(This is the first of two pieces on Sleep.)

Most of us have forgotten what it’s like to be fully awake because we don’t sleep as well as we can and should.

After breathing, sleep is our most fundamental need. It is essential for survival and health, and unfortunately, it’s also the first thing we’re willing to give up. The fact is that even small amounts of sleep deprivation make us vastly inefficient.

First, I’d like to shatter a few myths about sleep:

Most of us don’t get enough sleep to be fully rested. We think we can survive on less sleep. Even worse, we consider our ability to sleep less as a competitive advantage and a measure of our toughness — so much so that we use it as a badge of honor by talking about it with others.

There is this myth that one less hour of sleep gives us one more hour of productivity. In reality, each hour of sleep we forgo not only leaves us feeling more fatigued, but also takes a toll on our cognitive capacity. The more successive hours we are awake and the fewer we sleep at night, the less alert, focused, and efficient we become, and the quality of our work suffers as a result. On the other hand, an additional hour of sleep equals several more hours of much higher productivity during the day.

Then, there’s the myth that sleep is for the “weak”, that it should be avoided, or that it’s a waste of time. Au contraire! It’s because of sleep that we can perform at full capacity. It allows for peak performance, instead of thwarting it. It enables us to do our best work and brings out the best in us.

As opposed to popular belief, sleep is not a luxury that you can’t afford, but an asset that one must protect and use strategically. And, something that must also be made a priority.

Sleep is often associated with laziness. “If you need more sleep, you must be lazy”. Again, this is false. When you sleep well, it allows you to perform at your best, which helps you be more creative and efficient.

We think we can work continuously for long hours and that we can “do it all”. We can’t. We all have our personal threshold beyond which if we work will only result in diminishing returns; the problem is that we don’t always accept it.

The thing is, you can’t “do it all”. You can either do a few things well or many things poorly. Sleeping well simply enables you to perform those few things at your best. It improves your overall effectiveness and efficiency.

We know that getting a good night’s sleep is vital to our well-being, but we don’t always sleep as much as we should for a variety of reasons. We spend up to one-third of our lives asleep, so it’s important that we do it well.

The point is that sleep is the very first thing we’re willing to sacrifice for other things, and we can end up paying a heavy price for it in the long-term if we don’t course-correct ourselves quickly.

When we don’t sleep enough, we undermine our effectiveness in the long term. As a result, the following things are likely to occur:

Even small amounts of sleep deprivation can have a profound impact on not just our health, but also on our cognitive capacity and our effectiveness. Sleep deprivation undermines our ability for peak performance.

Sleeping less than 5 hours a day on a regular basis is no different than being intoxicated in terms of one’s mental alertness.

Lack of sufficient sleep will cause a cognitive deficit. It’ll affect everything we do during our day. We won’t be as effective, it will affect our choices and decision making, and we aren’t able to give our best effort to whatever we do. As a result, we won’t perform to our full potential/capacity. And, if we keep practicing bad sleep habits, we’ll end up paying a heavy price for it by exposing ourselves to health risks over time.

When we don’t sleep enough at night, we compensate for that sleep during the day by taking caffeine or sugar instead of a short nap. This further affects our ability to sleep well later in the evening.

Sleep may be more critical to our well-being than diet, exercise, and even heredity. More than any other resource, sleep is the key to our personal effectiveness, and here’s why:

Sleep allows us to achieve more in less time. In other words, we’re more efficient when we are rested. For instance, those in the creative arts not only work fewer quality hours and sleep more, their output is also greater than those who work more hours and sleep less. They spend more time sleeping. Sleep is one factor that distinguishes the great artists from the merely good ones. They also get more out of those hours of practice because they are better rested. More quality sleep results in increased effectiveness at work.

Sleeping well helps us restore our physical energy, which is more important than other energies, such as emotional, mental, and spiritual. When you’re lacking physical energy, it brings down every other energy and undermines you.

A full night’s sleep increases brain power and enhances our problem-solving ability. Contrary to popular belief, sleep is not meant for giving rest to the body, but is really more about the brain. When you’re sleeping, your brain is more active, especially during the latter stages of sleep known as REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. It’s during this stage that you process things that you might have learned during the day to help you form memories and boost feel-good chemicals, such as serotonin.

Sleep is more important than food. You can go on without food for days, but you can’t do without sleep.

Sleep improves our ability to explore, make connections, and do more through our waking hours.

The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves, and sleep is that asset that drives peak performance. Sleep is the key to our personal effectiveness, so it’s imperative that we protect this indispensable asset.

In the next piece, I wrote about ways we can protect this valuable asset, and how doing so can help us lead significantly improved lives.

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