Feeling unproductive? Why your sleep is to blame

There’s nothing worse than going to bed early to get your eight hours of snooze time, only to wake up feeling foggier than ever. Sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo explains why it doesn’t matter how many hours of sleep you get – if they’re not the right kind.

Sleep: it’s free. And we all want more of it, so why is it so hard to get? Specifically – that consistent, restorative, uninterrupted, eight-hours-a-night kinda sleep. Which is why we’ve enlisted Sydney-based sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo to solve our myriad of sleep concerns with our new editorial series Sleep Well Wednesdays. Check back each week and you’ll be off to the land of nod before you know it.

You may have heard of the University of California study which found a lack of sleep causes your attention span, concentration and judgement to equal that of someone with a blood alcohol level of 0.05.

Or perhaps you’re one of the 80 percent of individuals who self-report being ‘less productive’ when tired. And especially when you’ve gotten your required eight hours, this can be – nay, is – extremely frustrating.

So what’s happening in your sleep and what can you do about it? Because we all know that come 5pm, we have better things to do than send emails we put off earlier in the day – myself included.

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Why does this happen?

Productivity is linked to mental clarity – and this doesn’t rely upon any old sleep, it specifically needs slow wave sleep.

This sleep stage is important because according to clinical studies, it’s when the toxic neurotoxin beta amyloid (which contributes to memory loss) is removed.

So if you’re finding yourself waking up with brain fog, unable to remember seemingly simple information or what you ate for dinner last night, this is the likely reason.

So… all sleep is NOT the same?

Definitely not.

Researchers have found we move through sleep cycles through the night:

  • from light sleep, termed NREM stage 1,
  • to deeper, NREM stage 2;
  • to our deepest, NREM stage 3 and 4.
  • Then, we progress back to lighter sleep again.
  • At the end of each sleep cycle, we experience REM sleep.

Ultimately, if you’re not spending sufficient time in NREM stages 3 and 4, you don’t sufficiently clear out the neurotoxins; and thus you can’t think straight or be productive the next day.

The pattern is not dependent upon how long you spend in bed – it’s dependent upon you being adequately relaxed prior to and during sleep.

So how can I relax prior to sleep?

Here I recommend my signature seven-step bedtime routine:

Step 1: Block out blue light. Studies show blue light limits melatonin, the hormone to make you sleepy. Without sufficient melatonin, you’re left wide awake – even if it’s 11pm.

Step 2: Diffuse lavender.Clinical trials have found it can lessen anxiety by 45 percent – akin to sleeping pills, which reduced anxiety by 46 percent.

Step 3: Have a ‘Goodnight Phone Alarm’. Trigger yourself to get off your device with an alarm labelled “sleep better” – this also acts as a psychological cue, reminding you of your sleep goals.

Step 4: Have a shower. The drop in body temperature – by emerging from your shower to the bathroom – encourages the body to produce sleepiness hormone melatonin, research shows.

Step 5: Have a sleep supplement and sleep tea. Look for a magnesium based sleep supplement, as it’s been found in academic studies to reduce anxiety by 31 percent.

Step 6: Listen to white noise. A recent study found white noise can reduce the time it takes you to fall asleep by 38 percent.

Step 7: Practice deep breathing. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system to help you feel calm, according to academic evidence.

Follow this routine and you’ll be more relaxed through the night – and more productive the next day at work.

Olivia Arezzolo is a sleep expert who holds a Bachelor of Social Science (Psychology); Certificate of Sleep Psychology, Diploma of Health Science (Nutritional Medicine); Certificate of Fitness III + IV.