Stressed? Not Sleeping? Here’s What Science Says About Sleep and How Much You Need to Be a Productive Small Business Owner

Kathy Simpson

Running a small business can be demanding, and you’ve probably found yourself working late into the night on more than one occasion or unable to sleep due to the stresses of the day. Naturally, this can erode your ability to be a productive small business owner.

If so, you’re not alone. More than one-third of American adults are sleep-deprived.

But to give each day their best, adults need seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Getting less than the required amount of sleep can affect your health, your mood and your brain’s ability to function—and the longer you go without the sleep you need, the more the harmful effects compound.

So it pays to make sleep a priority every night of the week, even if you need to cut back on your work time to do so. Here’s what science has to say about sleep, why you should make it a priority and how to make sure you get the ZZZs you need.

What Happens When You Sleep?

Sleep is a mysterious and complex part of our lives, and not at all the passive state it appears to be. Some functions of the body and brain are actually more active during sleep than they are during waking hours, busily performing a collection of housekeeping tasks necessary for health and homeostasis.

During sleep, your brain consolidates the information you have taken in during the day, cementing new memories in long-term storage. It also clears away toxins that have built up in your brain during your waking hours that could otherwise lead to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.

The rest of your body also undergoes its own nightly tune-up as you sleep. The immune system is strengthened, tissue and nerve cells are renewed and repaired, and hormones are synthesized. When you get the right amount of rest, you awaken with your body restored and ready to take on the demands of a new day.

The Sleep Research Society says that sleep influences nearly all of the body’s molecular, cellular, physiological and neurobehavioral processes. Meeting our bodies’ need for sleep is essential to life, health and productivity.

Why Should You Make Sleep a Priority?

Sleep’s most obvious benefit is energy. With a good night’s sleep, your mind is alert and your body is responsive and resilient. You can learn more quickly and better remember what you learned. Your judgment is more likely to be on target, and your reaction time optimized. On the other hand, lack of sleep can negatively affect your mood and your ability to think and function. Your productivity and your creativity are likely to be compromised as a result. This can translate into being less responsive to customers and employees, and less effective as a leader. You’re also more likely to make mistakes and have accidents.

Over time, lack of sleep can have consequences to your physical health. Heart disease, high blood pressure, weight gain, diabetes, depression and anxiety are among the many conditions that have been linked to insufficient sleep.

How to Get the Sleep You Need

Although cutting into your sleep time may give you more time to get things done, making you feel more productive, the reverse is actually true. Getting your seven to eight hours of sleep in each night is a wellness formula for you and your business. These suggestions can help you get the sleep you need.

Stick to a schedule. 

Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This will keep your internal clock, or “circadian rhythm,” regulated. This tells your body when to sleep, rise and eat, and also controls body temperature, blood pressure and the daily release of hormones. When your sleep schedule is disturbed, such as by jet lag or from staying up late or sleeping in, your circadian rhythm can be disrupted, and sleep can become elusive until the rhythm is reestablished.

Dim the lights.

Your brain has receptors that sense light and dark, helping you to fall asleep at night and wake in the morning. Light promotes wakefulness by inhibiting the production of melatonin, the hormone that is released in preparation for sleep. To set the stage for sleep, avoid bright light after dusk, and dim the lights you do use.

Put electronic devices away. 

Experts believe that cell phones, computers, tablets and televisions are a leading contributor to America’s epidemic of sleeplessness. The short-wavelength or “blue” light these devices emit is the most melatonin-suppressive of all artificial light. Some newer-model devices have a night shift option that softens the light emitted at night. You can also use software such as f.lux, which automatically adapts your display to the time of day, or by wearing a pair of amber-lensed goggles after dark. Another option, of course, is to put the devices away.

Set the right bedroom conditions.

A healthy sleep environment is relaxing, peaceful and cool (60-67 degrees is optimal). Your room should also be dark. Use blackout shades to maintain darkness, and make sure you have a good mattress and pillow that are free of allergens.

Exercise regularly. 

Moderate to vigorous activity on a regular basis can improve sleep quality and also help you feel less sleepy during the day. Just be sure to not exercise too close to bedtime. It may have the unwanted effect of energizing you rather than helping you fall asleep.

Watch what you consume in the evening.

