I started writing this post at 3am after an uncomfortable night of sleep. I woke up at 2am feeling awake and ready to start the day, while also knowing that I only had about 5 hours of sleep. I tried going back to sleep, but all the things I wanted to accomplish today kept my mind from relaxing so I got out of bed and began the day. How much sleep do we actually need to have a high performance day?
The National Sleep Foundation says humans need somewhere between 6 and 10 hours of sleep. That’s a four hour gap where you could do a lot of other things. But if you look across the collection of research on sleep, it really narrows in on about 6 to 7 hours as the ideal. According to a Harvard Business Review, the science also says we each likely have a set sleep point; that minimum number of hours that we need, and we can try as hard as we want to get less than that and train ourselves, it’s not going to work.
What happens if we don’t get enough sleep? “We’ll forget people’s names. We won’t remember where the car keys are. We won’t be as alert. So it’s actually not the higher motor functions, the higher cognitive functions that suffer, it’s the much more fundamental ones. So you’ll still be just as bright in that meeting, you’ll just be really crabby or irritable.” Says Marc Effron, president at The Talent Strategy Group, and the author of the book “8 Steps to High Performance: Focus on What You Can Change (Ignore the Rest).”
Sleep deprivation can also affect you physically. New York Times reported this week that a lack of sleep with make your physical aches more painful by as much as 30%.
Veteran insomniacs know in their bones what science has to say about sleep deprivation and pain: that the two travel together, one fueling the other. For instance, people who develop chronic pain often lose the ability to sleep well, and quickly point to a bad back, sciatica or arthritis as the reason. The loss of sleep, in turn, can make a bad back feel worse, and the next night’s slumber even more difficult.
LeBron James, in a recent interview with Tim Ferriss, discussed his approach to sleep and recovery. While James has stated he spends $1.5 million a year to keep his body healthy, both he and his long time trainer Mike Mancias agree, sleep is far and away his most valuable asset. "There's nothing more important than optimal REM sleep. That's the best way for your body to physically and emotionally be able to recover and get back to 100 percent as possible. Will you wake up and feel 100 percent? There's some days you don't, some days you feel better than others. But the more, more, more time you get eight—if you can get nine, that's amazing, sometimes I even get 10 hours of sleep. And if I don't get those 8 to 10 hours at night, I'll go home—I tell your right now, when I leave here, I'm gonna go home and take me a nap for about two-and-a-half hours. I just think that's the best way to recover. “ said James.
Recommendations for high quality sleep include: going to bed in a completely dark room with no device reading beforehand, no animals in the room, the room set to about 65 degrees and no other disturbances.
If 6-8 hours doesn’t happen for you, then a 10-minute nap can make up for as much as one hour of lost sleep. Looks like a nap (or two) will be on my agenda today.