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The impact of sleep on success

We’d all love to have a few extra hours in the day. But stealing those extra hours by pushing your bedtime later isn’t the way to go—if you care about your performance at work, that is. Because even though you might think you’re still acing your job with a major sleep deficit, science suggests you’re only fooling yourself. And since boosting your salary is one of the fastest ways to improve your financial situation, you want to make sure you’re keeping your career on track.

People who get just six hours of sleep per night for two weeks functioned as badly as if they were deprived of sleep for 48 hours. Many people take pride in the fact that they don’t get enough sleep. It’s as if six hours a night makes you some sort of superhero, when it actually leaves your brain tired.

Most of us have no problem coming to the office seriously sleep-deprived but certain that our productivity won’t suffer. Knowing all the ways extreme fatigue impacts your performance, however, might convince you to change your ways.

Your Judgment Takes a Hit

Maybe you’ve interviewed several job candidates, but you keep going through their résumés because you can’t put a face to their accomplishments. Or your department holds an emergency meeting to decide about cutting loose a difficult client, and it’s taking you a while to size up the situation.

An ongoing sleep deficit short-circuits the part of the brain that handles decision-making and problem-solving. That leads to your needing lots of time to make a judgment call. And if you’re faced with a moral dilemma, sleep deprivation puts you at a disadvantage. Not sleeping enough also affects your ability to make appropriate ethical judgments.

You’re Moody and Irritable

Ever find yourself snapping at your coworkers or letting small things get to you—like when there’s no paper in the printer and you need your report ASAP? That irritability isn’t your office’s fault. When your sleep needs haven’t been met, exhaustion triggers mood swings.

Emotions reside in a part of the brain called the amygdale, which usually communicates with the cortex (which influences awareness and perception), to process emotions. But when you’re sleep-deprived, the amygdala ignores the cortex and moves straight into fight-or-flight mode, throwing logic out the window, resulting in anger and a stronger form of irritability. You’re more stressed and you’re more depressed. You’re also prone to overreacting.

You Show Up at Work but Aren’t Really There

If you log the occasional late night, the next day you feel like you appear OK on the outside, yet you’re just going through the motions in a sleepwalking haze. When you regularly skimp on sleep, however, that’s what you’re like every day.

When you show up to work but get very little done because you are so sleep-deprived, you aren’t functioning optimally. You are physically present without really being mentally present because their brains are stuck in fatigue mode.

You’re Accident-Prone

About 70% of accidents are human-related—they don’t happen randomly. A major contributing factor is exhaustion. Accidents tend to occur between midnight and 6am and 2 and 4 in the afternoon. Those times correspond exactly with the tendency for humans to fall asleep.

These injuries and accidents can be crippling in a physical sense for an employee and in an economic sense for a business. Even if you’re a desk jockey who doesn’t handle heavy machinery, lack of sleep impairs your motor skills so you’re more likely to trip and fall, scald yourself by spilling hot coffee or get into an accident during your drive to or from the office.

You use up a lot of sick days

Sleep deprivation also affects your immune system, which means you could end up spending your leave sniffling in bed. When you sleep poorly, you have three times the amount of sickness. Consistently sleeping less than six hours a night makes you more likely to catch a cold.

Not to mention major health issues like diabetes, obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure are linked to sleep quantity. You have one night of poor sleep, and you notice the effects. That’s proof right there that sleep is vitally important to your health, like exercise and nutrition.

You Can’t Remember a Client’s Name

Try getting out the door on fewer than five hours of sleep, and you’ll be lucky to remember where you parked your car. Not getting enough sleep warps your memory. Sleep does seem important for consolidating not just facts and figures in our memory but mechanical movements.

While you sleep, sharp-wave ripples are reactivated in the brain to help you process the information you took in during the day. Getting plenty of sleep both before learning and after learning makes a difference in what and how much you recall.

You Make a Poor Impression on Your Team

Think you’ve trained yourself to function fine on six hours’ sleep? Fatigue is pulling the wool over your eyes—and your reputation as an employee or a team leader can suffer as a result.

As mentioned above, sleep-deprived professionals behave similarly to people who are intoxicated. Beyond the slowed reaction time and lack of self-control, both groups deny that anything’s off. Therefore, it’s vital to get plenty of sleep every night.

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