We know the importance of a good night’s sleep cannot be understated, as prioritizing your sleep affects everything from your stress response to appetite regulation to mood. What’s more, every minute really does count: A new study published in Sleep Health (Journal of the National Sleep Foundation) revealed that losing just 16 minutes of sleep can detrimentally affect your productivity, which isn’t exactly the best news for those trying to conquer the workweek while skimping on their slumber.
Soomi Lee, a sleep researcher and aging studies professor at the University of South Florida, and her colleagues surveyed and interviewed 130 healthy employees working in IT and parenting at least one school-aged child. They measured sleep timing, duration, quality, and latency as well as “cognitive interference,” including the ability to control your thoughts and suppress intrusive or avoidant thinking. (An example of one of these questions would be “How often did you think about personal worries today?” or “How often did you have trouble concentrating today?”)
Researchers found that when participants slept just 16 fewer minutes than usual and reported unsatisfactory sleep quality, they experienced a heightened amount of cognitive issues the next day—that is, they were more distracted and couldn’t think as clearly. Because of this, their stress levels increased, especially concerning the maintenance of work-life balance. According to the researchers, heightened stress and lack of clearheadedness may have directly resulted in poorer work performance and poorer socially interactive decisions—and also further continued to mess with their sleep, with the more stressed and distracted workers tending to go to bed and wake up earlier because of their exhaustion. The researchers also compared workdays to weekends and found the consequences of less sleep were absent when someone had the next day off from work.
“These cyclical associations reflect that employees’ sleep is vulnerable to daily cognitive stress and also a contributor to cognitively stressful experiences,” Lee explained in a news release. “Findings from this study provide empirical evidence for why workplaces need to make more efforts to promote their employees’ sleep. Good sleepers may be better performers at work due to greater ability to stay focused and on task with fewer errors and interpersonal conflicts.” (Indeed, research shows people are more hostile when they’re sleepy—just saying.)
The science clearly demonstrates getting enough sleep is not, well, enough: That sleep also needs to be consistent and regular. People with more irregular bedtimes tend to have worse cardiovascular health and a slower metabolism, and people who wake up at the same time each morning tend to be more satisfied with their work-life balance.
That means it’s worth getting strategic about your sleep schedule. Sleeping soundly each night is by no means the easiest task out there, but there are actionable measures you can take on your own in order to improve your sleep schedule, boost your productivity, and, in turn, improve your health altogether. If you’re having trouble staying away from the snooze button in the morning or shutting off the lights at night, consider booking a.m. workout classes to hold you accountable or scheduling short meditations in the evening to help you wind down. Strategizing your sleep in this way can help you avoid skimping on precious minutes of shut-eye and subsequently create a more solid, uninterrupted sleep experience.