By Dr. Mercola
Did you get enough sleep last night? If your answer is no, you're in good company. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests 35 percent of U.S. adults are not getting the recommended seven hours of sleep each night.1
When you consider that some people probably need closer to eight hours to be optimally healthy, that percentage jumps even higher. What's at stake when you skimp on sleep, either by choice or consequence? Your emotional and physical health can suffer, and this has steep ramifications for your work life, too.
Lack of Sleep May Lead to Arguments at Work
If you've noticed fellow employees acting unusually quick to anger, their sleep schedule could be to blame. Research conducted by Laura M. Giurge at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University in the Netherlands, found that even one night of too little sleep may lead to unwanted behavior at work the next day.2
Giurge conducted the study by sending out text messages to employees, who rated their sleep quality and reported on unwanted behaviors at work, such as acting rude toward co-workers, going home early without notifying their boss or taking a longer lunch break than allowed.
Sleep quality was found to influence behavior at work the next day, especially in people with a low "moral identity." These people put less value on moral traits like fairness and kindness overall, and were also more likely to engage in unwanted behaviors at work after a night of poor sleep.
" … [D]isplay of unwanted behavior is not a fixed character trait," said Giurge, adding that such behaviors can vary from day to day.
Poor sleep may make it harder for people to stop engaging in such behaviors, as well as to overcome feelings of failure when displaying the undesirable behaviors. In turn, Giurge said, "This can lead into a possibly destructive cycle."3
It could be that poor sleep lessens a person's self-control, which in turn increases the rate of selfish impulses leading to unwanted behaviors — even workplace theft.4 According to the Rotterdam School of Management, employees' "misbehaving" at work adds up, to the tune of $200 billion a year in the U.S. alone.5
Children's Behavior Also Affected by Lack of Sleep — Even Years Later
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in Boston used evaluations from mothers and teachers to determine executive function and behavior among more than 1,000 children.
While sleep duration between the ages of 6 months and 2 years was not linked to later behavior, sleep at ages 3 to 4 was. Those who slept less than 10 hours a day at age 3 or 4 had lower scores on executive function and behavior at age 7. Likewise, 5- to 7-year-olds who slept for nine hours a night or less also had lower scores.
"Insufficient sleep in the preschool and early school years is associated with poorer mother- and teacher-reported neurobehavioral processes in mid-childhood," the researchers concluded.8
For kids, simple steps, like keeping a predictable bedtime schedule, removing TVs and smartphones from the bedroom, and winding down before bed with a story, can help with achieving high-quality sleep.
Lead author Dr. Elsie Taveras, chief of general pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, told Reuters, "What we found was that insufficient sleep in children was associated with poorer executive function and behavior."9
Cutting Back on Sleep to Get More Done May Be Counterproductive
Lacking in this fundamental human necessity takes a heavy toll, raising the risk of chronic diseases, obesity and premature death while costing the U.S. economy up to $411 billion a year in lost productivity alone.10
So, if you're burning the midnight oil hoping to get ahead on work or schoolwork, it may be counterproductive, as you're likely to be less productive and mentally slower the next day.
In one animal study, sleep-deprived mice lost 25 percent of the neurons located in their locus coeruleus, a nucleus in the brainstem associated with wakefulness and cognitive processes.11 The research also showed that "catching up" on sleep on the weekend will not prevent this damage.
Some jobs, like firefighting, require extended shifts and late-night hours that can disrupt circadian rhythms and lead to sleep deficiency that may also affect safety and the ability to function on the job.
Research shows that instituting a sleep health program, along with screening for sleep disorders, at fire stations led to 46 percent fewer disability days used. Those who took part in the program were also 24 percent less likely to file at least one injury report during the study.12
It's even been shown that people with an elevated number of insomnia symptoms are twice as likely to leave a paid job due to poor health than those with no or low symptoms.13
Lack of sleep, specifically insomnia, has been proven to adversely affect many aspects of workplace performance, including, according to research published in Sleep Medicine Reviews:14
- Excess absenteeism
- Elevated accident risk in the workplace
- Reduced workplace productivity
- Inhibited career progression
- Degraded job satisfaction
Lack of Sleep Influences Your Risk-Taking, Decision-Making and More
Your brain's prefrontal cortex (PFC), which influences such behaviors as risk-taking and social behavior, is vulnerable to the effects of sleep deprivation. Research published in PLoS found that after just one night of sleep deprivation, all participants suffered from increased sleepiness and decreased alertness.15
Differences were noted among men and women, however, in that men tended to make riskier decisions following sleep loss while women tended to become more averse to risks.
