Every time I look at the clock on my phone, it tells me the correct time. My biological clock on the other hand, that one is prone to errors.
The errors in my biological clock, or circadian rhythm, are most troublesome when it comes to sleep. Even if the clock says it is bed time, an error in my biological clock might keep me up for hours. Or worse, the clock may say it is time to go to work, but my biological clock says it is time to sleep.
Unfortunately, we have a lot of environmental factors that can throw off our circadian rhythms, disrupting a consistent sleep schedule. If our biological clocks were as easy to manipulate and keep on track as digital clocks, it would be easy to reset and fall asleep on time. Instead, a lot of us suffer from sleep deprivation which negatively impacts our health and productivity when completing tasks at work and at home.
Why Does Sleep Matter for Productivity?
You’ve likely encountered this mindset: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead, and until then, I’m going to be super-productive!” It’s easy to tie actions to productivity. For example, writing this article is productive.
Sleep, on the other hand, seems inherently unproductive. Time away from work, where you literally do nothing, doesn’t seem like a factor in your total productive output, but it is. Studies on sleep and productivity don’t just show that people who sleep well are more productive, they also show that when people sleep less, they are significantly less productive in nearly every facet of life.
A CDC study revealed that 35 percent of U.S. adults are not getting the recommended seven or more hours of sleep each night. When you sleep less than the recommended amount, you accrue a sleep deficit. Imagine the hard-working employee who is the first in the office and last to go home. They answer emails at 1:30 am and don’t let red-eye flights stop them from attending the morning meeting.
This person may appear productive, but under the surface, their sleep deficit is accumulating. It only takes 18 hours of being awake before cognitive functions like cognitive speed, memory, ability to focus, and problem-solving skills begin to suffer.
The thing is, when you cut an hour or two of sleep night after night, you start to rack up a sleep deficit. Pretty soon, cognitive functions are slipping, and the deficit worsens the effects. Regardless of intentions, the sleep deprived become low performers.
How to Fix Your Sleep Schedule
Getting enough sleep every night can be challenging. It’s at least a seven-hour commitment, and you definitely can’t multitask. But even if you decide that tonight’s the night you are going to sleep well, you might run into problems when you simply can’t fall asleep. Most of us don’t fall asleep on command because our biological clocks and circadian rhythm have been altered by our environment and previous sleep habits. So, when you want to get the recommended amount of sleep, you need to fix your sleep schedule with consistent behaviors and patience.
If there is a quick-fix to fix your sleep schedule, it may be camping. There is some evidence suggesting that a week of sleeping by natural light and darkness, away from artificial light (including laptops and smartphones), is enough to reset your circadian rhythm to go to bed and wake up earlier.
But if you’re not planning on going camping anytime soon there are still things you can do to reset your biological clock.
1. Put Sleep in Your Schedule
I don’t like calling it a “bedtime,” but I definitely put sleep in my weekly schedule. I know what time I need to wake up every day. Counting back eight hours, I know what time I need to go to bed every day—simple. However, when your sleep schedule is off, going to sleep may not be as easy as choosing a bedtime.
If you find yourself wide awake at your scheduled bedtime, remember that it’s going to take time. You might be better off working your bedtime backwards incrementally, rather than choosing a strict time and staring at the ceiling waiting for sleep to kick in.
To start, think about when you typically fall asleep now. Then, schedule your bedtime to start about fifteen minutes earlier. Every two to three days, move it back another 15 minutes until you reach your ideal bedtime.
2. Turn Off Lights and Electronics
One of the major reasons Americans have such poor sleep habits is because we are constantly exposed to artificial light. Our circadian rhythms depend on exposure to light and darkness to signal when we should be awake and asleep. Thanks to electricity, we can light our environment 24/7. But, when it’s time to get some sleep, you’ll need to turn off the lights.
You might think of “artificial light” as just the lights around your home, but the light emitted form phones, laptops, and other electronics will also keep you up. You’ll want to avoid any mental stimulus that also exposes you to light.
