Marie-Josée (MJ) Salvas Shaar, MAPP '07, CPT, has studied, tested, coached, and taught smart health habits for over 13 years. Combining positive psychology with fitness and nutrition, she created a coaching method that builds better sleep, food, mood, and exercise habits, as described in her book, Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person's Guide to Optimal Health and Performance, which includes 50 practical health-building activities. Today MJ gives keynotes for corporate wellness programs and offers continuing education for wellness professionals, who can license her Smarts and Stamina Online program. Full bio. MJ's articles are here.
If changing just one of your daily habits was enough to make you more alert, efficient, energetic, productive and motivated, would you implement that change?
This month’s theme is about humor, play and fun – an appealing concept, but often far removed from our over-scheduled, chronically demanding, not-enough-hours-in-the-day lives.
If you’ve observed children’s natural behaviors, you’ve probably been reminded that humor and play are natural parts of life. Natural when well-rested, that is. When tired, children’s behavior is a completely different ballgame. Rather than being pleasant and interested, fatigued children’s ability to behave, learn and perform is dramatically diminished. They become restless, cranky, irritable and frankly, irritating too!
The negative impact of sleep debt is just as important for adults, except that we get better at concealing it. But make no mistake: concealing sleep debt doesn’t inhibit the dreaded results.
For one, according to sleep scientist William Dement, illustrious discoverer of REM sleep, “Sleep deprivation is the most common brain impairment.” University of Pennsylvania fatigue expert David Dinges reinforces: chronic sleep loss degrades nearly every aspect of human performance, including the ability to receive, process and act on information, he warns.
Other researchers in Australia have found that a sleep-deprived group of participants in a study performed no better on a series of tests after 17 hours awake than drinking volunteers whose blood-alcohol levels were of 0.05. After 24 hours awake, the sleep-deprived group performed at the same level on the tests as the 0.1 blood-alcohol level group.
If you are pulling an all-nighter for the sake of important deadlines, you may want to consider taking a nap first. Stanford researchers have shown in lab experiments that the benefits of a 45-minute nap can give you as much as an extra 6 hours of productive time. Employers reading this article might want to consider providing employees with nap rooms at work – an uncommon strategy that could provide unexpectedly uplifting results.
Immune Function Challenges
Prize #2 in the category of disturbing effects of sleep deprivation goes to our immune system. According to University of Michigan sleep scientists Luca Imeri and Mark Opp, sleep debt impairs our immune function. Drs. Roizen and Oz, authors of bestselling YOU: The Owner’s Manual reinforce: in a 2-week study, getting under 7 hours of sleep each day made people three times more likely to get sick after exposure to a cold virus.
If you are sacrificing sleep in the name of productivity, being sick more often certainly won’t help you in the long run. Try the opposite strategy for a few weeks and see how you’re doing.
The third problem with a lack of sleep pertains to our mood. If you find yourself sweating and closing your fists in reaction to the photocopier’s paper jam, chances are you are seriously sleep deprived. We know from Barbara Fredrickson’s research that it would take 3 (or more!) positive emotions to help us back on the learning and creativity track after this negative paper jam spin.
As an added challenge, the percentage of adults who regularly shorten their night’s sleep to 6 hours or less is greater today than at any previously recorded time. According to the National Sleep Foundation, only 28% of American adults get 8 hours of sleep regularly each night. When surrounded by individuals who are equally running low on gas, three positives can be a hard-to-reach ideal.
As crankiness rises, so does the need for resilience. When little everyday annoyances become a source of stress, our ability to cope is solicited. Indeed, a new study headed by Eric Powell at the Research Center at Clayton Sleep Institute in St. Louis shows a bidirectional relationship between chronic stress and sleep problems. Something worth sleeping on.
When Self-Regulating All Day…
Last but not least, I hypothesize that being sleepy puts our self-regulation in overdrive. We’re cranky, but showing irritability isn’t proper office etiquette, so we put on a façade, which is a constant act of self-regulation. As we know, the more self-regulation we use, the more it gets depleted.
By the time we get home, put the kids to bed and fire off the final few emails for the day, there’s no more self-regulatory power anywhere within reach. We need a break – it’s our well-deserved TV and ice cream time! (It is no surprise to find that both increased TV watching and increased overeating are both associated with sleep debt!) TV producers know how to get us hooked, so we end up going to bed too late, and the next day we’re back to more sleep debt and irritability.
Recognize the pattern? Here’s how you can break the vicious cycle.
Purchased for the purpose of this article.
Baumeister, R. F., Zell, A. L., & Tice, D. M. (2007). How emotions facilitate and impair self-regulation.
In J. J. Gross, (Ed.) Handbook of Emotion Regulation, (pp. 408-426). New York: Guilford Press.
Dement, W. (2000). The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine Explores the Vital Connection Between Health, Happiness, and a Good Night’s Sleep. New York: Random House. Quote above from p. 231.
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. New York: Crown.
Imeri, L., Opp, M. (2009). How and why the immune system makes us sleep. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. Abstract.
Loehr, J. & Schwartz, T. (2003). The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. New York: Free Press.
Roizen, M. F. & Oz, M. C. (2005). YOU: The Owner’s Manual, Updated and Expanded Edition: An Insider’s Guide to the Body that Will Make You Healthier and Younger New York: HarperCollins.
Wagner, K. (2009, June 10). Study shows a bidirectional relationship between chronic stress and sleep problems. Paper presented at the 23rd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies. Abstract retrieved June 11, 2009, from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-06/aaos-ssa060209.php.