Avoid big meals that can cause digestive discomfort and make it difficult to sleep. Limit how much you drink before bed to prevent having to get up in the middle of the night. Be cautious with stimulants, such as caffeine and nicotine, as they can keep you up. Also avoid alcohol after dinner. It may help you fall asleep quickly but tends to disrupt sleep in the middle of the night.

Practice relaxation. 

Try different relaxation exercises once you’re in bed. Mentally relax your body, beginning with your toes, feet and ankles and gradually working your way up to your shoulders, neck and head. Repeat several times. Another option is to breathe deeply at a slow and controlled rate for five or 10 minutes until you drift off to sleep.

15 Responses to "Stressed? Not Sleeping? Here’s What Science Says About Sleep and How Much You Need to Be a Productive Small Business Owner"
    • jacquelinechurch | July 27, 2020 at 10:32 am

      Always good to refresh, but honestly there’s nothing new here. You might have mentioned some newer tools and one old one: Yoga. Yoga for Sleep (just google) MANY routines help cool and calm your body and mind for sleep.

      Both Relax Melodies and Headspace have several free guided relaxation routines that help, too.

      Also herbal teas “Sleepy Time” come in many flavors, are non-addicting and helpful.
      Melatonin can also help, less problematic that medical sleep aids like Ambien.

      Hope that helps.

    • Betsy Seabert | July 23, 2020 at 5:08 pm

      I am a small business owner focused on improving quality of sleep by managing body temperature during sleep with my new line of sleepwear: Our products naturally keep your body cool and dry and manage temperature swings such as from night sweats or chills. Please check out Chill Angel if you know anyone needing to sleep through the night.

    • Jamie | July 23, 2020 at 9:36 am

      Thank you very much for this article. I always love reading the suggestions. Sleep is wonderful.

      I spent many years in my youth thinking I could beat this most natural need that we have, only to find myself with burnout from too much work, followed by deep depression coupled with anxiety.

      If anyone out there reads this, and is trying to do anything along the lines of what I was (I was attempting to start a business, which has now become a success, but only because of the good people that I was fortunate enough to find that helped me keep the business alive while I was going through the throes of my shortsightedness) please get your sleep! You will have a much higher likelihood of making your endeavors successful!

    • Aaron | July 23, 2020 at 8:23 am

      I am always trying to stick to the same sleep/wake schedule, but my work often makes this impossible.

      I find that 15-30-minute naps refresh me.

      What do you say about naps?

    • Swaminathan S | July 23, 2020 at 12:18 am

      Yeah, tips are good and to be followed regularly. Exactly eight hours sound sleep will energize our brain as well as body. S Swaminathan

    • Phil | July 22, 2020 at 10:56 pm

      Great tips and I have one to add. It’s hard to turn off the brain on items of stress or to do items. If you make a list before you go to bed or get up for a couple of minutes in the night to do a brain dump, you can fall asleep knowing you are good to go in the morning.

      • Ebony. | March 10, 2021 at 7:43 am

        I never valued sleep. I do now.

        • Small Biz Ahead | March 10, 2021 at 1:00 pm

          That’s good to hear! Sleep is very important. Thanks for commenting!

    • Gregory Sopel | July 22, 2020 at 7:36 pm

      No mention of sleep disordered breathing/apnea? It is the most common chronic disease and 85% of suffers are un diagnosed

    • Randall White | April 17, 2017 at 5:00 pm

      Your SB articles are helpful. Thank you!

    • Jim Papastathis | April 11, 2017 at 10:23 pm

      Enjoy your articles. To the point and practical.
      Keep them coming.

    • Maria D Carrera | April 11, 2017 at 9:29 pm

      I had a hard time sleeping, but stated walking and yoga and it did the trick, started sleeping 7-8 hours every night, before it was about 6, thank you now I understand everything.

    • Maria D Carrera | April 11, 2017 at 9:26 pm

      I had a hard time sleeping did a lot of the things that are in the article, but I stated walking and yoga and now I feel a lot better I sleep 7-8 hours and feel a lot like you said here. Thank you!!

    • Cindy Sams | April 11, 2017 at 4:46 pm

      great article! I sent if off to a friend who finds it hard to sleep. Hope it will bring him a great nights sleep.! Thanks for sharing.

    • nelly ramos | April 11, 2017 at 2:00 pm

      I have all those symptoms for not sleeping enough so now I will try to sleep with all those tips you just gave me. I really thank you for this information.

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