First and foremost, even though you may fail to notice it at the beginning and you end up thinking that you do not require your daily eight or so hours, sleep deprivation is one of the most powerful and insidious ways to affect one’s mood and performance, up to the point that many people may even develop schizophrenia-like symptoms.
This may be difficult to believe, given the sleepless mythology spread around the net by those IT-managers we know everything about. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, wakes up at 4.30am and tends to be the last one to leave the office. Ursula Burn, Xerox, wakes up at 5.15am and leaves her office well after midnight. Howard Schulz, Starbucks, is said to be at his desk at 6 o’clock in the morning. They are successful demigods. But as much as one can admire them, it’s not advisable to follow their example, at least when it comes to sleep.
Dr. Czeisler – Professor at Harvard Medical School, has pinned out 4 major cognitive impairment factors related to sleep deprivation (from Harvard’s Review article “Sleep Deficit: the performance killer”).
1. Homeostatic drive for sleep at night.
During the day, the human body develops a sort of pressure to sleep and when this is high enough, the brain starts to switch off, thousands of neurons, one after another.
2. The less sleep you manage to get over the course of several days, the less alert you’ll be and the less adept you’ll be at problem solving. To sleep a mere five hours per night over a four day period, impairs you just as if you’d been awake for a straight 24 hours.
3. Circadian pacemaker gone awry.
The circadian pacemaker is apparently what enables you to stay awake during the day and sleep by night, as opposed to the kind of rest animals get (frequent and brief naps). When you mess with it, you mess with the hormones that smooth the whole wake/sleep process and how they affect your ability to focus, react and think.
4. Sleep inertia.
It takes 20 minutes for your brain to warm up when you wake up and then a couple of hours to reach peak efficiency: that’s a period of time when you are not likely to make the best decisions.
Dr. Czeisler also states that “We now know that 24 hours without sleep or a week of sleeping four or five hours a night induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of .1%.”
As much as stress can be a source of extraordinary energy for the body, it also takes its toll. You may not feel or reckon you’re sleep deprived, but in the long run it will make you feel short-tempered, put you in low spirits, or even make you find it more and more difficult to concentrate and remember facts, not only related to work.
The bottom line: as alert as you may feel when you’re not sleeping plenty, do not fool yourself with some super human notion that you can manage without, and never make it your routine. Pay attention to what you eat, especially in the evenings, and how much alcohol you drink, since it affects your deep sleep. Leave the Smartphone out of your bedroom, as well as any device that could spin you into work-mode when you should be resting.