The High Cost of Sleep Deprivation

Importance Of Sleep Image

We all know sleep is important, but it seems that these days more and more people are being deprived of it. I recently experienced this at FinCon, a conference that financial bloggers from around the country look forward to each year (by look forward to, I mean anxiously count the days until we can all nerd out over personal finance and blogging together). It's a chance to network, expand your skills and reach, and finally meet in person the people you've been communicating with all year online. In short, it's a blast. But it's also jam-packed.

In four days, I got four hours of sleep (or less) per night. This isn't because I was out partying (although many do), it's because I wanted to eek out every opportunity I could to network. Impromptu late night community management brainstorms in the hotel lobby, for example.

While fun, I'm feeling that lack of sleep now – even two days after getting home. I harken back to my college days of working 2+ jobs while taking a full load of classes and wonder how I was able to do it for so many years. Luckily, this is no longer a part of my daily life.

But for many, this lack of sleep is a part of daily life – and it can cost them. Do you find yourself prioritizing all things over sleep (even if you don't feel like you have a choice)? Here's why sleep should make its way further up the totem pole of your daily priorities.

The High Cost of Sleep Deprivation

The Atlantic recently published an article profiling a Queens man who worked two jobs and averaged four hours of sleep per night – all the while barely making ends meet. Unfortunately, this is a common story for many whose day jobs don't pay enough to cover the high cost of rent in much of the US. The worst part is, this lack of sleep can impact far more than your stress level:

"In one study, researchers had mice imitate the schedules of shift workers: The rodents' brain cells began dying off after just days, and the loss was permanent. A later study on 147 adult humans found that the sleep deprived among them had actively shrinking brains. This suggests that no amount of 'catch up' sleep can ever reverse the effects of sleep loss on the body."

This certainly ruins my personal theory of sleeping in on the weekends to make up for loss of sleep during the week… a theory many of us hold when the sleepless nights start to add up. The question is, without being able to add more hours to the day, what could possibly be done about this?

How to Optimize for More Sleep

Getting more sleep is innately a problem that feels unsolvable. I mean, the easiest-sounding solutions are nearly impossible: work less, add more hours to the day, etc. However, there are a few small tweaks that can be made to optimize for more sleep. To start though, you need to look at why you individually aren't getting enough sleep.

If you're not getting enough sleep because you work multiple jobs… I'm not going to sugar coat it – this is a hard problem. In fact, pretending that it's not would be an insult to anyone struggling through it. I wish I could add more hours to the day for myself and anyone else struggling to fit it all in. But I can't. What I can do is offer some tweaks that may add up and help a lot:

  1. Find a second job you can work from home: while this won't necessarily reduce the number hours you work, it can reduce the number of hours you commute. Those are hours that can go directly into your sleep bank.

  2. Find a second job that pays the most possible on average: If you must spend more hours of your day working, you can decrease the amount of hours by earning more per hour. When I worked in retail I made $6.25 an hour. When I worked as a waitress I made $2.13 an hour plus tips. However, as a waitress, Iaveraged $20 an hour thanks to those tips. So I could work half the amount of shifts and earn more money.

When it comes to maximizing your time, it's all about optimizing to get the most out of your time that you can. Little tweaks like these can add hours of extra sleep to your schedule per week.

If you're not getting enough sleep because sleep is the first thing to be removed from your priority list… I have a weird tendency to put off sleep, even when I'm really tired (in fact, more if I'm really tired). It starts because I have so many tasks I'm trying to get done before bed and it escalates when I hit the point of being too tired do the little things to prepare for bed. You know, like brush my teeth. It's a silly battle I wage with myself on a daily basis while my husband sighs and begs me to go to sleep already.

Does this sound like you? It's kind of a strange conundrum, I admit, but there are many people who do put off sleep because there is simply so much to be done when they get home from work. Kids need their lunches packed and help with homework, you might have things to do for your extended family, and you try to fit in time for your own fitness and relaxation. Before you know it, bedtime creeps up and you think to yourself, "Just one more thing…"

That just one more thing can keep you up for several more hours as one more thing bleeds into another, and another, and another. So what can you do about it? As un-fun as this sounds, schedule your evenings. Create an after work to-do list and focus on finishing as efficiently as possible (with the understanding that things like kids create an automatic unpredictability). Then, set an alarm for yourself to go to bed.

I've done this myself! The time rushes by and suddenly I sit down to relax… then my sleep alarm goes off. In that moment it's hard to make the decision to forego my "me time" and go to bed instead. But after seeing that stat above, I know my brain cells will thank me if I choose sleep.

Shannon McNay is the Community and Customer Support Manager at ReadyForZero, a website that helps people get out of debt faster on their own. Shannon focuses her writing on the ways our lives are impacted by our finances and vice versa - including finances in your relationship, finances in your career, and how to overcome the mental barriers to paying off debt. You can follow @ReadyForZero and @shannonmcnay on Twitter. 

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