In a productive and fast paced culture, a premium is placed on working hard and getting things done. So much so, that sleep can be seen as a liability. It is talked about as a badge of honor if someone regularly works 7 days a week or puts in 80-100 hours a week. Rarely do you hear someone brag about how they got all their work done in half the time and took a well-deserved nap. The conflict between valuing work and seeing sleep as a liability can be illustrated in the tempting proposition: Would you give up half of what you owned in order to be able to have the ability to be fully rested with only one hour of sleep each night?
I was asked this question for the first time in graduate school, and since I was a poor grad student and didn’t have much to my name, it was an easy “yes” for me. But whether you would say yes or no to this proposition, most people would have to admit that the idea of feeling fully rested with just one hour of sleep sounds pretty tempting. When I think about this scenario I think about how productive I could be during those hours when everyone else is sleeping. My apartment would be better organized, those projects on my to-do list would get finished, I’d catch up on all those movies and shows that I have been meaning to watch, and I’d probably work out more and be much healthier (or not). In my fantasizing about a sleepless and productive future, I reveal how much I view sleep as a burden, a necessary requirement and I would like to limit. Quite frankly, this is the wrong way to view sleep.
Not only is sleep absolutely necessary for good physical and mental health (without regular sleep your faculties start to wane), it can also be helpful in unexpected ways. Regular, quality sleep improves creative thinking, memory, concentration, emotional stability, biological functions, energy levels, immune system functions, and digestion.
So the next time you start to think of sleep as a barrier to being productive, remind yourself that good sleep is the fuel that drives your productivity and success. So try putting down the work, closing the book, or turning off the computer or TV and prioritizing a good night’s sleep. Your entire being will thank you.
Shawn Healy, PhD