The Maximum Sleep for Optimum Performance

April 1, 2012 by Ken Nowack

“When I woke up this morning my girlfriend asked me, “Did you sleep good?” I said “No, I made a few mistakes.”
Steven Wright

How much sleep do you typically get a night?

a. less than 4 hours
b. 4 to 6 hours
c. 6 to 8 hours
d. More than 8 hours

The Maximum Sleep for Optimum Health

A 2011 sleep study by researchers from University of California – San Diego (UCSD) analyzed results of a four-year study conducted from 1995 to 1999, which included 459 women.

Of the group, a total of 358 women participated in follow-ups, while researchers found that a total of 86 individuals had passed away. Fourteen years later, they returned to see who was still alive and well.

This research initially assessed the women’s sleep patterns over one week, using wrist-mounted activity monitor worn at night. Researchers then followed the women for up to 14 years to see how their sleep patterns might have influenced their chances of survival.

The scientists found that those women who had slept longer (more than 7.5 hours) or shorter hours (less than 6.5 hours) were more likely to have died compared to women who had slept a moderate length. This study, although with some limitations, seems to be consistent with other research on the optimum length of sleep associated with health and longevity.

Employees are Pretty Ineffective Without Sleep

Most leaders and talent believe they can ignore exhaustion and a “marker” of successful performers is to thrive on stress and pressure. Actually, just the opposite is true–the “best of the best” manage energy and not time and thrive on renewal of their emotional, cognitive, physical and spiritual energy each day.

The general effect of sleep deprivation is pretty widely known. If you get less than just 2 hours of sleep than you need you are likely to have pretty significant decline of memory, decision making, and psychomotor performance (thank you National Safety and Transportation Board member and friend Mark Rosekind, Ph.D. for all of his fascinating research studies on sleep and fatigue).  Miss an entire night of sleep and your overall performance on memory and psychomotor tasks are as bad as somebody legally drunk in the State of California.

And, as if decision making and psychomotor performance isn’t enough, new research by Sheldon Cohen and his colleagues found that those who get 7 hours or less sleep a night are almost 3 times more likely to get sick than those getting 8 hours or more sleep at night (they determined this by placing cold viruses in study participant’s noses).

Does Lack of Sleep Make you Less Emotionally Intelligent?

In a recent 2010 study by Els van der Helm and colleagues at UC Berkeley, it appears that lack of sleep makes you less emotionally intelligent.

The ability to “tune into others” and have social awareness are critical aspects of those high in emotional and social competence. In an interesting study of 37 healthy participants (21 women) who were randomly assigned into a sleep control or sleep deprivation group were asked to recognize the intensity of human facial emotions.

Participants who were sleep deprived had a marked and significant blunting in the recognition of angry and happy affective emotions and these differences were most notable in female participants. This finding might be most fascinating in light of the “tend and befriend” effect in women than enables them to “tune” into the social cues of their offspring and others (mediated by the hormone oxytocin).

The good news? The deficit in emotional intelligence (i.e., being able to accurately discern the correct identification of emotional expressions by others) was completely restored following one night of recovery sleep.  Indeed, we can make up our “sleep debt” by getting at least one night of solid quality sleep.

I think I will take a “power nap” to see if I can improve both my emotional intelligence and performance….Be well….

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of Envisia Learning, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. Ken also serves as the Associate Editor of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available for free for a limited time by signing up for free blog updates (Learn more at our website)

Posted in Wellness

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  • Interesting info Ken and I especially like the “power nap” action plan. Works for me.

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