Ep. 29 – The Secret Productivity Hack: Sleep

As I was exploring topics for this episode, I came across a quote by American author and global thinker Kevin Kelly that said: “If you can’t tell what you desperately need, it’s probably sleep.”​

And I had to laugh at that because I feel like the one answer everyone has given in the last couple of years when you say, ‘How are you?’ is tired.  

So I’m curious, how much sleep did you get last night?

The time that you slept – or didn’t sleep – is directly impacting your day right now. And not just in the extra-cup-of-caffeine way. When you look at sleep or productivity, you likely know this already. You’ve read the information; you’ve tried the things. You’re probably tired yourself. Perhaps you already listened to episode 10 about how to make the most of the 1,000 minutes we are awake most of the days. But the conversation today is about what are we really paying for the minutes we trade to do instead of to sleep?

The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that the sleep you skip today carries a cost your brain pays in the days ahead. 

Sleep is one of the most overlooked and underrated productivity hacks that we can take in our daily lives. Ironically, it’s also the most common thing that we trade in our pursuit of productivity. Early morning workouts and late-night emails and entertainment exact a mental payment that we have come due the next day (and the next day and the next day). 

In fact, a 2017 study showed a direct connection between sleep and our cognitive performance. Those researchers examined the sleep of 30,000 people over an 18-month period. They found that having two consecutive nights of less than six hours of sleep can leave you sluggish for up to six days. Six days! Is that extra Netflix episode really worth being sluggish for six days? And even staying up an extra hour, the study found, even if followed by a full night’s sleep, is still correlated with slower cognitive performance the following day. So it’s not just skipping sleep, even delaying sleep can have an impact. 

So why does this happen?

Sleep is the silent partner to your brain. It’s when memories are sorted and stored, it’s when stress is put on pause, and when your body reboots its internal operating system. 

Physically, studies are also exploring how the body filters toxins at a much faster rate when you sleep. Cognitively, though, our short-term memory takes an immediate hit when we get less sleep. There is also impact to storing longer-term memories as our neural connections get their strength while we’re snoozing. In short, it takes us longer to do tasks and we’re more likely to make mistakes or not even finish what we started just when we’re trying to trade a little bit of minutes for doing more. 

Less sleep can also affect your empathy. Research has shown that the social cognitive network of the brain is less active after you miss sleep. This can cause us to be slower in responding in social situations or even less inclined to offer help or support to other people – and that includes supporting ourself. Missing sleep sets in motion the lack of motion for self-care, from skipping workouts or tackling tasks and delaying those until later and even making unhealthier choices as you are dealing with daily stressors. It all comes from that social network in the mind. 

Chronic lack of sleep is also a booming business industry. From teas to supplements to specialized mattresses and pillows, there is a product, a pitch, or a practice out there for you. Hotels are starting to market customized sleep packages for the weary wanderer – or even those right there in town. When it comes to shortcuts, it’s mostly marketing designed to tempt you to spend money for permission to sleep less. 

Episode 4 outlined the science of chronobiology and why When matters. That went into explanations of your own natural preferences, or when things are faster or easier for you, including sleep. Pay attention to how long it takes you to fall asleep. The average amount of time is between 10-20 minutes. Any less or more than that is a signal that you might need some adjustments. 

The most common sleep disrupter is our beloved technology – from the blue light of the screens to the beeps and the buzzes, it takes a lot of effort for our brain to digitally decompress (about 30 minutes to decompress, in fact). 

So as you look to power up your productivity, spend more effort on how you power down. Your brain, your body, and tomorrow’s to-list will thank you for it. 

So until next time, sweet dreams and take care to take good care. 

Your brain is hungry. Give it some intellectual snacks in the
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I'm Kristin

I left my corporate work and dove further into how to navigate this noisy, digital, exhausted world. The result is a methodology centered on communications, productivity, and culture that blends theory with practice and helps people better enjoy the life they worked so hard to get.