Sleep and Its Impact on Our Work: Part 3 – Sleep Deprivation and Physical Health

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This article looks into the impact sleep deprivation has on our physical health.

We hear it all the time, it just doesn’t seem like there are enough hours in a day. Because of this there is an ongoing internal struggle almost all of us experience: do I sacrifice sleep for work, or sacrifice work for sleep? There is also always the third option… COFFEE! Being in a society based on work and productivity, it’s more often that work will be chosen at the expense of a proper night’s rest. While this is a personal decision that each person is free to make, there is a great deal of research that shows sacrificing sleep could also mean sacrificing productivity, your mental health, physical health, and safety. Sleep is truly an essential part to our wellness, and our wellness directly affects our work. Missing out on just a few hours of sleep could be putting yourself at higher personal and professional risk.

Let’s explore how sleep deprivation can affect our physical health and how this impacts our work. This is part 3 of 5 in our series on “Sleep and Its Impact on Our Work”.

How can sleep deprivation effect our work?

According to Matthew Walker, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, says once we get past about 16 hours of wakefulness, we start to see mental and physiological deterioration in the body. After we’ve been awake 19-20 hours, our “mental capacity is so impaired that you would be as deficient as someone who was legally drunk behind the wheel of a car”! Essentially, to Matthew Walker, wakefulness past a certain point could be considered a form of low-level brain damage. So, what exactly are we damaging in our work life if we are not repairing the impairment of our wakefulness? Physical health is the 2nd of 4 areas that may be directly affected by our sleep that will impact our work life:

Physical Health

Sleep has many significant effects on our physical health, and anything that effects our physical health could lead to degraded or missed work. Matthew Walker explains that sleep deprivation has major physical effects on our reproductive system, immune system, and cardiovascular system.

In terms of the reproductive system, Matthew says that “we know men who are sleeping just five to six hours a night have a level of testosterone which is that of someone ten years their senior. So, a lack of sleep will age you by almost a decade in terms of that aspect of virility and wellness.”

Our immune systems are greatly impacted by the sleep we are getting, and more specifically it’s our critical anti-cancer fighting immune cells, or natural killer cells, that are greatly affected. These killer immune cells are reduced by 70% after only one night of a 4-5 hour sleep. Due to this fact, we know that the shorter your sleep duration, the higher the risk is of developing numerous types of cancers including cancer of the bowel, prostate cancer, and breast cancer. As Matthew shares: “The link between a lack of sleep and cancer is now so strong that recently the World Health Organization decided to classify any form of nighttime shift work as a probable carcinogen.”

The other major system that suffers greatly from a lack of sleep is the cardiovascular system. The deep sleep you experience at night is essentially a natural form of a blood pressure medication. This is because as your heart rate drops, your blood pressure goes down. Without sufficient sleep, you are depriving your cardiovascular system from that vital reboot it needs, which results in an increase in blood pressure. Matthew shares the stat “if you’re getting six hours of sleep or less, you are at a 200% increased risk of having a fatal heart attack or stroke in your lifetime”.

When in Doubt, Sleep it Out

The facts are clear: better sleep is better for business. Whether you want to improve productivity, mental and physical health, or workplace safety, better sleep is a great place to start! While adjusting to a new nighttime and/or morning routine may be difficult, the rewards are far greater.

We challenge you to evaluate your current sleep routine and decide the areas you can improve on. By improving the quantity, quality, and regularity of our sleep patterns, we will all be able to see an improvement not just within our work, but our lives in general. So hey, when in doubt, sleep it out!

If you would like to watch more of Mathew Walker, here is a 19 min Ted talk on his sleep research.

Next up in our 5 part series on Sleep and Its Impact on Our Work is Part 4 – Sleep Deprivation and Mental Health.

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