How can sleep and recovery affect your performance at work?

Are you getting the correct amount of sleep?

We’ve all been there. Your alarm goes off after a sleepless night and you drag yourself out of bed like a bear with a sore head. A bad night’s sleep can leave you feeling tired, irritable and unable to concentrate. You crave a pick-me-up in the form of sugar or caffeine, and long for the moment you can log off and crawl back under your duvet.

On the other hand, eight or nine hours of sleeping like a log can see you springing out of bed feeling bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready to take on anything the day might throw at you. But when you’ve got a lot on your mind, getting a good night’s sleep can be easier said than done.

Just like regular exercise and a healthy diet, getting enough good sleep is an essential part of looking after your overall health.

Personally, I like to keep track of my sleep throughout the week, using a device called Whoop. It keeps me accountable for getting the right amount each night, giving my body the best chance of a good recovery. It’s important for our physical and mental health, because a good night's sleep can mean a positive, successful day. A bad night's sleep, well that can result in the exact opposite.

Tracking your sleep can help to keep on top of your recovery.

Here are some of the benefits of good sleep and why it's important to make sleep a priority.

1. Improve your attention and concentration.

It’s no surprise that getting a good night’s sleep can help to keep your energy levels up. But plenty of rest can also help to keep your mind from wandering and maintain your attention throughout the day.

Not sleeping properly can mean that both your body and brain don’t function properly the next day. It could impair your attention span, concentration, strategic thinking, risk assessment and reaction times. This is even more important if you have a big decision to make, are driving, or are operating heavy machinery. So getting plenty of sleep can help you to stay sharp and focused all day long.

2. Learn and make memories.

Not only does sleep allow your body the time it needs to rest, repair and rebuild, but it does the same for your mind too. As you sleep, your brain begins to organise and process all the information you’ve taken on during the day. It converts your short-term memories into long-term memories. This helps you to learn and means that when you wake up, you can often see things more clearly.

3. Keep your heart healthy.

A lack of sleep can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes and coronary heart disease. Waking up too often is thought to stimulate your sympathetic nervous system – the system responsible for your body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ response. The ‘fight-or-flight’ response is how your body physically reacts when it senses danger. Your sympathetic nervous system also activates your cardiovascular system and increases your blood pressure to prepare you for waking up. But if you’re being kept awake too often, your body can’t compensate for this rise in blood pressure and your level may remain higher than expected. Having high blood pressure is also a major risk factor for stroke and coronary heart disease.

Not only that, but poor sleep has also been linked to poor insulin regulation and resistance. Insulin is the hormone that controls your blood sugar. If you’re not getting enough sleep, your body’s ability to regulate your blood sugar becomes disrupted and the levels of sugar in your blood can increase, and can cause diabetes. So getting enough sleep is an important factor in looking after your cardiovascular health.

4. Keep your immune system strong.

Getting a good night’s sleep can help to keep your immune system fighting fit and keep germs at bay. Sleep gives your body the time it needs to rest and repair, which is one of the reasons you feel tired and want to sleep more when you’re unwell. Sleep supports the proteins and cells of your immune system to detect and destroy any foreign invaders your body might come into contact with, like the common cold. It also helps these cells to remember these invaders, so if you come across the same bugs and germs again, you’re prepared to fight them off. So a good night’s sleep helps to strengthen your body’s immune response, and it’s essential to allow yourself time to rest and recover when you’re not feeling well.

5. Take care of your emotional wellbeing.

If you’ve got a lot on your mind and are struggling with your emotions, going over things in your head can often keep you awake at night. If you’re up all night worrying, you might begin to see a change in your mood and a lack of sleep can leave you feeling low. This could then cause you to feel anxious and create more negative thoughts about not sleeping. This might keep you awake even longer and can turn into a vicious cycle of worry and poor sleep. Try practising mindfulness to help you sleep and take care of your emotional wellbeing. Or try putting pen to paper and writing your concerns in a diary before bed or talking to someone. This could help put your thoughts in order and help you to get to sleep.

6. Look after your mental health.

Not only is sleep important when looking after your physical health, but it plays an important role in looking after your mental health too. If you’re not sleeping properly, you’re at a higher risk of developing poor mental health.

7. Reduce your stress levels.

There are lots of things that can cause you to feel stressed, and how you personally deal with stress will be different from someone else. But feeling stressed, for example from work, relationships, financial or health concerns, is often a key factor if you’re struggling to sleep at night. When you’re feeling stressed, your body releases ‘stress hormones’, for example cortisol, which can keep you awake. On the other hand, a good night’s sleep can have the opposite effect and relax the systems in your body that are responsible for this stress response.

8. Maintain good relationships.

It’s no secret that a bad night’s sleep can leave you feeling grumpy. So making sure to get enough good sleep can help to put you in a more positive headspace. And when you’re feeling good, it’s likely to be felt by the people around you, like your colleagues and loved ones. So getting enough sleep can help you to maintain good interpersonal relationships.

Not only that, but how much sleep you get can affect your language, reasoning and communication skills – all key factors when building relationships with others.

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