Why Sleep Is the Most Important Exercise You Can Do for Success
By Essi Auguste Virtanen
College was this endless marathon of grind. I lived with a belief system that the more I work, the more likely I will succeed. And 24 hours was barely enough time to get everything done, so the less sleep I got, the better. Or so I thought.
I’d work 12-15 hour work days, often seven days a week. My heart rate was at an equivalent level of doing cardio running from a class to work—morning workouts four times a week would have not even been necessary.
It got so bad that at one point I suffered from mid-night, stress-caused panic attacks. I woke up from my sleep catching my breath night after night freaking out whether I forgot a deadline, assignment or messed up a presentation to mention a few instances.
In retrospect, now six months post-graduation, I think it is a miracle I did not burn out.
According to Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America Poll 2018, only 10 percent of Americans prioritize sleep over other daily responsibilities. The majority of 35 percent polled prioritize fitness and nutrition and 27 percent prioritize work.
According to a 2016 survey published by Staples concluded that 40 percent of office workers in the U.S. and Canada feel burned out.
But research shows more sleep guarantees you more success without sacrificing your overall well-being and happiness.
EFFICIENT AND PRODUCTIVE PERFORMANCE
A 2017 study led by UCLA’s Dr. Itzhak Fried shows how sleep deprivation leads to poorer information processing, translation of visual information, focus and overall cognitive performance.
“We were fascinated to observe how sleep deprivation dampened brain cell activity. Unlike the usual rapid reaction, the neurons responded slowly and fired more weakly, and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual,” said the lead author of the study Yuval Nir of Tel Aviv University.
Therefore, less sleep means less efficient brain functions, and in contrast, more sleep means more fluid thinking and increased overall performance.
ENHANCED MEMORY AND LEARNING
Do you love naps? Well, I have more reasons for you to embrace them.
A German study looked into two research groups that were memorizing a set of illustrated cards during a 40-minute period. Then one of the groups took a nap, while the other took a break. Turns out the nap group memorized the second set faster.
Similarly, research proves 60- to 90-minute midday nap to be more effective in boosting brain performance than two shots of espresso, according to Psychology Today.
So instead of getting that double shot to keep you going, take that nap.
Regardless of your career path, creative and divergent thinking is essential. Studies show a noticeable decline in creative thinking in a sleep-deprived state.
Researcher Ullrich Wagner and his peers gave participants a challenging task about numbers with a hidden secret strategy that would solve it faster. One group was allowed eight hours of sleep, and the other had to remain awake the whole time. The numbers say it all: 60 percent of the sleep group found the hidden strategy comparing to only 23 percent of the group that was awake.
Still thinking of pulling an all-nighter to finish a challenging project? I’d think twice.
IMPROVED PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH
Let’s get real. If you don’t have your physical and mental health, then you have nothing.
There are numerous studies out there that prove various health benefits of sleep. Dr. Michael Twery, a sleep expert at the National Institutes of Health, explained its overall importance:
“Sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies. It affects growth and stress hormones, our immune system, appetite, breathing, blood pressure and cardiovascular health,” Twery said.
Throughout college I always thought sleep deprivation is the price you pay to be successful. That the more time I work, the more success follows. And that’s not true.
Less is more: If you sleep then you will be able to think faster and take less time to accomplish your goals. The more time you spend sleeping, the more productive you´ll be the next day.
So put your head on the pillow, and let the power of sleep do its magic in its wonderful stillness.