Americans seem to pride themselves on sleep deprivation, functioning on little or no sleep for days on end, and still (somehow) making it to work — but that doesn’t mean that it’s healthy, or good for your career.
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New York magazine’s blog The Science of Us recently offered tips from sleep researchers on how to structure your work day in order to offset a sleep deficit from the night before. The first piece of advice on their list? Don’t skip sleep, unless you have to.
“Each of them wanted to be incredibly clear, up front, about this: You really, really need seven to eight hours of sleep to function like a proper human being (unless you’re one of those short sleepers — but look, you aren’t),” writes Melissa Dahl.
In fact, a Harvard study shows that sleep deprivation contributes to ongoing and chronic illnesses, obesity, depression, and may even shorten your life. We all know how much more cranky, touchy, and stressed we get when we’re mentally and physically exhausted.
Of course, medical health isn’t the whole story. Sleep deprivation also affects many work situations. In their Seminars in Neurology article about the consequences of sleep deprivation, Jeffrey S. Durmer, M.D., Ph.D., and David F. Dinges, Ph.D. offer up a laundry list of performance effects, including: involuntary microsleeps, slowed learning and response time, more errors, and performance deterioration.
Employers love to include “attention to detail” on their list of job requirements. If sleep deprivation leaves you exhausted, you’re more likely to focus on getting the job completed quickly, instead of giving it that extra oomph that would make the end product perfect.
So, sleep deprivation isn’t a good thing, but there are always unavoidable situations in which you just couldn’t get enough sleep. Maybe you had a deadline and stayed up late the night before to complete a project; maybe someone in your family came down with the stomach flu and you needed to stay up and care for them. No matter what the reason, you still need to get through the next day at work. What do you do?
Here are a few ideas to help beat the sleep-deprived blues:
1. Coffee. It’s usually a quick (and very accessible) way to offer a boost of energy at work. Most offices already have a steady flow of coffee available. Just remember that timing is everything.
“A caffeine pro-tip for the sleep-deprived: The attention-boosting and alertness effects of caffeine may not kick in until 30 minutes after you’ve consumed it,” writes Dahl. “So if you’re grabbing a cup of coffee on your way to a morning meeting, you could already be too late.”
2. Water. Drinking water has several benefits: it does a great job of naturally reviving a bedraggled employee, and it also hydrates. If that doesn’t work, a splash of water in the face often does the trick (of course, for employees who wear makeup, this can mean having to reapply, which can be an annoyance).
3. Talk. Not everyone is wired to be social, but sometimes a worker can just check in with a colleague about a project or call a client on the phone to give them a status report. Even quick conversations can break up the workflow and reinvigorate the day.
4. Cold Air. In the winter, many workers can open the office window (taking care not to freeze out a fellow co-worker or boss). Cranking up the air-conditioning can also do the trick, if you have access to your environmental/climate controls.
5. Walk. See if you can find a few minutes to get a quick walk in, when you start to feel sleepy — whether it’s walking down the hall to deliver a file, taking a walk around the block on a break, or walking up or down the stairs instead of taking the elevator. Quick exercise interludes is a great way to break up their day and reinvigorate!
6. Switch-up tasks. If the repetitive nature of a current task is causing the afternoon nod-off, you can check the to-do list for another item that might hold your attention. Sometimes, just a change in focus is just what you need.
7. Nap. When all else fails, you might be able to take a nap. Many workplaces have a break room, where you can grab a quick power nap. There’s also the option of taking a nap under your desk, or in your car — with the windows down — on a lunch break. (Just be sure your boss is OK with it.)
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