To-Do List a Mile Long? Go to Bed.
If you’re staying up late because there’s too much on your plate, you may want to reconsider your strategy.
Research suggests people get more done when they’re refreshed, so cutting corners on sleep can be counterproductive.
“A good night of sleep is restorative, both physically and mentally,” says Jonathan Alpert, a sleep expert and licensed psychotherapist in New York City. “It prepares us for the next day and allows us to be productive.”
Here’s how a little extra sleep can lead to getting a lot more accomplished.
When you’re drowsy, it’s hard to tune out the distractions that can bring productivity screeching to a halt.
“Your brain simply isn’t working at full capacity,” Alpert says. “It’s more difficult to maintain focus and concentration.” If you’re getting sidetracked frequently, consider turning in for the night and starting fresh in the morning.
Better Problem-Solving Skills
A good night’s sleep can make complex tasks and tough decisions seem less daunting. In a Lancaster University study, participants were given a set of difficult problems to solve. They were allowed to revisit any problems they failed to solve—some after sleeping, some after a short break and some immediately following their first try. The group who slept before their second attempt had the best success rate, suggesting that sleep may help you find solutions you overlooked while groggy.
Sleepiness can muddle your thinking and slow your decision-making process, which makes it easier to slip up.
“Reaction times are slow and it’s hard to concentrate,” Alpert says. “This leads to an inability to perform tasks that require complex thinking.” Case in point: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that more than 80,000 crashes each year are caused by tired drivers.
Lack of sleep makes it difficult to recall information, so tasks may take longer to complete or get overlooked. According to the journal Physiological Reviews, research has shown that sleep improves memory retention because your brain moves new info into long-term storage while you snooze.
“Without adequate sleep, this process doesn’t occur,” Alpert says. Playing catch-up on the weekends doesn’t cut it. For optimal memory retention, you need to get a full 7 to 8 hours on a regular basis.
Burning the midnight oil can make a jam-packed schedule seem even more overwhelming. “It’s a bit of a double-edged sword because poor sleep will make someone more prone to stress, and stress will interfere with one’s ability to sleep,” Alpert says. Resist the urge to pull an all-nighter; you’ll be better able to tackle all the tasks at hand if you’re well-rested.
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