Want to be more productive? Get more sleep.

Do you find that it’s difficult to keep still and do nothing? Even when you’re supposed to be relaxing (and though your body may not be moving), your mind might be running though your task list and the many things that you need to get done. Or, perhaps you decide to stay later at work a few days per week in an effort to “catch up.” Though you may be in the mindset of trying to get things done, if you don’t get enough sleep, this can decrease how much you actually get done and increase your stress. And, when you’re stressed, you won’t sleep very well. This is a vicious cycle.

The fact of the matter is that if you want to get more done, you need to be well rested. Lack of sleep or not enough of it can really hamper how productive you can be. The The New York Times recently reported:

Spending more hours at work often leads to less time for sleep and insufficient sleep takes a substantial toll on performance. In a study of nearly 400 employees, published last year, researchers found that sleeping too little — defined as less than six hours each night — was one of the best predictors of on-the-job burn-out. A recent Harvard study estimated that sleep deprivation costs American companies $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity.

This connection between sleep and productivity seems to affect you no matter what your job function is. The article goes on to say that when basketball players slept 10 hours per night, “their free-throw and three-point shooting each increased by an average of 9 percent.”

So, how can you get more sleep — the type of rest that will help you feel energized and well prepared to tackle each workday? To get started:

Stop hitting the snooze button

Though it’s intended to be helpful, the snooze button on your alarm can interrupt your sleep cycle which will in turn make you feel more tired and groggy (this is known as sleep inertia). You’ll feel this way because your body may not be ready to be awake (depending on the stage of the sleep cycle that it’s in) when the alarm sounds. This can translate into poor performance during the day. Instead, implement a consistent sleep schedule so that you are not dependent on the snooze button. Get up and go to bed at the same time every day so that you create a pattern of restorative sleep (you can even use a sleep cycle app on your phone to help).

Schedule recovery time during the workday

Recovery time can include planned breaks from working on your projects. It can also mean taking power naps during the day (whenever possible), particularly if you didn’t sleep well the night before. You’ll want to take relatively short naps so that when you wake up, you’ll feel more alert and energized. Though napping longer than 20 minutes has benefits (like better decision making and being able to recall directions more easily), if you get into a very deep sleep, you may wake up feeling more tired. Consider experimenting with shorter or longer nap times to find the right amount of time that will help you to recover.

Schedule time for energizing movement

While everyone needs downtime, exercise has been proven to have a positive effect on how well you sleep. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, “just 10 minutes of exercise a day could make a difference in the duration and quality of sleep.” The good news is that you don’t have to carve out several hours to exercise, but rather build in a short stints of energetic movement throughout your day to reap the benefits at night.

Keep your sleep space uncluttererd

When there’s clutter build-up in a room, there’s likely to be a good deal of stress felt when you’re in that particular area. So, set the stage for a restful night by uncluttering your space. Put away clothing and keep your nightstands neat and organized. Be sure that you don’t keep receipts, mail, or any other (non-sleep) related items hanging about. One thing you can keep on your nightstand: a sleep journal. Use the journal to track how well you’re sleeping, how much sleep you need to function optimally, as well as specific things (soft music, completely dark room, bath before bed) that help you achieve restorative sleep.

Do less: Practice single-tasking

So, this isn’t a sleep tip specifically, but it’s good to put it into practice as it can have big results. Though I’m suggesting that you should do less, please don’t throw your to-do list out the window! Doing less doesn’t mean that you should ignore your responsibilities. It simply means that you should focus on one thing at a time, instead of trying to wrap your mind around several tasks and projects simultaneously. This can be tricky at first, but after a bit of practice, you’ll begin to notice that you can get more done and, perhaps more importantly, you’ll have a greater chance of getting things done more completely (and with less stress, too).

Getting enough rest should be at the top of your list if you want to improve your ability to be productive. If after trying some of today’s suggestions you find that there has been no improvement to the quality of your sleep, consider talking with your doctor to see if there are other things that could be having an impact (like certain medications) on your performance.

8 Comments for “Want to be more productive? Get more sleep.”

  1. posted by Jon on

    Great thoughts! This year I purposed to actually go to sleep at a reasonable time. Instead of staying up till unknown times working on projects I get up early and give myself a few hours to work before the kids get up. I have been so much more productive! Also mentioned in the article was ‘energizing movement.’ I built a treadmill desk in my work office and have been so much more productive and creative since I started walking and working. Great thoughts!

  2. posted by Mark McKnight on

    I need to practice switching-off. I can’t sleep properly at night because I am constantly thinking about my projects. I was once advised to stop working at least an hour before bed to relax my mind a little.

  3. posted by Another Deb on

    This year I was diagnosed with sleep apnea and began using a pressurized sleep mask at night which has made all the difference. Aside from not allowing myself more than 5 hours of sleep a night, I had also been waking up something like 29 times a night, which is only a moderate class of disturbance. Now I use the mask faithfully and have learned, as Jon mentioned above, that I am more productive is I sleep early instead of trying to stay up late working, then I am refreshed and ready to do brain-work in the very early morning. The difference in my rested-get-up-early brain and my stay-up-late-to finish brain is incredible.

  4. posted by Glycolic Peel on

    I used to have problems in sleeping until I discovered chamomile tea. It has greatly improved my ability to relax and has made me sleep like a baby the whole night without any disturbances.

  5. posted by Tim B on

    I just recently switched my iPad alarm from the standard buzzer alarm to the alarm feature of TuneIn Radio. It’s a tiny change, but it means I’m no longer hitting snooze. Instead, I’m listening to the radio, with the result that I’m usually getting up within 5-10 minutes of the alarm going off. Being on the iPad, I just bring the radio with me when I get up.

    Since doing this, I’ve actually adjusted my alarm time so it goes off half an hour earlier, because my morning routine has gone from “hit snooze until I absolutely have to get up, and rush like crazy to get to work on time” to “wake up, have breakfast, relax for half an hour and read the news, shower, and head to work”

    It’s amazing how much more awake, refreshed and productive I feel as a result of this tiny change in my lifestyle. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone.

  6. posted by Chris on

    I’ve never really found power-napping works. Just my personal experience. It’s not enough sleep to really “do anything” (for me) and I get up more tired because I was on the verge of sleep but not quite there.

    I do find using less media and electronics before sleep helps my mind to turn off. Could be the lowered stimulation, could be physical (less light shining in my face telling me “it’s daytime!”).

  7. posted by peter on

    Or maybe having a job that gives you so much work that you can only sleep six hours a night, maybe you burn out from being over worked.

  8. posted by Helena on

    Love this article and it resonates so well with me. I have been trying to get better sleep time for some time and after I incorporated my ’15 min walks in my schedule – instead of a full hour, I noticed a big change. I also banned all “work related” reading from my bedside table! Great tips.

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