As every seasoned professional knows, routines not only become comfortable, but habitual. Especially when it comes to your workflow, following the same (ish) steps to success helps you work more productively and efficiently. This is a positive way to function, as long as the rituals you’re developing are healthy and not detrimental. So when a poor night’s sleep — thanks to a last-minute deadline! — becomes less random and more frequent, your performance may start to suffer.
And while a few raised eyebrows during a busy season from your manager isn’t cause to worry, when your sleeping hygiene impacts your health, it’s time to fret. During a time when working hours are around-the-clock and smartphones make email accessible 24/7, prioritizing your need for Zzz’s might be difficult. Even so? It’s necessary to stay in the game.
“Sleep is a time for cell regeneration, hormonal regulation, memory consolidation, and psychological regrouping. Lack of sleep or poor quality sleep can have severe consequences both in and out of the workplace,” says sleep expert Dr. Sabrina Magid-Katz. “Not getting the sleep you need can make it harder to learn and focus. In fact, studies show that sleep deficiency alters brain function in a way that hinders one’s ability to make decisions and solve problems,” she says. “It will affect your ability to multi-task, think creatively, react quickly, and remember facts. It has also been shown to affect relationships and how one reacts to conflict.”
Here, a look at the most dangerous bedtime habits professionals develop — and how to get that shut-eye pronto:
You work right until lights-off
From the time you physically leave the office to the time it takes to wrangle children (or your friends together for dinner), run an errand and finally settle into bed, you’re likely tempted to give your e-mail a once-over — ya know, ‘just in case’ you missed something urgent.
Though constant connectivity may be beneficial when conducting business across the world, if you want to sleep in your own timezone, workplace expert Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D. says signing off at least an hour or so before you want to sleep is essential.
“Working before sleeping can cause you to become more alert, which will negatively impact your ability to fall asleep. If you have something on your mind, write it down on a piece of paper and tell yourself that you will focus on it the next day. When you transfer your worries to that piece of paper, you free your mind to relax and to rest,” she says.
You exercise close to bedtime
Not everyone has the ability to happily wake up before the sun does to run a few miles or take an indoor cycling class. And sure, schedules and certain working environments don’t offer as much flexibility with a mid-day yoga class between meetings. But to get the most restorative benefits out of your 8-hour snooze fest, Hakim says sweating right before bedtime is a poor choice.
The key is to make sure you work out at least four hours before you want to rest. Because any sort of cardiovascular exertion causes your heart rate to skyrocket, asking it to calm down a mere hour later is near impossible.
You don’t go to sleep at the same time every night
Sorry, but your mom probably isn’t available to call you at 10 p.m. every night to tell you to get to bed already. Even if you won’t get grounded if you stay up past midnight, career expert Cheryl Palmer says you’ll deflate your creativity and cognitive function if you don’t practice being consistent with your bedtime.
“If you go to bed at the same time every night, your body will be accustomed to the routine, and you will find it relatively easy to fall asleep,” she says.
The more off-kilter you are, your body will respond negatively, causing more tossing and turning and producing a lower-quality sleep. When you follow a dependable schedule, your will feel better rested — and ready to tackle whatever your manager throws on your plate.
You pull all-nighters
Sure, you might have double-fisted cappuccinos to cram for biology exams in college and still managed to down a six-pack the next night. Now that you’re — ahem — older, your body isn’t quite as equipped to handle sleeplessness.
As Magid explains, studies show that staying awake for 24 hours can have the same effect as a .10 blood alcohol content, thus throwing off your sleep-wake cycle. And even if you think you can ‘make it up’ on the weekend, Magid says that much like jeg lag, catching up on sleep isn’t quite as easy-peasy.
Though it’s not always conceivable to dictate your work cycle and role within a company, Hakim suggests spacing out bigger work projects so you don’t run into an unavoidable time crunch. “Stay at work an hour later for a week, or start work an hour earlier. But, don’t compromise your sleep, if at all possible,” she says.
You booze before bed
Your manager had negative feedback on everything you said or wrote today, your best friend from college is passively-aggressively texting you with how you’re lacking, and that doughnut you downed out of stress has you feeling drowsy. Stressful days call for ways to release the tension, but a big ‘ol glass of red wine or a stiff cocktail isn’t the solution, according to Magid. That is if you plan to sleep well at night.
In fact, even one drink can have a negative impact on your sleeping. “A drink may put you to bed, but will make the hours you spend there less effective. Alcohol hinders the sleep cycle and promotes obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that not only robs you of quality sleep but has other serious medical consequences,” she says.
For when you truly want — and need! — to rest, Magid says to skip the booze and turn to other effective ways to zen out: reading a book, taking a bath, snuggling with your number one, or practicing meditation techniques.
You ignore snoring
If your loud roars in the wee hours of the morning are a constant point of contention with your partner, or anyone who shares a bed with you, why haven’t you done something about it yet? You might blame a stuffy cold or being tipsy on the reason you snore, but Magid says it’s not a habit to ignore since it can be a sign of a sleep apnea — a serious medical condition that not only impacts your work performance, but your overall health.
“Sleep apnea is when the jaw and soft tissues block the airway while sleeping. The person’s body reacts much like choking. The blood pressure and heart rate go up and they wake up just enough to regain control of the muscles needed to open the airway and breath again,” she says. “While there will likely be no recollection of these events in the morning, these mini-arousals will disrupt the sleep cycle so that the deep, reparative stages are missed.”
She adds that many medical conditions, including heart attack, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, impotence, and depression can result from ignoring this illness.
“Diagnosis can be as simple as a home sleep test. Treatment can range from a CPAP machine to a specially designed mouth guard made by a dentist who is trained in sleep,” she says.