Businesses should be careful not to accidentally encourage employees to miss sleep so they're able to work longer, according to Guy Meadows, clinical director of Sleep To Perform, a corporate programme that seeks to harness the performance-enhancing power of sleep.
Responding to research from Deloitte that found 15 million people in the UK are disrupting their sleep patterns by looking at mobile phones and other devices, Meadows told HR magazine that looking at a bright screen in the night is highly damaging to a person’s sleep pattern.
“Not only do day and night conveniently organise a 24-hour cycle of alertness and rest, they act as neurological triggers coaching us to either wake up or go to sleep,” he said. “Darkness, or the absence of sunlight, releases a hormone called melatonin that induces sleepiness. Equally, when the sun rises our brains think ‘the sun is up, it must be daytime, I will not release any more melatonin', helping us transition into a state of alertness for the day ahead.
“The problem is it is not just sunlight that blocks or halts the release of melatonin. All kinds of light can stimulate a chain-reaction to wakefulness but light [that] mimics sunlight [by] emit[ting] blue or green wavelengths is the most confusing for our brains. Electronic devices have screens that display content in this exact spectrum.”
He explained that despite high-profile cases of people such as Margaret Thatcher, Jack Dorsey and Marissa Mayer surviving on a very low amount of sleep, for the average person a full night’s sleep of seven to eight hours is best.
“[For ambitious people] it might feel counter-intuitive to ignore work emails arriving late in the evening, or prioritising a good night’s sleep, but science shows you will perform better as a result,” he explained. “Research has shown that sleep is of core importance to the functioning of our brain’s prefrontal cortex. In charge of abstract thinking and thought analysis, it is the area of the brain responsible for delivering our most advanced cognitive work – not to mention setting its groundwork through focus and concentration.
“It is also the area of the brain that regulates our emotional responses, which is why when we haven’t slept enough we tend to view ourselves, others and the world around us in a more negative light.”