Most people understand the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep, even if they’re not always able to do so. You probably know you’ve had enough sleep based on how you feel–rested, alert, and ready to start the day. Conversely, you can probably feel the lack of sleep after pulling an all-nighter to study for a test or staying up to ring in a new year–sluggish, sleepy, and maybe even a bit cranky.
The science of sleep covers many elements, including exploring why we sleep and dream, causes of and cures for sleep disorders, and the effects of sleep deprivation on health, cognitive function, and productivity.
Research confirms what we already know simply by waking up and sensing the quality and quantity of rest we’ve had: good sleep has a positive effect on concentration and productivity. Conversely, poor sleep can negatively impact our ability to effectively get things done. In fact, according to a WebMD overview of sleep and the mind, a chronic lack of sleep can have negative impacts on our thought processes, memory, learning, and ability to physically react to stimuli.
What is Good Sleep?
Every time we sleep, we cycle through a number of sleep stages (we wrote about them here) that include deep sleep and REM, or dreaming, sleep.
The precise number of hours of sleep needed to function at our best varies by individual. As the saying goes, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” and that’s usually the case with sleep. You probably don’t need a scientific study to tell you whether you’ve had enough sleep to be able to concentrate and work effectively.
If you find yourself feeling forgetful, sluggish, and sleepy during your workday, getting more sleep at night might be a solution to more productivity during the day. It’s also a good idea to check with your healthcare provider to rule out any sleep disorders or related health issues that can impact sleep, too.
How Good Sleep Affects Concentration
Scientists have found that lack of sleep reduces your ability to concentrate. Poor concentration hampers focus and attention, which makes it harder to perform tasks requiring more complex thought. In addition to concentration, a lack of sleep can impair memory and make learning difficult–something to keep in mind the next time you’re deciding whether to sacrifice sleep to study or work. In fact, a study published in the journal npj Science and Learning found that college students who regularly got quality sleep did better in school.
How Good Sleep Affects Productivity
If good rest has a positive impact, then it makes sense that bad sleep has the opposite effect. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine examined a study exploring the effect of poor sleep on productivity. Results of that study, published in the Journal Sleep, found that people getting less than 5-6 hours of sleep each night experienced a 19% loss of productivity compared to peers who slept for 7-8 hours. The news grew worse for hard-core night owls: Workers who got less than five hours of sleep experienced a 29% loss of productivity.
The bottom line: If you’re tempted to stay up late to boost productivity, rethink that strategy in favor of getting better rest instead. In fact, according to The Cleveland Clinic, we can’t train ourselves to need less sleep than our individual bodies need. Therefore, it’s better to plan your work week by setting up your routine to get the sleep you need–a task that can be easier said than done.
Tips for Getting Good Sleep
When it comes to sleep, self-care that prioritizes getting good rest isn’t selfish; it helps you to think and perform at your best. We can’t always control the elements that support good sleep–ask any shift worker or parent of a newborn.
The key to supporting concentration and maximizing productivity is to establish as many positive sleep-friendly habits as possible, known as practicing good sleep hygiene. Even with a demanding job, there are variables under our control that encourage good sleep. Focus on setting up your sleep environment to encourage optimal rest, adjust your pre-sleep eating and drinking habits, and create sleep-friendly bedtime and waking routines and you’ll reap the daytime benefits of better concentration and improved productivity.