Work Hard, Sleep Harder

‘How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. My goodness how the time has flewn.’


Sleep with Arianna

Dr Suess’s lament is reminiscent of a very modern day dilemma. As Arianna Huffington points out in her book, ‘Thrive’ (which I have written about here), there are few elements of our lives that are not improved by getting adequate sleep. And, equally, there is no element of life that is not diminished by lack of sleep. No one is immune, not even seemingly invincible world leaders, with Bill Clinton famously stating that every bad decision he ever made was the result of being too tired. I’m not sure Bill can claim the tired card for all of his bad decisions, but his view has merit nonetheless.

Yes sleep is grand. But the inconvenient truth is that, most of the time, there simply aren’t enough hours to do all we wish to do in a day. Take an average evening. By the time we depart our desk and meander through whichever combination of personal obligations befalls us that PM (commuting, grocery shopping, cooking, tidying, phoning family, phoning friends, working etc etc) there is little time left for the activities or pursuits of our hearts’ desire. Whether you yearn to read, watch, study, work, or (as I am doing right now) write,  you may find, as I do, that time to do so, during the week at least, is to be found only in the farthest flung corners of the day. Usually, at the expense of sleep.

Ever earnest to do more, be more, it’s little wonder that we are pushing sleep to the bottom of our to-do lists. But is it counter-productive and counter-creative to do so?

Huffington and her sources argue that it is. They point to a commonly held misconception that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, not the quality of time. They say that sleep deprivation negatively impairs our mood, our ability to focus and our ability to access higher level cognitive functions, and that the combination of these factors is what we generally refer to as mental performance. Robbing ourselves of sleep means we do not function at our personal best.

The physiological reason for this is that during sleep the brain clears out harmful waste proteins that build up between its cells, ‘like a dishwasher’. There is no easier way to explain this than as Huffington does with her comparison to a house party. Quoting Professor Nedergaard from the University of Rochester, Huffington writes: ‘You can either entertain the guests or clean up the house, but you can’t really do both at the same time. The brain only has limited energy at its disposal and it appears it must choose between two different functional states- awake and aware or asleep and cleaning up’.

I’m guilty of an occasional late night crusade- reading, writing and studying my stimuli of choice. In fact I am doing it right here, right now, at 11pm on a school night.

I enjoy it at the time, and the satisfaction of another task complete. But the resultant fuzziness of sleep deprivation can make me question the overall efficiency of my decision in the scheme of things. Often, late night work can render the following day a little less productive and a lot less shiny. I understand how regular episodes of this can expose us and our intellect in its dullest form. And where’s the success in that?

This is a fascinating topic and there is much more that could be written. But in the interests of heeding my own advice I think I should put this post, and myself, to bed.

My goodness how the time has flewn.


Thought Leaders(s): Arianna Huffington, Dr Suess

Book(s): Huffington, A (2014) ‘Thrive’, WH Allen.


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