As a tech blog written by App builders, writing a post about how important it is to sleep seems out of character. And, on the surface, it is. But as members of the Tech Industry, we are on the front lines of Uber productive people attempting to forego sleep as much as possible. Hearing programmers and designers brag about how little they are sleeping is pretty much an everyday occurrence around our office.
We live busy lives and, even with more than 200 developers and designers on staff, we are constantly working. The desire to turn every waking second into a productive one naturally grows into attempting to turn every moment into a waking one. After all, sleep essentially amounts to a whole third of your life, gone. Empty, non-productive time. Right?
The impetus behind this desire to be productive every second of every day comes from several sources, from the constant influx of information to the need to working on the go. The cause isn’t really important though, because the result is that less than ⅓ of the adults in the US get the necessary 7 hours of sleep, and 60 to 85% of adolescents don’t sleep the 8.5 hours they need.
But let’s return to our earlier straw man: are people who skip the recommended amount of sleep more productive than those who don’t. Well, as you may have guessed, no. More and more research is pointing to the fact that even if you are working every second you don’t sleep, productivity decreases when you aren’t receiving enough rest.
In recent years, there has been a plethora of research on this matter. Most notably, Arianna Huffington released a book on this very matter a few years ago. Ms. Huffington represents the stereotypical overachiever; the ones who would rather skip a full 7 hours in favor of more time spent behind the desk. She slept very little for years upon years, believing that she just did more when she only slept a few hours at a time.
That is, until she crashed. Quite literally. After multiple 18 hour workdays, her body simply gave out and she lost consciousness – and broke her cheekbone in the fall. So she wrote a book about the importance of sleep and the “Sleep Deprivation Crisis.” The book was a commercial success, but today sleep deprivation is still rampant in the tech world.
In recent years, there has also been a serious amount of biological research on sleep and its effects on the body and mind. These studies have demonstrated clearly that not only does productivity not improve when you don’t sleep, you actually become less productive over the long run (as compared to those who sleep the proper amount). And, not surprisingly, this is the least of concerns to the sleep deprived.
In the short term, massive sleep deprivation may cause death faster than starvation. Research has proven that lack of sleep leads to higher rates of inflammation. This may not seem crucial to your health, but chronic inflammation is known to cause certain cancers, lead to long-term chronic illness, increase risk of heart disease, and even cause Type 2 Diabetes.
Honestly though, the scariest part of Sleep Deprivation is its effect on mental health. For those in the tech business, a healthy alert brain is how we stay successful – hence the desire to push oneself to a constant alertness. However, when you force yourself to remain awake for unnaturally long periods of time, you force your brain into a hyper-alert state (aka fight-or-flight).
The influx of adrenaline provided by this is very helpful – if used on occasion. When you deprive yourself of sleep, though, the constant alertness causes severe damage to your brain. As it turns out, recent research quite clearly shows that during sleep, your brain is actually quite active.
Basically, your brain uses this time to restore itself to a healthy homeostasis, restoring levels of hormones and enzymes to healthy levels. Additionally, the brain uses sleep to essentially clean itself, removing anything that could cause harm to healthy cells. On an emotional level, it also appears that during sleep memories made during the day are stripped of some of their “umph.”
This allows people to rethink memories, reorganizing our perceptions of the past day. In other words, deep sleep (and ONLY during deep sleep) is what allows us to remember things more clearly, to pull more cogent lessons from past events, and protects us from emotionally traumatic events.
When people undergo extreme sleep deprivation, none of this happens. So not only does this lead to emotions that are much rawer and harder to process, but to poorer mental health overall. Additionally, plenty of research has shown that people who continually suffer from sleep deprivation suffer from significantly higher rates of degenerative neurological conditions (including Alzheimers and Sleep Deprivation) as you get older.
The negative effects aren’t only long term though. More recent research indicates that sleep deprivation may lead to higher rates of PTSD in the general population. When the brain doesn’t get the chance to file and neutralize emotions, it lives in a never ending state of emotional trauma. Which, obviously, is an underlying cause of PTSD.
Fortunately for all of us over productive techies (and non techies!), the remedy is simple: Sleep. 7 hours of quality sleep, allowing you to reach REM stage so your brain can really get to work. So, from all of us here at SDI to all of you overachievers out there, please, for the love of yourself, go take a nap!