Want to Get More Done? Go Back to Sleep.

Sometimes a key to solving a problem seems counterintuitive at first.

If you are pressed for time and constantly facing deadlines, the most helpful thing to do is often to step back and take some extra time to plan and prioritize.

If you find that you can’t stop spending too much, sometimes paying for a personal finance course is a good idea.

And, as we will explore today, if you feel like you are not productive enough with your days, you might want to try sleeping more.

Pretty sure this guy is sleeping, although it is possible that he is dead.

America Needs More Sleep

It has become common knowledge that we don’t get enough sleep. Nearly a third of Americans are sleep-deprived. The CDC calls it a public health problem. Media moguls write books about it.

Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep to function at 100%. Some people need more and some need less, so try different levels of sleep and determine where you function best.

It is easy to cut back on sleep bit by bit because you have too much to do. We get busy and the easiest thing to push out of our schedule is sleep time. It feels like we aren’t accomplishing anything while we sleep, so it seems like a waste of time.

The problem is that a lack of sleep can make you less productive, more than off-setting the gains you make during those extra couple hours per day.


Perhaps the most obvious negative effects of lack of sleep are the health consequences. And while health and productivity are usually considered in two separate categories, think about the last time you tried to work through illness. You just can’t function at full strength and full cognitive capacity.

We know that tired people have more health issues, because we know that tired people end up spending more on health care services than the rest of the country.

Beyond that, though, we’ve learned that even a small amount of sleep loss can mess with your immune system and make you more likely to get sick.

We’ve also learned that people who sleep seven hours or less per night are three times more likely to catch a cold than people who sleep eight hours or more.

In addition, driving while tired has a similar effect to driving while drunk. And if you are one of the 1,500 people killed every year in a car crash caused by sleepy driving, your productivity instantly drops to zero.


Even more noticeable and immediate than the health impacts are the impacts on one’s mood. And while some grumpiness may seem trivial, stop and try to think about how productive you are when you’re in a bad mood.

Again, you’re nowhere near 100%.

Multiple studies have shown the huge effect that a lack of sleep has on our mood. And when we’re in a bad mood, we’re more likely to work poorly with others, struggle to maintain focus, and be easily frustrated and interrupted.

One study found that “sleep loss amplifies the negative emotive effects of disruptive events while reducing the positive effect of goal-enhancing events.” Basically, we take longer to bounce back from interruptions and annoyances and we don’t get much of a boost from things that would normally help us along the way.


Being short on sleep negatively affects the way that your brain works. While getting solid sleep will improve your problem-solving skills, sleep loss will negatively impact your problem-solving skills as well as your concentration and your productivity.

A study of medical interns found that those with less sleep made 36% more serious errors than their well-rested colleagues. And if the idea of your doctor messing up doesn’t scare you, sleep deprivation was at least partially to blame for the Challenger explosion.

Don’t take yourself off the hook just because nobody’s lives are in your hands at work, either. The cognitive impairment comes home with you. One study suggests that tired people are twice as likely to die in an accident.


It may not be surprising to you that sleep impairs your memory. I am sure that the number of people who have left the house without their keys after a short night of sleep is legion. But in case you doubted, there is scientific proof that more sleep is better for your short-term memory.

This matters more than just locking yourself out of your house, however. Sleep plays a major role in memory consolidation. What this means is that when you learn something, you need a good night’s sleep for your brain to securely store that information. (Obviously this is a gross oversimplification, but it gets us to where we’re going here.)

Multiple studies have shown that without a full night of sleep, it is much harder to learn new facts and skills. Think of the massive hit to productivity you are taking by undermining your own ability to learn.

Sleep Debt

Still think it’s worth cutting back on sleep for a little extra time to work?

Consider that when you miss out on sleep, you start building up a sleep debt. If you skip out on two hours of sleep per night during the work week, you can’t get back to 100% by grabbing an extra hour or two on the weekend. Like with personal finance, you need to pay back that loan to get back in the black. Unless you’re sleeping for twelve hours each on Friday and Saturday night, you’re still going to be sleep deprived when Monday comes.

Similarly, little bits of lost sleep can pile up. Cutting back on sleep by an hour a night may not seem like much. And maybe you don’t notice any effects at first and decide to keep going with it. But after eight nights of it you’ll face the same effects as if you had pulled an all-nighter. We don’t notice it as sharply because we get used to it as our sleep deprivation builds one hour at a time like the proverbial frog in boiling water.

So start paying off your sleep debt tonight. The science shows that if you really want to get more done, you need to get more sleep.


Fellow blogger Mustard Seed Money published an interesting article  on sleep yesterday that includes some tips on getting more sleep and sleep patterns of successful people. Head over to his site and give that a read.

12 thoughts on “Want to Get More Done? Go Back to Sleep.”

  1. I need to work on this, Matt. Thanks for the reminder! Though I usually get 7 hours of sleep, I think I actually need more. I almost always hit that afternoon slump and feel like I need a nap (and I don’t think it’s from lunch since I eat very few carbs).

    1. Thanks, Amanda! It is definitely easy to get used to being on less sleep and just assume that that’s just how it is. I actually started this article after telling someone that I needed to find a way to get more sleep because I was tired during the day, and I was told that being tired is just part of being an adult.
      Matt recently posted…Are Your Neighbors Making You Poor?My Profile

  2. The unfortunate side effect of having lived a sleep deprived life style working full time, and going to grad classes in ’09/’10, means I could function well earlier this year after a family medical emergency. But you are right, I don’t have much memory of small details for much of January until we knew things were going to be ok, and I could start sleeping better. My reading comprehension was also terrible. Because friend A listed a party invite, I presumed the party was at her house, nope, it will be at the guest of honor’s house. Which is about an hour closer for me 🙂 Thank goodness it was an advance invite, and I didn’t show up at the wrong place!

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