Samantha Kent is a researcher for SleepHelp.org. Her favorite writing topic is how getting enough sleep can improve your life. Currently residing in Boise, Idaho, she sleeps in a California King bed, often with a cat on her face.
No matter where you live in the world, no matter your job or income, no matter your ethnicity or race—you need sleep. The body’s sleep needs don’t change across any lines created or drawn by people. Everyone needs at least seven to nine hours every night. But does getting enough sleep really matter that much?
When you add up the cost/deficit of sleep loss, sleep deprivation cuts deep. The physical and mental toll sleep loss takes on the body affects productivity, creativity, and performance. Sleep deprivation, which takes hold anytime you get less than seven hours of sleep, comes with a long list of health problems that have been well documented.
The brain’s ability to regulate emotions decreases, especially when it comes to negative experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Irritability, aggression, anxiety, and depression often accompany these emotional changes.
Lack of sleep interferes with the ability to focus and concentrate. It also impacts memory. During sleep, the brain makes connections between new and past experiences. The loss of these subconscious learning moments reduces retention, recall, and hinders creativity and critical thinking.
Then, of course, there are the physical effects of sleep loss. Without sleep, the immune system doesn’t work at full capacity. You’re more likely to get sick, and, generally, it takes longer to heal after an illness as well.
All of the issues inherent to sleep deprivation from irritability to a poor immune system come back to affect income. It could be taking more sick days, falling victim to distraction, or increased conflict in the workplace, but they have a negative impact on productivity in one way or another.
When looking into the economics of sleep loss, researchers at the University of California at San Diego found that earlier bedtimes and more sleep resulted in higher incomes. They distinguished between “short run” increases in sleep due to seasonal changes like less sunlight in the winter as well as geographical “long-run” increases in sleep, such as those who lived on the eastern edge of a time zone and spent more time in darkness and therefore got more sleep.
In both instances, there was a measurable income difference. In long run situations, those who got less sleep had a 4.5 percent wage loss while in short run situations there was .5 percent wage loss. (Keep in mind that these numbers are generally more reflective of commission-based jobs.)
So what do you do?
Thankfully, the sleep cycle isn’t completely determined by the number of daylight hours, though light plays a big role. Your behavior and ability to create ideal sleep conditions can increase your sleep hours and, therefore, give you a professional boost.
First, control the light. Blackout curtains, heavy drapes, and blinds that block all sunlight allow you to get a full seven to nine hours of sleep no matter the season. Closely monitor artificial light as bright light in the evening can suppress sleep hormones and delay your sleep cycle.
Next, make sure you’re comfortable. A mattress that’s more like a canoe than a supportive surface won’t help you sleep better. The mattress should conform to your pressure points and offer the support to keep your spine aligned.
Then, be consistent in your sleep-related behavior. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Your brain strives to recognize and follow predictable patterns of behavior so give it something to predict. Help yourself transition to sleep with a soothing bedtime routine that relieves stress.
Finally, avoid activities and substances that disrupt your sleep. Turn off your electronics at least two to three hours before bed to prevent the suppression of sleep hormones. Avoid stimulants like caffeine. Skip alcohol because, though it makes you sleepy at first, it causes you to stay in the lightest sleep stages later in the night increasing wakefulness.
The changes may seem small, but, with time, they can give you an economic lift. You’ll also feel better, stronger, and happier, creating a win-win situation.