Catchin’ Z’s: The Overlooked Connection Between Sleep & Resilience
Maintaining good physical energy is your ticket to a life and career filled with resilience. Let your physical energy deplete, and you’ll find that not only will your work performance noticeably suffer, but your health can deteriorate quickly, setting you back even further.
Of the many ways to send your physical and mental energies off the rails, cutting back on sleep is perhaps the most common. According to a recent Gallup poll, 40 percent of American adults are sleep-deprived. Right up there with an improper diet and a lack of exercise, poor sleeping habits can amount to physical abuse to your body on par with injury or illness, often leading directly to the latter. Similarly, giving up sleep carves away at your mental energy, which is something that we, as knowledge workers, are paid to engage at full capacity. In her book The Sleep Revolution, Arianna Huffington analogizes that “sleep is essentially like bringing in the overnight cleaning crew to clear the toxic waste proteins that accumulate between brain cells during the day.”
The bottom line is this: the best gift you can give to yourself, as a professional or otherwise, is a dedication to at least 7 hours of sleep per night. Using The Sleep Revolution as a reference, this article will explore the alarming impacts that skimping on those vital 7 can have on your resilience, particularly your physical energy.
The “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” Attitude
Despite the disturbing findings of all the sleep studies that are at our fingertips, people remain resistant to investing in this nightly nourishment. Besides the willingness to sacrifice sleep for almost any other activity, there’s a macho aspect to claiming lack of sleep. Huffington cites Joan Williams in reporting that burnout is so connected to success that it’s worked its way into business culture. “Overwork has also become a way to signal class status: ‘I am slammed’ is a way of saying ‘I am important’.”
This badge of honor clearly overlaps with getting by on as little sleep as possible. But the reality is that lack of sleep ranks with working too many hours as a habit that detracts from our productivity and overall quality of life. And as we will soon see, sleep-related burnout is not the type of sustainable circumstance that only unleashes mild, short-term effects.
The Vicious Cycle
Our modern careers and lifestyles have set the stage for the common sleep difficulties we experience on a mass scale. Convinced by social pressures and expectations that time spent asleep is wasted time, many of us have suppressed our circadian rhythm, radically distorting our age-related sleep/wake cycle to suit our work duties and digital habits over our body’s physical needs. This forced, unnatural pattern eventually cycles back around to adversely affect the very endeavors we carved away at our sleep to pursue.
A national survey of 20+ year-olds self-reporting on sleep-related difficulties, conducted by AffordableSchools.net, indicates that 45% had their activities affected by insufficient sleep in the last 7 days. Compounding this travesty, 20% of those participating in the survey reported not waking up refreshed at some point during those same 7 days. These are not small numbers, and they should serve as a reminder that the amount and quality of our sleep is directly related to that of the work we do and the lives we lead.
Sleeping Yourself Healthy
Have you ever noticed that when you’re at the top of your game, it seems easier to exercise, to sleep well and to eat well? Patterns demonstrate that it’s when we’re in a period of stress and struggle that the junk food comes out and we lose sleep lying awake in bed in a sweat at 2am. The positive short-term effects of resilience through a balanced, sleep-abundant lifestyle have an even greater payoff: they lead to long-term physical wellness!
Huffington references various doctors, health researchers and studies in reporting that “Sleep is as important for our bodies as it is for our minds.” Want a personal cure for the common cold? Prevent yourself from catching it in the first place by boosting your immune system with, you guessed it, more sleep. Are you the unfortunate recipient of a cancer diagnosis? Reduce your sleep disturbances to slow the rate at which the cancer spreads. Will you be having a baby sometime soon? Remember that you’re “sleeping for two”. Acquire more than 6 hours of sleep per night to increase the chances of a predictable labor. Want to avoid obesity? Diabetes? Parkinson’s Disease? Look to the power of the almighty snooze. It all tends to sound miraculous, but it’s true science. When contemplating that science, simply keep in mind that “The fact that sleepiness is one of the symptoms of illness is a further reminder of what our bodies instinctively know about the power of sleep.”
If this insight has inspired you to crawl into bed for a nap right now, it might be the smartest move you could make to stay resilient in your career. When you wake up, get ready to explore the ways in which sleep can affect your mental energy. Sweet dreams!