Sleeping your way to success

What hath night to do with sleep?” wondered John Milton in ‘Paradise Lost’. But, some fall asleep even during the day. Thinkers reacted in abundant ways on sleep. While Gandhiji said, “Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.” Ernest Hemingway felt “I love to sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know.”

However, in the commoner’s cognition, sleep is always associated with lethargy; sleepy people are counted as inefficient and incoherent. Bronwyn Fryer in an article, ‘Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer’, Harvard Business Review, October 2006 rightly observed that frenzied corporate cultures still confuse sleeplessness with vitality and high performance.

But, it’s not always true that success flows from burning midnight oil. An interesting article ‘Life in the fast lane’ (Economist, May 28-June 3, 2016) advises you to sleep your way to success. Shortage of shut-eye cripples individuals and poisons organisations. Studies also reveal that being deprived of sleep leads people to adopt a more pronounced negative attitude. People are more likely to report disengagement from work.

In a world characterised by unprecedented competition, a constant urge to remain ahead of others unavoidably results in sleep deprivation, especially so during examinations, competitions and busy professional schedules. Therefore, people often do not take seriously the perils of depriving quantity and quality of sleep. An article in the latest issue of McKinsey Quarterly states that sleep awareness produces better leaders.

Dr Robert Stickgold, a pre-eminent sleep researcher and an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School said that research suggests that sleep plays an important role in the memory, both before and after learning a new task. Lack of adequate sleep affects mood, motivation, judgement, and our perception of events. Consolidated sleep throughout a whole night is optimal for learning and boosting memory levels.

Parents, who are overzealous of their children’s success, force them to stay awake late in the night to study. But that need not fetch better results. Melissa Locker in an article, ‘Let Your Kids Sleep More For Better Grades’ published in Time advises parents, “You might need to start enforcing bedtime. Or letting your kids sleep in. Good night’s sleep can translate to improved academic performance.”

Researchers at McGill University and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Montreal found that children, who had a better quality sleep, fared better in math and languages. This is because sleep and learning process are intimately linked. Research also indicates that sleep-deprived persons cannot focus attention optimally and therefore cannot learn efficiently.

Sleep itself has a role in the consolidation of memory, which is essential for learning new information. “All else equal, students who generally got a good night’s sleep performed better in exams,” observed Dr Stijn Baert, a researcher at Ghent University, Belgium.

Low-quality sleep and sleep deprivation also negatively impact mood, which can hamper the learning process. Alterations in mood affect our ability to acquire new information and subsequently to remember that information, argued Dr Robert Stickgold.

Researchers studying the impact of sleep on performance suggest many ways to overcome sleeplessness or inefficient sleep. They are simple and easy to follow. Establish a consistent bedtime routine, emphasise the need for a regular sleep schedule, keep television and computers out of bedrooms and teach children about healthy sleep habits.

Dr Aki Hintsa, a Finnish surgeon suggests dimming the lights gradually in the evening prepares the mind for sleep. Switching off screens two hours before bed prevents bombardment of the brain with blue light, which tells it to stay awake. Reading a book is better than goggling at a device.

Stick as closely as possible to a normal schedule. Adjust meetings and other engagements accordingly. Dr Charles A Czeisler, the Baldino Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School said, “Encouraging a culture of sleepless machismo is worse than nonsensical; it is downright dangerous, and the antithesis of intelligent management.”

Studies further reveal that adults and teens are becoming more sleep deprived as the nations get industrialised. India on the fast pace of industrialisation should awaken to the impending sleep crisis. In fact, the problem is most acute among teens, said Nanci Yuan, Director of the Stanford Children’s Health Sleep Center.

In a detailed 2014 report, the American Academy of Pediatrics called the problem of tired teens a public health epidemic. India is certainly not too far. As Ruthann Richter, director of media relations for the medical school’s of Stanford University said in an article, “Among teens, sleep deprivation an epidemic, Social and cultural factors, as well as the advent of technology, all have collided with the biology of the adolescent to prevent teens from getting enough rest.” India, which enjoys the demographic dividend, cannot afford this nightmare of sleeplessness.

The popular adage “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” holds true even as the times change. As ‘perform or perish’ is the new-age mantra, it is difficult to go to bed early. But adequate sleep is absolutely essential to reap success.

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