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The effects of lack of sleep on our decision-making abilities

Written by A.R.Fairbank@swansea.ac.uk / Tuesday 6th October 2020

After a very topical debate on lack of sleep during one of our Open Doors networking sessions, it got Swansea team member Kaye Harris-John thinking about the impact a lack of sleep has on our decision-making abilities. In our latest blog, she shares with us what she discovered. 

I think it's worth reiterating to start that these are obviously unprecedented times. With more people currently working from home, what does work/life balance look like? Some people will have a clearly defined workspace, but for others, their dining rooms or spare bedrooms have become pop-up offices. Flexibility has had to be a priority in these difficult times. You may find set working hours are harder to achieve because of other care commitments. We all have a lot on our plate.

These issues will impact on our stress and wellbeing levels, which impacts on our sleep patterns.

Back in May of this year, Eachnight wrote that 'During sleep, the body heals and the brain stores information and memory from that day. You need sleep to renew yourself after the day’s activities and to prepare for the next day'. They go onto say that 'Cutting out even an hour of sleep each night can affect you, especially your decision-making abilities. It’s not just about choosing right from wrong—it’s also about weighing risks and rewards, retaining memories, and food choices'.

I watched an interesting TED Talk by Matt Walker who deduces that we are less likely to make informed and rational decisions when regularly deprived of quality sleep. This could be in business or personal life decisions. He also believes breaking the cycle of bad sleeping patterns is doable and will have an immediate positive impact.

Lack of sleep affects the brain function by up to 70%! That’s a massive impact on our day-to-day functionality wouldn’t you say?

How to get a good nights sleep

The Mental Health Foundation provided 10 top tips for good sleep.

Screen time before bedtime is the biggest no-no. How many of us are frantically cramming in last-minute emails or checking social media before lights out? They recommend switching off all electronic devices at least 30 mins before bedtime. Turning off notifications and ensuring blue light display is not in your line of vision, can also ensure your natural sleep patterns aren't disrupted.

Other recommendations include:

  • Drink a glass of water before bedtime
  • Use apps such as Calm or Headspace
  • Turn down room lighting and check the room temp (ideal sleep temp is 18 degrees)
  • Have a set bedtime and wake up time. This one is particularly interesting, as we often wake up at the same time due to the school run, gym, work etc. But how often do we go to bed at the same time each night?
  • Keep a pen and paper at the side of the bed for any restless, stress-related thoughts or worries.

Members of the Open Doors networking session also mentioned reading for 30 minutes before bed, meditation and no phones or devices after 8pm as methods they use to get a good nights sleep.

How long should we be sleeping?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the recommended sleep times are:

  • Teenagers (14-17) should sleep between 8-10 hours a night
  • Younger Adults (18-25) sleep range is 7-9 hours
  • Adults (26-64) Sleep range shouldn’t change from that above and should remain 7-9 hours per night… however this is the most disrupted category.
  • Older Adults (65+) Sleep range is 7-8 hours.

Given this information, most of us find ourselves in the 3rd category and due to external influences (jobs, stress, social media, health), our sleep patterns are affected.

Do you do anything different to make sure you get a good night's sleep? I'd love to know.

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