3. Set the Scene to Facilitate Sleeping
Offices are designed for productivity. Your bedroom should be designed for sleeping. Here’s a few things you can do:
- Put up black-out curtains to make the room darker.
- Get a new mattress if yours is uncomfortable.
- Make sure you have clean and breathable bedding.
- And keep the temperature between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit.
You may wonder why the temperature matters. Wouldn’t a warm room put you to sleep too? Actually, the body lowers its temperature as you fall asleep. When the room is in that range, it can actually facilitate the physiological change, helping you sleep. Temperatures above or below that may make it difficult to fall or stay asleep.
4. Establish a Relaxing Routine
Stress and activity are not conducive to sleep. Build some time into your routine to wind down. You shouldn’t wine down because alcohol isn’t good for sleep, but you can take a bath, listen to soothing music, read a book, or do whatever else relaxes you.
By following a routine each night, you’ll build a type of “muscle memory.” Let’s say you start a routine of dimming the lights and reading half an hour before bed. After enough repetitions, doing this will reduce stress and trigger your brain to start getting into sleep mode.
5. Be Mindful of When and What You Eat and Drink
In addition to light, circadian rhythms can also be influenced by food. Harvard Researchers have found evidence suggesting a short fast followed by regular meal times can help reset your biological clock. Again, it’s all about consistency.
If you can make a few small changes to when you eat, it might help a lot. The study suggests you should:
- Eat breakfast as soon as you wake up.
- Don’t eat within three to four hours of your bedtime.
- Plan your last meal for 12 hours after breakfast.
Your diet doesn’t have to dramatically change. Some studies suggest dairy and saturated fats should be avoided later in the day, so eat your heavier meals at lunch rather than dinner. You also might want to skip other stimulants such as alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine in the afternoon.
6. Wake Up at the Same Time Every Day, and Don’t Hit Snooze
Waking up at the same time every day is equally important to going to bed at the same time every day. This may seem easy enough, but there are two pitfalls that you should be aware of.
First, it’s very tempting to sleep in on the weekend. The problem with sleeping in is that your biological clock doesn’t know the difference between Friday and Saturday. By sleeping in on the weekend, you undo all the work you did during the week.
Second, you can’t hit snooze and sleep for ten more minutes. When your alarm wakes you up, you need to get up. Hitting snooze and sleeping in a little will make your wake-up time inconsistent.
7. Don’t Take a Nap
If you are tired, a short nap in the afternoon can boost your productivity for the rest of the day: don’t do it.
The ideal situation is to get sleep when you need it, at night. If you get sleep during the day, your body will resist going to bed earlier. When the problem is your biological clock, think of naps as treating the symptoms but not the root problem.
You can schedule exercise or light physical activity for the times you would normally nap. This can give you a similar boost; plus, a little exercise can make it easier to sleep later on too.
8. Talk to Your Doctor
Not all sleep problems can be fixed with good habits. Lifestyle changes are a great place to start, but if you continue to struggle falling or staying asleep, consider talking to your doctor.
Remember that night after night, if you’re not getting the recommended amount of sleep, you will accumulate a sleep deficit, lowering your productivity in significant ways. Not only does it make you slower, sleep deprivation can cause a lack of motivation and poor decision making. It’s also bad for your physical health and has been linked to chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
If sleep troubles persist, take a break from work to visit your doctor and find out if there is an underlying problem. For example, breathing issues like sleep apnea or rhinitis can completely undermine your intention to get a good night’s rest. Once the issue has been identified and treated, you’ll be able to go to work each day well-rested, alert and productive.
Are you getting sleepy? Don’t doze off just yet. There’s a great tool to help keep you productive during the workday and carry less anxiety into bed with you at night. ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software that can help you sleep soundly knowing that you’re planning, monitoring and reporting on your project with the most accuracy possible. Try it today with this free 30-day trial.