One of our basic needs as human beings which is vital to boost our immune system, prevent weight gain, strengthen our heart, and improve productivity, yet many people still don’t allow enough time for it… that’s right, I’m talking about sleep!

I’ve recently read the book ‘Why we sleep’ by Matthew Walker, which highlights the many advantages that sleep has on our brain. In particular, sleep is vital for memory and has proved itself time and time again as a memory aid. Both before learning, to prepare your brain for initially making new memories, and after learning, to cement those memories and prevent forgetting. Walker also declares “the decimation of sleep throughout industrialised nations is having a catastrophic effect on our health, our life expectancy, our safety, our productivity and the education of our children.”

Not having enough sleep can have a direct and hugely detrimental effect on productivity and performance. In 2016 the multimillion-dollar National Basketball Association found that when a player had more than 8 hours of sleep there was a 29% increase in points per minute and a 12% increase in minutes played. Whilst less than 8 hours of sleep resulted in a 37% increase in turnovers and a 45% increase in fouls committed.

How much sleep do you get each night? Do you fall into the trap of working late or watching TV longer than you should?

Not getting enough sleep can actually be dangerous. The Foundation for Traffic Safety has conducted lots of research into sleep and found that when a person sleeps for just 4-5 hours a night they are 4.3 times more likely to have a car accident the following day. If this sleep is then increased to just 5-6 hours a night this likelihood reduces to 1.9 times.

The World Health Organisation has now declared a ‘sleep loss epidemic’ throughout industrialised nations and in 2015 National Geographic announced in the ‘Sleepless in America’ documentary that “40% of American adults are sleep deprived.” Furthermore, this documentary directly points out that ‘when sleep gets shorter than 7 hours per night there is an increase in obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease…’ as well as mental health problems.

We know the risks and yet we drastically underestimate the power of sleep and our fundamental need for sleep in order to function and perform in all areas of our lives.

Here are 12 tips on how you can improve your sleep in order to become 30% more productive, so go on, give it a go for a month and see what happens!

  1. Create a sleep schedule you can stick to so you go to bed and wake up around the same time each day. If you are naturally an early bird then great, you’ve probably heard of The 5 am club by now. But if you’re not great at rising early that’s also fine (if you are in charge of your own schedule), just adjust your timings, but be consistent.
  2. Exercise earlier in the day if possible and avoid a late workout as this could affect your ability to drop off into sleep
  3. Monitor your caffeine and nicotine intake during the afternoon, have a cut-off point for consuming these if you can
  4. Avoid eating big meals late in the evening as overconsumption will sit heavy on your stomach and cause disrupted sleep
  5. Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed as alcohol robs you of REM sleep. Stop drinking earlier in the evening if possible and have a few glasses of water before bed, this will also rehydrate you. I know from personal experience as I track my sleep and stress levels regularly I notice that after alcohol my sleep is always disturbed and heart rate variability (stress) is always higher.
  6. Napping can boost your productivity, brainpower and health but make sure you nap before 3 pm to avoid interfering with your evening sleep.
  7. Set aside some time to relax your body and unwind before you go to bed, don’t over-schedule your day
  8. If possible, take a hot bath before bed as the drop in body temperature when you get out of the bath can help you sleep
  9. Make sure your bedroom is dark, cool and gadget-free in the evening
  10. Ensure the right sunlight exposure, avoid black-out blinds as they will not let the morning light in when it is time to wake. Daylight is key to regulating sleep patterns.
  11. Don’t lie in bed awake. If you find yourself still awake after lying in bed for more than 20 minutes, get up and do some relaxing activity such as reading a book or listen to relaxing music until you feel sleepy
  12. Some over-the-counter medications can interfere with sleep, particularly those treating high blood pressure or asthma. Where possible try replacing these with lifestyle changes but be sure to discuss this with your healthcare professional first.

Final Thought

To sum up, think twice about watching that extra episode on Netflix or working that extra hour in the evening as it will then become more difficult for you to get enough good, quality sleep that night. Prioritise the importance of sleep and of getting at least 7 hours a night consistently, which most likely means dedicating 8 hours to bedtime if you include relaxing down into sleep and waking up gradually.

Out of all the productivity hacks I’ve seen in my time (and there are lots!) absolutely none are as effective as getting enough sleep to really optimise brainpower, productivity and performance!