It’s become increasingly common to hear stories of workers from all sectors, but especially the business sector, staying late in the office or even pulling all-nighters to get work done. Technology has become omnipresent over recent years – and this has created a population who are spending less time getting shut-eye. But humans are not computers – we cannot keep up with different time zones, and we need time to rest and recharge.
The pressures from a constantly-evolving world have left bankers feeling like they need to spend more time at work, and less time sleeping. Some of the top financial and entrepreneurial names have boasted surviving on four hours sleep, or getting up in the small hours of the morning to increase productivity. In such high-pressured environments, although it may sound impressive to have sacrificed sleep for a job or a deadline, studies show that it could be detrimental to your health.
Those who spent the night awake, compared to a night sleeping, had 30% higher levels of anxiety the next day
A recent study carried out by researchers at the University of California, tested the impact of losing sleep on anxiety levels. The study, unsurprisingly, revealed that those who spent the night awake, compared to a night sleeping, had 30% higher levels of anxiety the next day. This is just one of many short-term day-to-day consequences. According to Jason Ellis, who works at Northumbria University’s Centre for Sleep Research, sleeping less than four hours is associated with “significant lapses in attention, judgement, memory and problem solving”. There’s also another potentially dangerous implication of sleep deprivation: it can have a similar effect to alcohol upon the reaction time of drivers.
What does this mean for business, though? It’s often said that to succeed in the business world, you should work harder than your competition. But when competition is so high, there is mounting pressure to go to extremes to be the best. And with leaders in the top positions pushing themselves to the very extreme – it’s not surprising that we follow their patterns. For example, Twitter Founder Jack Dorsey has stated that he only gets four hours sleep a night – and former Google Executive Marissa Mayer described how it is possible to work 130 hours in a week – if you compromise time spent on basic things – like sleeping, showering or going to the bathroom.
During sleep, our body is given time to refresh and recover, and if our body is not given the sleep it needs, it cannot perform at its maximum potential
In his study, Jason Ellis also explained the social impact that a lack of sleep can have in business. Sleep deprivation can lead to moodiness or irritability, and can impact the way you interpret social situations –making you less successful as a business-person, and in your personal relationships. Businesses require teamwork and client relationships – both of which demand high social engagement and communication skills, which are compromised by a lack of sleep. Also, lack of sleep is analogous to reduced productivity. It’s oxymoronic to suggest that productivity is increased if sleep is relegated to the bottom of our priorities. During sleep, our body is given time to refresh and recover, and if our body is not given the sleep it needs, it cannot perform at its maximum potential.
In many city careers, there exists an unhealthy atmosphere which suggests sleep deprivation is ‘normal’ – and this is worrying. There are various long-term complications related to frequent lack of sleep. A researcher from Warwick University’s Sleep, Health and Society programme, Michelle Miller, explained how “You’re at 12 per cent higher risk of any cause of death if you’re a short-sleeping adult, at 15 per cent higher risk of having a stroke, and 48 per cent higher risk of coronary heart disease.” These figures suggest that constantly pushing your limits – even if you’re used to it and so don’t feel the short-term effects – could be extremely damaging.
Some of the ways that can help combat a hectic lifestyle include having a bed-time routine, or using sleep tracking apps to monitor your sleep. But what really needs to change is society’s attitude towards sleep. Sleep should be viewed as a priority, because if business men and women get into the habit of sleeping well, their day-time work will be positively impacted, and they will be more productive. It’s important not to view a lack of sleep as a necessity to a successful career, but to get into a proper routine that will allow you to be productive during your hours spent awake, instead.