Here’s how sleep affects your career and tips for sleeping better


By Heather Cherry—

Sleep disorders and sleep deprivation are common challenges that can have lasting consequences, affecting your personal and professional life. According to Johns Hopkins Carey Business School Professor and Associate Dean Brian Gunia“Poor or insufficient sleep can lead to a variety of problematic behaviors, mental and affective health problems, cognitive impairment and physical illness. Each of these problems can harm the organizations where they work in many ways. For example, unhealthy sleep can lead to distractions that employees cannot achieve organizational goals, or it could lead to mistakes and even bodily harm, or alternatively, it could affect employees’ ability to interact productively and professionally with colleagues, customers or others.”

And much of the population is likely experiencing challenges when it comes to sleeping. A recent study concluded that nearly a third of the population experiences symptoms of insomnia – about 26% experience excessive sleepiness and 4% experience obstructive sleep apnea.

Better sleep is something anyone can work on and improve on with the right support and care.

Here’s how sleep affects your career and tips for sleeping better.

Stages of sleep

According to the Sleep Foundationnormal sleep periods include four to five sleeps

stages. These phases are divided into: fast eye movement (REM) and

Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep.

  • Phase one: Generally short and includes the time to go from being awake to falling asleep.
  • Phase two: Your body and mind slow down and come to rest in your sleep. You can still wake up easily – this phase can be considered light sleep.
  • Phase three: The body slows down and goes into recovery mode, often referred to as “rest and digestion.” It may be more difficult for you to wake up at this stage. This phase is often referred to as deep sleep because breathing and brain activity are generally very slow.
  • Phase four: Brain activity increases to patterns as if you were awake; you are not though. Your breathing and heart rate go up and your muscles stay still. This is the stage where you can have intense dreams.

How the stages come together during a sleep period is known as: sleep architecture† Normally you need four or five different sleep cycles during any given night, and each of the cycles lasts between 90 minutes and two hours. Some cycles contain all three phases of NREM sleep and REM sleep, but not all contain every phase.

Sleep benefits

Scientists believe that healthy REM patterns help the brain focus and clear out unnecessary information. That’s why you can make decisions or tasks faster after a good night’s sleep.

It is important to note that there is a difference between: sleeping problems and disturbed sleep.

  • Sleep disorders include apnea, narcolepsy, insomnia, sleepwalking, and restless legs syndrome.
  • Sleep disorders include fatigue, restlessness, daytime sleepiness, lack of energy, pain, and not sleeping within your chronotype.

Adequate sleep supports healthy hormone functions and emotional regulation. Specifically, sleep regulates the level of cortisol – the steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands – also known as the stress hormone, and cortisol helps regulate other hormones in the body. “Poor sleep causes you to fall down a hormonal trap”, Sara Gottfried, MD, a clinical assistant professor in the division of integrative medicine and nutritional sciences at Thomas Jefferson University. “If you relax and sleep well and wake up feeling recovered, your cortisol peaks within 30 minutes of waking up. That spike triggers all your other hormones, including your thyroid and estrogen

Getting enough sleep helps you

  • Get sick less often.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Lower your risk of serious health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease.
  • Reduce stress and improve your mood.
  • Think clearer and do better at work.
  • Get along better with people.

Sleep and Mental Health

bad sleep contributes to the onset, recurrence, and maintenance of mental health problems, among other risk factors to your overall health and well-being. For example, people with insomnia are: 17 times more more likely than those without experiencing clinically significant levels of depression and anxiety. †sleep affects almost every tissue in your body. It affects growth and stress hormones, your immune system, appetite, breathing, blood pressure and cardiovascular health,” said dr. Michael Twery, public health and biomedical research consultant and former sleep expert at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “Lack of sleep and sleep disturbances can also cause problems in people’s personal lives, especially within their families. It can affect how people perform at work or school.”

