Advanced Workplace Associates latest research looks at the factors that most impact our cognitive performance – so individuals and organisations can understand and adopt best practices to get everyone’s brain in peak condition.

We constantly hear how important it is too get a good night’s rest, yet we’re also reading headlines about business moguls “functioning” on a mere few hours. What we’ve found is that sleep is connected to so many other things in our lives, and relates to the other factors we need to bring our best brain to work with us.

 So, why is sleep so important? It’s simple – sleep helps your brain to work properly. It is quite literally preparing for the next day. When you are asleep your body is busy repairing muscles, consolidating memories, releasing hormones and regulating growth and appetite. If sleep is cut short, the body doesn’t have time to complete all of the phases, and we consequently wake up less prepared to concentrate, make decisions, or engage fully with the world.

Research studies conclude that sleep deprivation has a negative impact upon almost all brain functions such as decision making, problem solving, memory, control over our emotions and behaviours and also our ability to cope with change. Without adequate sleep reaction times may be slower, more mistakes may be made and tasks often take longer. All of these will impact performance and also relationships at work.

According to the UK’s National Sleep Foundation an adult of working age needs between 7 and 9 hours of good quality – uninterrupted – sleep, in order to be in peak condition. However, despite wanting and needing good quality sleep – often we don’t manage it, for a variety of reasons.

There are different types of sleep problems including difficulty getting to sleep, difficulty staying asleep (waking up often and finding it hard to get back to sleep), waking up early in the morning, disturbed sleep through noise, worry, children and other aspects that just wake us up. As a consequence we can feel tired, irritable and unable to concentrate the next day – although it is also likely that we try to carry on and attempt to do the things we need to do without recognising that we are in fact sleep deprived.

Although the benefits of sleep are well known, getting a good night’s sleep in our busy, pressured lives is difficult. However, given what is at stake it has to be worth trying to develop some new habits so that we can all perform better in the long run. If you’re one of the many people suffering from problems sleeping, you’ve probably tried a few things that are supposed to help, but do keep trying as there may be something that you haven’t attempted, that could work for you.

Developing a regular sleeping schedule is of the utmost importance. Really try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, or as often as you can. This can help establish a routine, reinforcing the body’s sleep-wake cycle. This can be helped by creating a bedtime ritual. Experts believe that doing the same thing each night tells our bodies that it’s time to rest. Warm baths, reading or listening to relaxing music eases the transition between wakefulness and sleepiness.

Try not to eat a heavy meal before bed, leave a few hours between dinner and bedtime, and leave the protein-rich meals for breakfast and lunch when your body needs the energy. Don’t do any stimulating activities right before bed, such as working out at the gym – they tend to keep you more alert and make relaxation difficult. Alcohol, caffeine and nicotine are all stimulants and they can take hours to wear off. Although alcohol may initially induce sleep, it can disrupt it later in the night as the body metabolises the alcohol, causing arousal.

If you had a bad night, or a run of bad nights and you’re struggling to concentrate during the day, how many of us could say we’d happily take a nap in the office? Sleep pods are popping up everywhere in the latest workplaces, and they do provide a designated place to go and rest… That being said, providing places for naps is one thing, whereas, employees feeling comfortable taking a nap is something else.

What’s more desirable – that you continue to force your brain to concentrate and perform when it really can’t – or have a power nap and recharge? This links to our research on productivity – where we explored trust and the supportiveness of managers towards their staff. If you have a supportive manager and feel trusted by them and your colleagues, then it’s more likely you’d feel comfortable taking a nap if you really need one. If you feel that others don’t value you or are skeptical about what you are doing – then taking a nap would probably help reinforce those negative perceptions! If you’re seriously considering rest breaks in your workplace, whether you are an employer or employee – you’ll need to talk about it and establish it as part of the range of acceptable work practices. Gauge opinions and ensure you have sound working relationships and trust, so that when you come to implement, everyone is on board and understands what is expected.





Karen is responsible for Advanced Workplace Associates research and development activities undertaken under AWA’s Workplace Performance Innovation Network (PIN). A Business studies graduate, Karen spent her earlier career in HR before joining AWA, over 10 years ago. In her consulting work, Karen specialises in working as a senior coach with leaders, supporting them in creating the conditions to bring about strategic change in the way their people work.