Sleep On It

by Shana Montesol Johnson

To be more effective on the job – and in your life – you need to get enough sleep.  (Yep, your mom was right!)  For most of us, that means getting MORE sleep.

Do you get less than 7 hours of sleep each night?  Guess what: you are probably sleep deprived.   Surprised?  The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep per night to maintain good health.

Of course, individual sleep requirements vary, and there are people who need significantly less sleep than 7 hours (grrrr!), but it turns out that they’re only about 3 percent of the population.

If 7 hours of sleep a night sounds like a lofty goal to you, you’re in good (but tired) company: in the US, only two-thirds of the population sleeps that much.

What does sleep have to do with being effective in your work?  The amount of sleep we get can impact our ability to work, the quality of our work, and the quality of our interactions with other people.

Lack of Sleep = Poor Health

You’ve probably noticed that when you are really run down and sleep deprived, you tend to become sick more easily.  Our immune systems need adequate sleep to function well.  In addition, sleep deprivation has been linked with increased rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and depression.  (It sounds just as bad as the effects of sitting at our desks all day!)  The effects are not immediate, but if we don’t sleep enough, over time we may end up with health problems that impair our ability to even make it to the office.

Would You Go to Work Drunk?

I’m sure you know that when you haven’t had enough sleep, you are not at your best.  Yet did you know that if you have gotten only four or five hours of sleep a night for a week, you are as impaired as if you had a blood alcohol level of .1% — in other words, drunk (but without the party)?

The quality of our thinking is eroded by a lack of sleep.  Our memory fails us.  We find it more difficult to generate creative solutions.  We have trouble focusing.  Our decision-making ability declines.  Not exactly a formula for stellar performance on the job.


You don’t need a research study to tell you that when you are sleep deprived, you are less patient, less effective in your communication, and less pleasant to be around.  You are more easily annoyed by your boss, you find yourself being short with your staff, and get more frustrated than usual with bureaucracy, project delays, or cultural differences in the workplace.  Sleep deprivation is not a great foundation on which to build effective relationships — and that can impact your professional success, as well.

Say No to Say Yes

Sleep deprivation over prolonged periods is a form of torture, as defined by Amnesty International.  I certainly don’t want to make light of serious cases of torture due to forced sleep deprivation, but I do want to emphasize that there are dangers to going without enough sleep.  Why are we inflicting this on ourselves?

Alas, there is no fancy gadget, iPhone app, or silver bullet that is going to help us get more sleep without making any other changes.  We simply need to go to bed earlier.  And do it consistently.  It’s a choice.  If we are serious about sleeping more, we will have to say “No” to our usual evening activities like catching up on work, checking Facebook, taking care of the administrivia of daily life, reading, channel-surfing.

What are we saying “Yes” to?  A healthier body, a sharper mind, a more patient spirit to deal with that annoying co-worker tomorrow morning.  These benefits can lead to longer-term results like a longer life, better performance on the job, better relationships with the people in our lives.

 The Seven-Day Sleep Challenge

Here’s my challenge: For 7 days straight, sleep for 7-8 hours each night.  (If you need to and are able to, supplement with naps to get into that 7-8 hours within 24 hours zone.)  At the end of the week’s experiment, reflect on how you feel physically, how you performed at work, and what your interpersonal interactions have been like.  Please share your results in the Comments section below.

If you’re not convinced, sleep on it.  And stay tuned for next week’s post on how to “turn off” your brain at night so you can get that much-needed sleep.


Photo by Ambro

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }


Another great article Shana! True that one performs much better, and thinks more clearly, with ample sleep. But 7- days in a row? Don’t think I’ve managed that since the 70’s. Perhaps one day in a row, but 7 days – that is a lot to ask :). But sounds like a worthwhile challenge. Keep up the insightful posts.


Shana Montesol Johnson

Thanks for stopping by the blog, Wes! It’s always great to hear from you. Yes, seven days may be a lot to ask, but think of how amazing you could potentially feel (and perform on the job!) after seven days in a row of great sleep. Since you haven’t done that since the 70s, you could consider it a blast to the past — or a way to rediscover your youth. 🙂


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