seven: “Sharpen the Saw.” Sharpening the saw is all about caring for yourself through healthy rest, eating, and exercise routines to increase your capacity to be productive. The analogy he uses is simple: Sawing logs goes much faster when your saw is sharp. When you become tired and fatigued your saw gets dull, so it takes longer to complete the same task and often the finished product is not as good. At work, this means you get diminishing returns from your effort when you push yourself to work longer with less sleep. So, the question you should ask yourself is – does it make sense to work longer hours at the expense of sleep if it does not yield worthwhile gains in productivity?
Health Impact of Sleep Debt
Recent scientific studies also support the importance of managing your sleep debt. Their findings tell us sleep deprivation results in impaired cognitive performance in the areas of attention, working memory, and recognition of emotional cues. Some have even likened this mental impairment to being intoxicated. So yes, going to work really tired is like going to work drunk. Other studies also show that long-term sleep deprivation can lead to depression, weight gain, and even be a precursor to Alzheimer’s Disease. Basically, there is house cleaning in your brain that does not take place when you are sleep deprived, it’s not something you should take lightly. I find that I am much more likely to make mistakes when I am tired. I also tend to lose my verbal “filter” and express my emotions more negatively when I am fatigued. Over time I have learned to issue “public service announcements” when I feel this way to give colleagues fair warning that I am not at my best.
Consistency is the Key
Many people have suggestions about how you can optimize your sleep time at night. The one I’ve found most impactful is to maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Don’t try to catch up on the weekends by “binge” sleeping. Every time I go into hibernation over a weekend, I can’t get to sleep at a decent time on Sunday night and I wake up tired on Monday morning. By trying to catch up on sleep, I only fall farther behind and start the week with a deficit in my sleep debt ledger. Remember, it takes several days to pay back sleep debt. You can’t pay it all back by sleeping later for a day or two. Instead, try going to bed 45 minutes early for a few days or until you feel better. A consistent schedule is the key.
It’s important to be rested and ready to bring your “A” game to work each day. You never know exactly when you’ll need the edge regarding creativity, problem solving, or emotional intelligence. There will always be times where you sacrifice sleep to go the extra mile, but actively managing your sleep debt is crucial to consistently perform at a high level and maintain your long-term health. Remember, you want people to know you as the person who always gets the job done, not the person who is always tired.
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