In the case of good sleep hygiene, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

In today's busy world where there are no longer tangible boundaries between work and home, more people are spending less time sleeping and more time working.

The downside of technology is that it has made us immediately accessible - sometimes 24/7. Consequently, mobile phones and all kinds of devices have made their way into our bedrooms. The mobile is just an arm's length away and, somehow through your various stages of sleep, you may even manage to check it a time or two.

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Sleep deprivation is a serious condition. To put it in context, the UN considers sleep deprivation a form of torture. In those extreme conditions, it is used specifically to break people down - mentally, emotionally and physically. If you have ever pushed yourself to the brink of exhaustion, you can relate to the impact it has on your whole personality.

While no sane or humane employer would ever deprive people of sleep intentionally, it is easy to lose sight of how pervasive work has become and how the choice to sacrifice sleep - in some work cultures - may actually be worn as a badge of honour.

You should worry about someone who brags about needing very little sleep, especially if it's an indictment on those who require more. In fact, the research tells us that only 1 in 40 people can sustain living on 6 hours or less of sleep each night. The great majority of us still require between 7-8 hours of sleep nightly to perform at our best.

Here's a gripping fact: a person who has gone for six days on only four hours of sleep each night will show the same impairment as someone who is legally drunk. Increase that to 10 days and the person will resemble someone three times over the legal alcohol limit.

Companies are starting to build the consequences of fatigue into their health and wellness strategies, including bans on driving after long flights. Fatigue is frequently the root cause of decreased productivity, accidents, bad calls and mistakes which cost companies millions of dollars each year. More importantly and consequential, people can lose their lives.


What are the Symptoms of Fatigue?

People who are fatigued are prone to very predictable symptoms, which unfortunately they often cannot see because their judgment is impaired - very similar to the drunk driver. If fatigue has been a chronic battle, those who experience it eventually will recognise some of these symptoms:

1. Difficulty concentrating and poor attention span.

You know that feeling of not being able to concentrate or pay attention as closely as you normally do. It's like your brain doesn't have the capacity to take on details...or too much of anything for that matter.

Your attention span also shortens and you're easily distracted.

2. More errors and mistakes.

Fatigued people make more errors and mistakes, especially when they are required to concentrate and be across multiple things. These errors include mistakes of both commission (performing an act of poor judgement) and omission (not performing an expected task), which can wreak havoc at work.

Your ability to make good decisions diminishes significantly when you're tired.

3. Increased irritability.

People who get inadequate sleep are more irritable, prone to mood swings, and get really annoyed around the small stuff that doesn't really matter.

There's a general pessimism and heaviness that travels with a tired person, who otherwise might be more positive when rested.

4. Communication deteriorates.

When you are fatigued, the intensity drops in your voice, you tend to pause for longer intervals without apparent reason, and you are likely to repeat yourself or lose your place in conversation. It can resemble someone who talks in their sleep just as they're drifting off. It's hard to sound confident, or inspire someone who may need it, if your voice has no energy.

5. Very little humour.

After a few days with little sleep, you usually see a drop off in humour, or the ability to find joy in most things. People are likely to experience you as overly serious - even grouchy - which can strip the energy out of the team and cause people to avoid interacting with you. If you have become way too serious by your own standards, sleep may be your best antidote.

6. Driving impairment.

In the United States over the past five years, driver fatigue has accounted for more than 1.35 million automobile accidents, according to their National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Statistics in New Zealand have tracked proportionally. If you drive long distances each day on very little sleep, you are literally an accident waiting to happen.

Ways to Build Better Sleep Habits:

A habit is defined as a regular practice, especially one that is hard to give up. If you want to build better sleeping habits, here are a few things that you can do to get immediate traction:

Build it in, don't fit it in. This is a mentality. Some people believe that sleep is something that you fit in around your other obligations. Other people wisely understand that sleep is akin to fuel - without it, you will run out of energy. Stop fitting sleep in to your hectic schedule. Instead, build your hectic schedule around your sleep, which means that you are far less likely to run out of fuel.

Decide if 24/7 is what you want. This is also a mentality. For matters that are not about life and death - or the demise of the business - is it reasonable for you to reply to your manager's emails or text messages at 11pm?

There's an old adage that is particularly relevant here: You teach people to respect you. Stop responding to late night emails and text messages that are not life and death.

Lock into a routine. If you've raised kids, you know how important it is to establish a routine that ensures a healthy flow across their day, which includes bedtime - sometimes a lot earlier than your kids would prefer. But you know what's good for them. So why shouldn't that same rule apply to you? Try to get 7-8 solid hours of sleep each night. If you have kids, lead by example.

Remove stimulants from your bedroom. Okay, this comes with a caveat. Your partner gets to stay, but chuck out all the other toys and gadgets that keep you preoccupied well into the night. This includes televisions, mobile phones, iPads and any other devices that can interrupt your natural segue into deeper stages of sleep. To unplug means that you truly have to unplug.