Fitness Friday: The impact of sleep on your life

Sara Drawwater
18 October 2013
This month’s Fitness Friday was submitted by Aphet Mbao. Aphet is CEO and founder of

This month’s Fitness Friday was submitted by Aphet Mbao. Aphet is CEO and founder of Chamboniza Bedding Limited, a leading speciality bedding company in Zambia. Aphet is also a certified bedding and sleep consultant. This article looks at the impact of sleep on work productivity and general well-being, and tips on how to improve sleeping habits.

Relation between sleep and productivityFrom as early as the 1880s when the first productivity study was done by Ernest Abbe, it has been scientifically and conclusively determined that the quality of our sleep has a huge impact on our work productivity. Several further studies carried out later have confirmed this.

More recently, a 2008 USA National Sleep Council study estimated that sleep deprivation costs the US economy over 150 billion dollars annually — in absenteeism, poor quality work and lost production. It would be fascinating to know the cost of sleep deprivation to the Zambian economy!

Sleep — a 21st century luxuryIn today’s modern-day cut-throat society, sleep is becoming as elusive as the family kitchen table dinner. Demanding workloads, work deadlines, meetings to attend … add to these our insatiable appetite for the ever evolving electronic toys such as TVs, smart phones, computers and video games. All these have adversely affected our natural sleep patterns, eating into the time mother nature has reserved for body and mind recuperation. The medically recommended 7–9 hours of sleep has become such a luxury to many.

We have been made to believe that we’re still as productive and efficient with less hours of sleep, and ignore the obvious signs and consequences of our sleep deprivation. To accomplish our tasks, we seek solace in high impact energy boosters such as heavily caffeinated designer coffees and energy drinks.

The importance of sleepAlertness leads to focus and efficiency, which are necessary for higher productivity. Medical research has conclusively shown that the best way to keep alert is to get enough higher quality restorative sleep. Without the restoration to the body and mind that happens during sleep, we easily get tired and fatigued, both mentally and physically, making the brain less active.

Some of the biggest consequences of a less active brain at work are:

1. MistakesWork related mistakes are productivity killers because of the amount of time that has to be spent correcting the mistakes. In sectors such as software development and manufacturing, rectifying coding and manufacturing flaws not only consume many production hours but also lead to costly warranty replacements of products, wastage, less customer loyalty and expensive image rebuilding.

2. Poor judgementDuring the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep, one of the most important restorative activities that occur is the energy restoration to the brain, especially to the three brain lobes directly involved with productivity:-

  • The parietal lobe, which integrates information from senses and is involved in our knowledge of numbers and figuring out objects
  • The occipital lobe, which is responsible for visual processing
  • The pre-frontal cortex, responsible for thinking, control and making choices, good or bad

These parts of the brain are responsible for making us understand our work environment and the data around us. When they start to slow down, due to reduced energy, we make poor decisions that ultimately negatively affect work production.

Sleep deprivation can turn even a well-educated, trained and qualified expert into a liability, a typical example of “smart people making dumb decisions.”

3. Trouble retaining informationIt is again during the REM stage of the sleep cycle when memory retention happens. Institutions spend huge sums of money to train employees, managers and entrepreneurs at workshops and seminars, all to improve efficiency. How much of this training is actually retained and applied to improve production is dependent on the quality of sleep following the training!

4. Unpredictable behaviourSleep deprivation causes diminishing mental capacities and distorted hormonal balancing. These in turn cause increased errors and unpredictable behaviour in the work place. In response to this, a growing trend with many institutions is to replace human labour with automated machines. But an alternative, often more effective, solution would be to insist on adequate sleep for employees. I have consistently argued this at many forums.

Poor customer service has also been directly linked to low levels of sleep, as documented by the 2008 work place study by the Better Sleep Council.

Tips to getting a goodnight sleep

  • Stick to a regular bedtime routine, and maintain a regular sleep and wake time routine. Go to bed at the same time every day and wake up at the same time even on weekends. This helps synchronise your biological circadian clock rhythm and helps in reducing sleep fragmentation during sleep.
  • Invest in the best orthopaedic mattress you can afford. A study done at the University of Oklahoma shows that a new mattress significantly improves the quality of your sleep. A good mattress should be both supportive and comfortable. The support and comfort you choose must be relative to your body profile and sleeping position.
  • Reserve bedroom for sleep and sex only. Remove all work related items such as computers and televisions. De-clutter the bedroom. It should be a comfortable, relaxing, soothing and conducive environment to promote sleep hygiene.
  • Cut the caffeine and stimulants. Research shows that caffeine and alcohol, especially two hours before bed, interferes with sleep. Not only do they stimulate urine production that leads to sleep fragmentation, but they also inhibit the effectiveness of the sleep hormone melatonin.
  • Pay your sleep debt. Lack of restorative sleep leads to accumulative sleep debt. This has both short and long term consequences on your mental and physical health, and your general well-being. Make a stand and choose healthier sleep hygiene and see your life change for the better. It’s never too late.

About Chamboniza BeddingChamboniza Bedding supplies world famous brands of domestic and commercial grade mattresses, together with bed linen and bedroom accessories. Chamboniza Bedding prides itself on being ‘the sleep experts’. The company has two stores in Lusaka, Zambia — one at Makeni Mall in Makeni, and the other at Crossroads Shopping Mall in Kabulonga. Visit Chamboniza Bedding here.

If you missed previous Fitness Friday blogs, you can view them here.