Part 1 – Sleep and Health
For many professionals, travel is a regular part of life. Networking conferences. Meetings with clients. Training sessions. Visits to regional offices, stores or plants. And when work stops, vacations typically mean even more travel. While many people consider business and personal travel a luxury and privilege, those who travel often know that travel has its drawbacks. Besides the inevitable transportation hassles that come with getting there and back, there are other factors that make travel challenging. Lack of sleep is one of the biggest challenges.
According to a study conducted by Yuka Sasaki, Research Associate Professor of Cognitive Linguistic and Psychological Sciences at Brown University in Rhode Island, people don’t sleep very well when in a new place. The findings help explain why many people sleep poorly on their first night in a hotel, a sleep laboratory or other new location. Apparently, when a person sleeps in a new place, a part of the brain remains alert for potential threats. And there are all kinds of variables that affect sleep for most people besides travel. If sleep deprivation doesn’t seem like a big deal, think again. While lack of sleep may not seem all that pivotal to professional success, sleep is actually one of the most essential elements of life. It is vital for good health. It also plays a huge part in professional success. That’s because sleep is vital for sharp cognitive thought and keen memory.
The Value of Sleep
Some people really see little value in sleep. For some professionals and businesspeople, sleep is actually viewed as an utter waste of time. Sleep is seen as time lost producing nothing. Accomplishing nothing. For others, sleep is something they do when they just can’t keep going and their bodies shut down. Still others see sleep as an elusive and persnickety visitor that comes and goes without rhyme or reason. Fleeting. Ephemeral. A nuisance.
In truth, most people don’t give sleep much thought at all. Even the most fitness-focused, health conscious people think little about sleep. However, a lot of emerging research shows that sleep is as necessary to health as good nutrition and exercise and as pivotal for professional success as skill enhancement, networking or a positive attitude.
Health and Sleep
A number of studies have revealed a strong correlation between sleep and health, and between lack of sleep and illness. For example, scientists confirmed that a good night’s sleep seems to play a role in keeping colds and other infections away. One study by researcher Aric Prather, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, San Francisco, found that the odds were 28% higher for people who sleep five or fewer hours a night to have had caught a cold in the past month than for folks who regularly get more sleep. He also found that short sleepers had more than 80% higher odds of having another infection — including flu, ear infections, and pneumonia— in the past month compared to those sleeping seven or eight hours.
Researchers also found that people who have sleep disorders had about 30% higher odds of having had a cold in the previous month. And the odds of having had an infection in the past month were more than double for people with sleep disorders. That’s a lot of illness, and thus a lot of down time at work. While experts cannot say for sure why lack of sleep increases susceptibility to infections, it is known that T-cells, a type of white blood cells that fight off infection, don’t work as well in people who are sleep-deprived.
If sleep deprivation causing common colds and infections isn’t alarming enough, researchers also found that sleep deprivation and an abnormal sleep cycle may increase the risk of heart disease, such as for people who work the night shift, work late, or travel across time zones causing prolonged jet lag.
Almost all physiological and behavioral processes, in particular the sleep-wake cycle, follow a circadian rhythm that is regulated by an internal clock located in the brain. When sleep-wake and feeding cycles are not in tune with the rhythms dictated by the body’s internal clock, circadian misalignment occurs. Those who are chronically exposed to circadian misalignment might not fully benefit from the restorative cardiovascular effects of nighttime sleep.
The study looked at 26 healthy people, aged 20 to 39, who were restricted to five hours of sleep for eight days with either fixed bedtimes or bedtimes delayed by eight and a half hours on four of the eight days. The result? Both groups had a higher heart rate during the day and it was seen to a greater extent at night when sleep deprivation was combined with delayed bedtimes. There was also an increase in levels of the stress hormone norepinephrine in the sleep-deprived and delayed-bedtime group. Norepinephrine can narrow blood vessels, raise blood pressure and expand the windpipe. Sleep deprivation and delayed bedtime were also associated with reduced heart rate variability at night and reduced vagal activity during deeper sleep phases that normally have a restorative effect on heart function. The main effect of the vagal nerve on the heart is the lowering of the heart rate.
Lack of sleep is also tied to obesity. In a Nurses’ Health Study, researchers followed roughly 60,000 women for 16 years, asking them about their weight, sleep habits, diet, and other aspects of their lifestyle. At the start of the study, all of the women were healthy, and none were obese; 16 years later, women who slept five hours or less per night had a 15% higher risk of becoming obese, compared to women who slept seven hours per night. Short sleepers also had 30% higher risk of gaining 30 pounds over the course of the study compared to women who got seven hours of sleep per night.
Scientists aren’t sure why lack of sleep causes obesity. It may be that sleep-deprived people are too tired to exercise, decreasing the “calories burned” side of the weight-change equation. Or people who don’t get enough sleep may take in more calories than those who do, simply because they are awake longer and have more opportunities to eat. Lack of sleep also disrupts the balance of key hormones that control appetite, so sleep-deprived people may be hungrier than those who get enough rest each night.
On top of all that, the Centers for Disease Control in the U.S. has reported that sleeping less than seven hours per night is associated with increased risk for diabetes, stroke, frequent mental distress, and all-cause mortality.
Certainly lack of health caused by sleep deprivation has a direct effect on a person’s ability to do well at work. Sick people have either a higher rate of absenteeism or are less productive and more contagious when working. These are some of the more obvious ways in which sleep deprivation affects career success. But there are other ways as well. Stay tuned next week when we explore how sleep deprivation can have a dramatic direct effect on success.
Quote of the Week
“Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.” Thomas Dekker
© 2016, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.