While research mostly studies the link between insomnia and depression and anxiety, there is also some evidence that sleep problems are linked to a variety of mental health issues. For example, poor sleep has also been linked to: post-traumatic stresseating disordersand psychosis spectrum experiences such as delusions and hallucinations. In addition, studies have shown that specific sleep disorderssuch as sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, excessive daytime sleepiness, and narcolepsy, are more common in people with mental health problems.

Sleep and career vitality

Lack of sleep leads to damage to work performance, productivity, career development and satisfaction, and an increase in work-related accidents, absenteeism and counterproductive work behaviour. Conversely, better sleep improves memory, knowledge acquisition and learning.

Specifically, there are several consequences of a poor night’s sleep for your career.

  • Decision: Sleep loss decreases brain metabolism in the prefrontal cortex – the brain region responsible for cognitive processes, such as assessment and decision-making.
  • Take a risk: Asleep study showed how sleep-deprived participants tended to opt for more monetary risk.
  • Mood and Memory: one night sleep loss raises the scales of hostility and fear, as well as increased tension, confusion, and fatigue.
  • Performance: Creativity and complex thinking are stifled by sleep loss, which contributes to poor performance and puts your business at risk in the long run.
  • Less motivating: Sleep-deprived leaders will have a harder time inspiring their staff.
  • Circadian rhythm disturbance: The circadian rhythm– physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle – contribute to health and well-being (or lack thereof). A non-sync circadian rhythm can disrupt your daily activities and contribute to poor performance or other skills needed to be effective in your career.

Better Sleep Habits

A healthy amount of sleep is essential for brain plasticity— the brain’s ability to adapt to input. If you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t be able to process what you’ve learned during the day and you may have more trouble remembering it in the future.

Better sleep often starts with creating better sleep habits. Good Sleep Habits (sometimes called “sleep hygiene”) can help you get a good night’s sleep. Improving your sleeping habits includes being consistent – going to bed every night and getting up at the same time every morning – including weekends. “Everyone should get seven to eight hours of sleep a night to feel rested; otherwise you will feel tired all week,” said dr. Susheel Patil, MD, PhD, director of the Sleep Medicine Program for University Hospitals and former director of the Sleep Medicine Fellowship Program at Johns Hopkins. “Often people try to catch up on some sleep on the weekend to pay back the ‘sleep debt’ we’ve built up over the course of the week. While this may help, one weekend more sleep isn’t enough to pay it off.”

Here are some techniques to improve your sleep habits and sleep quality.

  • Track sleep patterns: Use digital tools to track your sleep patterns, such as Oura ringFitBithealth appsand more.
  • Create a quieter bedroom: A pleasant bedroom environment can be an invitation to relax and doze off. Decorate your bedroom to promote better sleep hygiene-create a space that is quiet, dark, relaxing and with a pleasant temperature.
  • Set a sleep schedule: Optimizing your sleep schedule, bedtime routine, and daily routines is part of leveraging habits to make a good night’s sleep feel more automatic. Decide when you want to schedule wake and sleep and stick to it.
  • Work on better nutrition and nutrition: Try to eat more whole foods and less processed foods.
  • Stay active: Regular exercise improves sleep and may help with sleep disorders such as insomnia and restless leg syndrome.
  • Natural light: Aim to be more exposed to natural light during the day, whether you’re sitting by a window or going for a walk.
  • Review medications and other diagnoses: Some medications can affect your sleep quality. Talk to your health care provider about medications or diagnoses to see how they may affect your sleep quality.

If you have sleeping problems once a week, once a month, or at any time when it is a concern, check with your health care provider. If you’re concerned about the amount or quality of sleep you’re getting, or if you feel fatigued even though you think you’re getting enough sleep, share those concerns with your doctor.

A good night’s sleep is critical to your health and well-being and to your effective functioning in your career. To make every day productive, you need to take the necessary steps to ensure you get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis.

Heather Cherry is a versatile writer and editor with 15 years of experience in content creation. She is well versed in providing solutions to clients through strategic, creative and conversational messaging. She published, Market your A$$ discounta small business marketing guide.


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