Sleep loss also affects decision-making. In separate research, participants underwent two nights of total sleep deprivation followed by two nights of recovery sleep, then performed a decision-making test.16
A well-rested control group (who had slept normally) performed better on the tests than the sleep-deprived group. Particularly revealing was when the rules for the test were reversed… and none of the sleep-deprived volunteers got the right answer, even after 40 tries.
The study's lead author told NPR, "It wasn't just that sleep-deprived people were slower to recover… Their ability to take in new information and adjust was completely devastated."17
The researchers concluded that sleep deprivation is particularly problematic for decision-making involving uncertainty and unexpected change. They concluded:
"Blunted reactions to feedback while sleep deprived underlie failures to adapt to uncertainty and changing contingencies. Thus, an error may register, but with diminished effect because of reduced affective valence of the feedback or because the feedback is not cognitively bound with the choice.
This has important implications for understanding and managing sleep loss-induced cognitive impairment in emergency response, disaster management, military operations and other dynamic real-world settings with uncertain outcomes and imperfect information."
Are You Willing to Risk All of This to Stay Up Late?
Sleep deprivation, or a lack of quality sleep, has a significant impact on your brain health and your overall health and wellness. There are good reasons you may want to develop good sleep habits and strive to achieve quality sleep every night — and certainly consider going to bed earlier if your sleep deprivation is the result of staying up too late by choice.
✓ Increased risk of car accidents
✓ Increased accidents at work
✓ Reduced ability to perform tasks
✓ Reduced ability to learn or remember
✓ Reduced productivity at work
✓ Reduced creativity at work or in other activities
✓ Reduced athletic performance
✓ Increased risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease
✓ Increased risk of depression
✓ Increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease
✓ Decreased immune function
✓ Slowed reaction time
✓ Reduced regulation of emotions and emotional perception
✓ Poor grades in school
✓ Increased susceptibility to stomach ulcers
✓ Exacerbation of current chronic diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and cancer
✓ Cutting one hour of sleep a night increases the expression of genes associated with inflammation, immune excitability, diabetes, cancer risk and stress18
✓ Contributing to premature aging by interfering with growth hormone production, normally released by your pituitary gland during deep sleep
What Works for a Good Night's Sleep?
If you're having trouble sleeping, I suggest reading my Guide to a Good Night's Sleep for 33 tips on improving your sleep. Tracking your sleeping patterns and time spent asleep using technological devices (like smart belts or bracelets) may be helpful for some people, but getting back to the basics of improving your sleeping environment is of crucial important.
No. 1 on my list? Avoid exposure to blue light, including LEDs, after sunset. Wearing blue-blocking glasses is a simple way to achieve this. Further:
✓ Avoid watching TV or using your computer/smartphone or tablet in the evening, at least an hour or so before going to bed.
✓ Make sure you get BRIGHT sun exposure regularly. Your pineal gland produces melatonin roughly in approximation to the contrast of bright sun exposure in the day and complete darkness at night. If you are in darkness all day long, it can't appreciate the difference and will not optimize your melatonin production.
✓ Get some sun in the morning. Your circadian system needs bright light to reset itself. Ten to 15 minutes of morning sunlight will send a strong message to your internal clock that day has arrived, making it less likely to be confused by weaker light signals during the night.
✓ Sleep in complete darkness, or as close to it as possible. Even the tiniest glow from your clock radio could be interfering with your sleep, so cover your clock radio up at night or get rid of it altogether. Move all electrical devices at least 3 feet away from your bed. You may want to cover your windows with drapes or blackout shades, or wear an eye mask when you sleep.
✓ Install a low-wattage yellow, orange, or red light bulb if you need a source of light for navigation at night. Light in these bandwidths does not shut down melatonin production in the way that white and blue bandwidth light does. Salt lamps are handy for this purpose, as are natural, non-toxic candles.
✓ Keep the temperature in your bedroom no higher than 70 degrees F. Many people keep their homes too warm (particularly their upstairs bedrooms). Studies show that the optimal room temperature for sleep is between 60 to 68 degrees F.
✓ Take a hot bath 90 to 120 minutes before bedtime. This increases your core body temperature, and when you get out of the bath it abruptly drops, signaling your body that you are ready to sleep.
✓ Avoid using loud alarm clocks. Being jolted awake each morning can be very stressful. If you are regularly getting enough sleep, you might not even need an alarm, as you'll wake up naturally.
✓ Be mindful of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in your bedroom. EMFs can disrupt your pineal gland and its melatonin production, and may have other negative biological effects as well. A gauss meter is required if you want to measure EMF levels in various areas of your home. If possible, install a kill switch to turn off all electricity to your bedroom. If you need a clock, use a battery-operated one.