Sleep Your Way to Good Performance

Are you wondering how you can improve your performance at work or at some other practice or task in you life?

Harvard Business Review has an article, Sleep is More Important than Food (which I found via Lifehacker), that is an excellent summary of research and scientific opinion on the impact sleep has on performance.

Whether it’s professional violinists or CEOs, study after study find that sleep deprivation, even the shaving of an hour here and an hour there, results in reduced reaction time, harder time concentrating, poor memory and processing speed.

I go through periods where I am very diligent about sleep and other periods where I shave an hour here and there which I really don’t have the luxury of doing without impacting my ability to function with ease.

I know I need more sleep when I feel myself having less patience with customers.  There is a direct correlation between my sleep habits and my usually unending patience developing limits.  I am currently in a phase where I’m trying to get 9 hours of sleep every night except Thursdays which are impossible because I work the late shift at the library and then turn around and work the day shift on Fridays.  I feel better:  more patient, more energetic, more cheerful, happier.

In the HBR article, the author asks why we think it’s okay to shave sleep, to essentially deprive our bodies of an essential need, when we wouldn’t deny it food and water.  I think this is an interesting question.  Why are we willing to sacrifice health and happiness?  For sure, there is a perceived notion that the time spent not sleeping is “getting things done;” but, I bet that is not true.  It is especially not true if it’s the third night of not getting enough sleep…because then you are spending your awake hours not performing your best anyway.  And it’s probably weighing in on your relationships too.

Depriving yourself of good sleep is affecting your ability to function in all parts of your life.  It affects your personal relationships.  It effects your business relationships.  It effects your ability to remember important things and work efficiently.  It effects your mood and your ability to appreciate your life.

If you do one thing differently today, go to bed early.  It will benefit you, your family and your workplace.  If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, seek out help from your doctor.

In fact, I challenge you to get at least 8.5 hours of sleep for the next 7 nights.  Keep track.  I’ve been writing down the number of hours I sleep on a calendar.  It keeps me motivated and honest.  Plus, I can look back and feel that I’m accomplishing something and doing the things I need to do to remain healthy.  Last night I went to bed at 9:15 and got up at 8am.  I was in Brooklyn Saturday night and the noise disrupted my sleep and I suspect my body was catching up.

Do it.  For the next 7 days, sleep 8.5 hours a night, document it.  See how you feel on the 8th day.  I predict you’ll feel rejuvenated.

Unplugged: Thoughts

I enjoyed this experiment.  It was suggested that we unplug from sundown on Friday to Sundown on Saturday.  I refrained from texting, checking email and internet surfing.  I did check my email Saturday night; but, continued the “non surfing” into Sunday afternoon.

I discovered a few things.

  1. On Saturday night when I checked my email there were about 40 emails waiting for me.  2 were of a personal nature, 1 was an online bill notification and the rest were newsletters, store coupons and other marketing notices.  It took me about 5 minutes to delete everything I was not interested in, read my personal mail and star the bill to be dealt with later.  On Sunday night, I spent about 10 minutes responding to the two emails and setting a date for the bill to be paid automatically.  This 10 minutes also included deleting new marketing emails.
  2. Not texting forced my girlfriend to call me!
  3. The most interesting discovery came from the lack of internet surfing.  Anya’s 40th birthday is next weekend and I’ve been told not to purchase a gift because we are going on a trip in April.  I decided to make her a painting and put it off until this past weekend because I knew I’d have the whole weekend to work on it since she had to go out of town.  When I realized how much I actually got done and how I managed to persevere through the spots when I ordinarily would take a break and surf the net or watch tv, I pushed back the no surfing to late Sunday afternoon.  It told me volumes about my creative process and how I actually could power through the slow or blocked spots where I felt like I didn’t know what to do next.  (color, composition, content, etc)

What is the overall things learned?  Email is not my problem.  I have done a good job of keeping what comes in to my inbox at least somewhat relevant to me.  I maintain, not an inbox zero, but about an inbox 10, meaning there are rarely more than 10 items lingering in my inbox.  So, email is not a problem.  Texting is not my problem.  I only have about 4 people who I text with, Anya being the most prolific but even then it’s not much and if my noise alert is enabled, I don’t keep checking my phone.

Internet surfing is the area where I’d like to steal back some of my time.  I’m going to try and go surfing free from Friday eves to Sunday eves and see how that impacts the quality of my life.  I did notice that I was pretty damn happy last night as I snapped a picture of the finished painting!

We can’t unplug at work; but, unplugging more at home could improve the quality of our lives and in turn boost our productivity and happiness at work.  I’m usually a lot happier heading to work on Mondays if I feel like I didn’t waste my weekend watching TV or on the internet or playing video games.   On my last post, I mentioned that I didn’t have any friends in Asbury Park.  Sunday, early evening I called my neighbor to chat about a summer garden project we are contemplating and she invited me down to her place to see her kitchen renovation.  Ordinarily, I would have said no, thinking that I’d rather relax on my last evening before starting up work; but, I said, yes and had a pleasant couple of hours chatting with my neighbor.  I enjoyed her company and was glad I had agreed to go.

