Why you should care
Because to take over the world, you’ve gotta maximize your z’s.
Agata Gruszka’s morning coffee habit wasn’t cutting it. A manager at a software company, Gruszka would start the day ready to crush her to-do list, but by midday her energy was flagging — especially after a trip to Bali messed up her sleep schedule. To get ahead, she realized she needed more rest. After setting a consistent pre-midnight bedtime, Gruszka noticed her career taking off. “There was less brain fog throughout the day, and I’m able to think more creatively,” she says.
Gruszka, in short, tapped into something research is increasingly telling us about the benefits of a good night’s rest: The quality of sleep matters and can boost our work performance.
“Sleep is akin to a performance-enhancing drug,” says Philip Gehrman, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the scientific advisory board for sleep fitness company Eight Sleep. The company created a tech-enabled mattress called the Pod that regulates a person’s temperature while sleeping and then delivers sleep-tracking data every morning to analyze your sleep quality.
It’s not just the number of hours spent in bed; it’s also the soundness of sleep that matters, and even slight blips or disturbances can mess with productivity.
In fact, according to a recent study from the University of South Florida:
Getting just 16 minutes less sleep than normal can negatively affect work performance.
The study found that a change in sleep routine set off a domino effect: Poor sleep, both in terms of quantity and quality, led to stress and anxiety at work the next day. In turn, study participants sought relief by going to bed earlier the following night, but that backfired: Researchers found this tactic led to poor sleep and even greater fatigue. On the flip side, sound sleepers may be better able to handle the ups and downs of a typical workday because of a “greater ability to stay focused,” according to the study, which was led by Soomi Lee, an assistant professor at the University of South Florida’s School of Aging Studies.
But going to bed earlier doesn’t guarantee a good night’s rest, experts caution. While eight hours is an oft-cited number, everyone’s circadian rhythm is different, and research has found that quality is just as important as quantity.
Sleep disorders can also affect the quality of sleep. “Someone with sleep apnea may sleep a long duration but wake up 200 times a night and not notice it, which is enough to totally fragment their sleep and leave them feeling sleepy all day,” explains Craig Heller, a biology professor at Stanford University.
Conditions for sleep, such as temperature, can make a big difference. “People sleeping cool may toss and turn less and get up fewer times, so their quality of sleep is better and they feel more energized the next day,” says Heller. “Our ‘thermostat’ that controls our body temperature is deep in the brain. It responds to changes in overall core temperature, but we don’t consciously sense our core temperature. The skin temperature is an input to the thermostat that changes its set points. A cool environment gives you the ability to adjust your body’s comfort level when you’re sleeping.”
The good news: Christine Stevens, a sleep consultant in the Washington, D.C., area, says a societal shift has elevated sleep to the same level as fitness and nutrition. “It used to be a badge of honor to say, ‘I only slept for five hours last night.’ Now, when someone says that at work, it’s the same as announcing you ate a dozen doughnuts for dinner,” she says. In fact, many people are taking it seriously enough that they’re hiring sleep coaches like Stevens or investing in sleep-specific trackers.
Experts like Heller say being mindful of your sleep patterns can set you up for success. Technology, he says, can help us “improve our sleep over time and empower us to make decisions on wellness we couldn’t before.”
Tech tools like the tracking and dynamic heating and cooling in the Eight Sleep Pod can help through temperature regulation by keeping you cool throughout the night and through the capturing of key data to help you hack your sleep cycle to achieve optimal performance.
Bottom line: When it comes to success, big dreams are great. But it just may be that sleep is the secret ingredient to make them come true.
Eight Sleep is a sleep technology company committed to fueling human potential through optimal sleep. The Eight Sleep Pod was just named one of TIME’s Best Inventions of 2019.