Does your full schedule eat into how much you sleep at night? Have you ever thought that maybe your sleep deprivation (even if you can function well) is impacting your short-term performance and long-term health? Well, it is. And science can prove it.
The consequences of lackluster sleep are well documented. People who receive inadequate amounts of sleep can expect a slew of negative long-term health effects, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Too little sleep can even negatively affect your appetite and sex drive. Perhaps you knew this.
But here's where you might not have put two and two together. Your immediate performance at work, ability to problem solve and emotional intelligence are significantly diminished in comparison to people who get enough sleep.
On an episode of my podcast, Unmessable, I spoke to Dr. Mathias Basner, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, where we discussed a wide range of things relating to how sleep and noise impact your health and performance.
Among other things, Basner's research showed that at six hours of sleep per night, you will reach similar cognitive decline levels to those who do not sleep for a full night after 10-12 days, and at four hours per night, you will reach this level after five to seven days.
The brain, while sleeping, performs critical functions, including emotional processing and information triaging. Basner shared that one of the hottest theories right now is that sleep allows for brain plasticity, meaning your brain's ability to modify its neural network connections or, in other words: rewire itself. If brain plasticity is impaired, you experience lowered ability to focus, memory problems, higher emotional instabilities and the list goes on.
Sleep is just one of those things whose impact compounds over the years, and, if mismanaged, can hit you hard later on, when the damage is already done.
When you are subjected to hear undesired noises either at night or in the day (think traffic sounds, barking dogs, crying babies, police sirens, and so on), it stresses your body. When your body is stressed, it produces stress hormones (epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol). Long-term exposure to these stress hormones cause a heap of health issues, which is where you get in trouble.
Here's the scary part. Even someone like me that's been living in New York City for over a decade and is desensitized to traffic noise will produce these stress hormones. So even if you are used to noisy surroundings, that doesn't mean it's not negatively impacting you.
The ideal amount of sleep is something that's long been debated in science, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults need, on average, a solid seven hours per night of sleep, and not just any sleep -- it has to be high quality. Noise disturbances can interrupt the quality of your sleep without you even being conscious of it, and the consequences shouldn't be ignored.
If you are like most people, work long hours and have somewhat of a life, you are used to 5 or 6 hours of sleep per night and have come to function pretty well on that or less. But here's the catch: even if your body is used to it, it's still negatively impacting your health and performance. Don't be blind to the incremental aches and pains that pop-up. You may think you are managing well in the moment, but it will catch up with you sooner or later.
Colleagues of Basner, Mollicone and Dinges, found that you don't have to get the seven hours all in one go to stay healthy and maintain peak performance. Naps can help substitute the missing gap at night. The tough thing about naps is the wind-down and wind-up process your body needs, so account for that.
To accelerate the wind-up process, you may want to consider drinking a caffeinated beverage before your nap. Basner refers to this equation (coffee then nap) as a "nappuccino". Having caffeine in your system when you wake up helps jumpstart the transition period.
Lack of sleep, whether it be acute or chronic, definitely has an impact on your performance, ability to think, process emotions, and problem-solve, but the long-term effects on your health are particularly worrisome. Get into the habit of a healthy sleep pattern now so you aren't paying for it later.