One more thought:  I had the need to look up a phone number; but, I really didn’t want to turn my laptop on for fear I’d get sucked in; so, I actually used the good old yellow pages.  We are shifting more ordinary things, like looking up a phone number, checking the weather, listening to music to our computers.  I even use my computer for phone calling.  What are the ramifications of this?  A few weeks ago, Anya and I were waiting for a subway and she whipped out her cell phone and started playing Tetris.  I was slightly annoyed; but, mostly fascinated by this.  She is not a techie.  She doesn’t own a TV.  I don’t think she has ever owned a gaming system.  She has an iphone; but, mostly uses it as a phone with the occasional weather lookup, directions, looking for a business using GPS.  She texts.  She doesn’t Tweet or check in at locations.  I don’t even think she checks Facebook on it.  Yet, here she was playing a game on it while she was waiting.  My parents own smartphones now, Droid X.  Are they going to play games while they wait at the Doctor’s office?  Is there even a significance to this cultural shift?  My mother asked me if I was going to get a Kindle and the reaction in my head was immediate and forceful.  I thought:  NO MORE GADGETS.  All these gadgets require energy and work.  You can’t just pick up the book and read it.  It has to be downloaded and transferred to your device.  You have to make sure your device is charged.  There is a management involved.  Management that usually involves you connecting to a computer.

I had a friend who received an ipod as a gift and asked me to help her get her music on it.  I’m not a fan of iTunes; but, I spent time wrangling with her iTunes and burning CDs and showing her how it worked.  She set up to playlists: one for the gym and one for bus riding.  She has never changed or added anything and this was about 5 years ago.  When I asked her about it, she said:  I can’t be bothered.  Her iPod battery finally died and she never replaced it, though she admits that she sometimes misses having it at the gym.

Are we going to reach a saturation point?  A point where we won’t be able to stand being engaged with an electronic thing for one more task?

I consider myself a techie person; but, I know that I’m happier the less time, outside of work,  I spend engaged with technology.

National Day of Unplugging

Sundown March 4th, 2011 begins the start of the National Day of Unplugging, sponsored by Reboot.  It’s odd that a group supporting the idea of unplugging is promoting their app and connecting to them via social networking; but, once you get past that oddity, you will come to see the idea that they are promoting.  Reboot is a Jewish organization though their ideas are universal.  They see the National Day of Unplugging as an opportunity for people to reclaim time, slow down their lives and reconnect with friends, family, the community and themselves.

Ultimately they hope that we’ll do this once a week, which is where the app comes in…a way to remind us to turn off.  They are not anti-technology; they are just pro disconnecting from technology on a regular basis and reconnecting with loved ones, our community and ourselves.

I am going to take their challenge and refrain from e-mail, internet surfing and watching videos/tv (which I do on my laptop).

Currently my routine, and I actually find this sort of …not embarrassing…but disappointing maybe…is:

  • Wake up and check email and overnight txts on my Android Phone.
  • Drink too much coffee while reading email, The New York Times and sometimes Facebook.  All on my laptop.
  • Work.
  • Back home.  Cook while sometimes listening to the radio or watching tv on my laptop.
  • Watch streaming movies or TV on my laptop.

In 2004, I stopped watching TV.  In 2005, while recovering from my accident, I started watching TV shows on DVD.  In 2006, I again stopped watching TV.  In 2008, I moved to NJ for my current job and probably by mid 2009, I started watching TV on my laptop.  By last summer, I was watching TV on my laptop at least 4 times a week.  I’m disappointed that I’ve let TV inch back into my daily life.

For the Day of Unplugging, I plan on getting home and cooking, maybe read or make art until bedtime.  Saturday, I’ll wake up, drink too much coffee and eat breakfast.  It is a rare weekend when my girlfriend and I don’t see each other; but, this weekend is one of those.  I had already planned on working around the house and I’m sticking to that plan.  I’m guessing it will be hard to go all day Saturday without checking email or reading the news.

What about you?  Can you disconnect from your gadgets?  How many times, on the weekend, do you check email?  Do you text, use Facebook, surf the net?  How many times do you watch TV, txt, surf the net instead of engaging with a human being?

I’m going to confess something that is hard to confess.  I don’t have any friends in Asbury Park.  I moved here over a year ago and I have a couple of acquaintances; but, no real friends.  I have plenty of excuses: too tired after work to volunteer, spend many weekends in Brooklyn with Anya, haven’t found my people.  I understand that when you move alone to a new place, it is hard to make new friends.  But,  sitting at home watching Law and Order reruns on my laptop is not helping matters.

Take the challenge with me.  I’ll be back in a few days to let you know how it went.

For further reading on this subject, check out one of my favorite Buddhist teachers, Sharon Salzberg.