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Sleep and Human Performance

Updated: May 31, 2019

Some of the most successful business people take pride in how few hours of sleep they get. We could all read about Angela Merkel and her 4 hours of shut-eye a night. We’ve all heard about Donald Trump and all those hours of sleep that he traded to achieve his entrepreneurial success. It is a well-known fact that the top management of the biggest companies in the world (Toyota, Yahoo, Twitter, PepsiCo, Fiat, Southwest Airlines, Apple, Tesla, and Facebook) almost sleep awake.


All this media frenzy may fool you that this sort of routine is safe, sustainable and, above of all, necessary to exhibit excellence. However, that is far from the truth.


1. Sleep is necessary for peak cognitive performance


A study found that participants who slept for 4 hours per night over 2 weeks showed deficits in cognitive accuracy, attention, and working memory, identical to those seen after two nights of total sleep restriction.


A drop in working memory means that you will not be able to recall and use relevant information while performing a particular task. Sleep deprivation notably affects psychomotor skills and cognitive speed. It decreases your ability to perceive and consequently, has a detrimental effect on executive functions.


With 8 hours of sleep, these functions work at their best: your focus is impeccable, you quickly process information, you efficiently plan and organize, and you can find innovative solutions to the problems.


On the other hand, sleep loss debilitates inhibitory control. It negatively impacts all types of endeavors since it prompts inadequate cognitive and emotional responses, and affects the response time. A lack of self-control (an essential aspect of inhibitory control) is lethal to optimal task execution and attempts to attain goals.


Another reason why poor performance ascribes to insufficient sleep is because of the inability to sustain attention. A sleep-deprived person has trouble to engage and is prone to omissions, which increases both financial and safety risks at the workplace. Lapses in attention and the vigilance decrement hamper productivity, hinder performance, and curb efficiency.


2. Sleep enhances emotional intelligence

Successful people are aware of their emotions. They are able to deal with how they feel in a constructive manner. These people have a high adaptive capacity and are proficient problem solvers.


Researchers have found that when you cut back on your sleep, your ability to perceive and express emotions significantly decreases. With daytime sleepiness, you become easily agitated and therefore, less capable of managing interpersonal relationships. On the other hand, when you are well-rested, you are in tune with your subtle emotions and those of others. This is critical to making good social judgments because sufficient sleep enhances the ability to respond in an objective way.


Sleep deprivation narrows the flexibility of thought. It restricts creative thinking patterns and the potential to successfully handle stressful situations and effectively cope with interpersonal challenges.


Studies have found that REM sleep, in particular, helps the brain to process emotions and dismantle their unconscious grasp on our behavior. Affluent-REM rest provides mental sharpness and boosts emotional clarity. Hence it amplifies the positive impact on outcomes at the workplace, home, and other areas of life.


3. Sleep contributes to physical endurance and strength

Quality sleep and ultimate athletic performance are interdependent and complementary to maintaining fabulous health. While physical fitness may vary from person to person, a good night’s sleep is essential to optimize it.


A Stanford University Sleep Study suggests that extended sleep cuts down sprint times in runners and increases kick strokes in swimmers. Although numerous subjects exceeded their limits and set new personal records, there was an increase in their alertness and a drop in daytime fatigue.


In his research, Dr. Andrew M. Watson, who specializes in primary care sports medicine, concluded that proper sleep enhances athletic performance and reduces the risk of injuries. The participants who got a sufficient amount of sleep showed increased free-throw accuracy (basketball players) and improved serving accuracy (tennis players). Accumulated sleep debt, however, led to a decline in reaction time.


Sleep time influences body mass too. There is scientific evidence that indicates that a lack of sleep induces hormonal imbalance, deranges metabolism, impairs muscle recovery, and has an adverse effect on a person’s mood. All of these factors affect appetite, body mass loss, and proper body weight regulation.


Whether you enjoy moderate exercise or you work out vigorously, bear in mind that athletic intelligence, safety, and overall health are all attributable, among other factors, to a consistent sleep schedule and solid sleep hygiene.



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