Getting a good night’s sleep is the worst kept secret when it comes to productivity and success within business and decision making but, neurophysiologist and sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan explains how you can do more to train your brain, and be the best version of yourself beyond the advised 8 hours.
Sleep is one of the key elements to maintaining productivity. In fact, it is the foundation for performing well at work. The old ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality is unhealthy and out of date now that people pay more attention to their mental as well as physical health. That archaic way of thinking is a fast route to unfulfillment, reduced productivity and burnout.
Some of the world’s most successful businesspeople have been outspoken on the importance of sleep and their self-care practices. Famous examples include Jeff Bezos, who has commented on his belief in prioritising sleep and aiming for eight hours per night because of the impact it has on decision making; and Arianna Huffington, who is evangelical about the link between sleep and productivity, having written two books on the topic and experienced burnout first-hand.
In order to build a happy, healthy, productive workforce and guard against burnout, there must be a top-down approach to wellbeing. Certain self-care strategies need to be held as non-negotiable. Leaders who work on themselves in this way create the positive contagion of thriving and this will ultimately positively impact on the business.
Mental health and employee wellbeing have been on the corporate agenda for over a decade and despite this, employees have been running in survival model for years. Millions of people went into the pandemic running on survival energy, and not working to their full potential. What the covid crisis has done is to truly place employee health – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual – on the agenda.
To be at your most productive, you must make rest a priority. Our sleep before midnight is the most restorative phase of sleep, so set a goal to get to bed before 10pm at least 3-4 nights a week.
Getting a good night’s sleep is often easier said than done, particularly if you are a sensitive sleeper who struggles to switch off from the day. Attempt to let go of anxieties about how much or how little sleep you should be getting as this just compounds insomnia. If you tend to wake up with your ‘to do’ list going round and round in your head, try writing your lists before you sign off from work, not just before bed.
Everyone can aim towards optimising sleep. This means keeping work and its paraphernalia, such as laptops and phones, out of the bedroom, allowing yourself time to wind down in the evenings, and keeping your caffeine, alcohol and other stimulants intake to a minimum.
It’s important to understand your energy levels and manage them effectively. Here are some of the things you can do to support your brain so that you can be firing on all cylinders.
- Work with your natural energy cycle. Neuroscience tells us that we should take breaks every 60-90 minutes to rejuvenate and replenish our mental and physical energy. So, take a break away from your work for 5-10 minutes every hour or so to mentally switch channels. Stretch to relieve tension, move away from your screen, drink a glass of water or eat something healthy, take a few conscious deep in-breaths. These strategies will lift your energy throughout the day and encourage better sleep at night.
- Create healthy work/life boundaries. The implications for health on all levels – mental, physical and spiritual – are profound as our working worlds have become less structured and more virtual. What time do you stop working? Do you talk about work or think about it constantly even when you’re trying to relax? Try to engage in something positive that will help you to switch off. If you are going to talk about work out of hours, put a time limit on it and don’t allow it to ambush your whole evening.
- Manage the pressure. We need physical activity to keep stress in balance. Try to engage in some form of aerobic activity at least three times per week. Always eat breakfast within 30 minutes of waking, especially if you wake up with anxiety, and then eat little and often throughout the day – particularly if you are going to be working long hours. Keep healthy snacks (nuts, fruit, bagels) with you. Try to drink at least 2 litres of water per day.
- Track your goals. Breaking key aims down into steps is a great way to boost your motivation and increase feelings of achievement. By splitting a larger goal into manageable chunks you can celebrate all the smaller wins along the way. By allowing yourself the time to notice accomplishments and offer yourself a short break once achieved, you can become more productive.
Making these seemingly small changes to your day-to-day working life will all add up to have a hugely positive effect not only on your productivity levels but also on your wellbeing.