Despite an insidious myth that top performers spend less time asleep, modern research suggests that the opposite is true.
Do you spend enough time dreaming? We’re not talking about daydreaming about your goal of becoming a Glatfelter MVP (although that is a pretty sweet dream!) We’re talking about actual dreams. How much you sleep in the bedroom can deeply affect your performance in the boardroom.
The optimal amount of sleep for most adults is between 7 and 9 hours a night. Unfortunately, over one-third of Americans get only 6 hours or less, according to NPR. While an hour or two may seem like too small of an amount to do much damage, the Sleep Foundation’s research shows that “even modest amounts of sleep loss can accumulate over time, allowing a few nights of poor sleep to have a major impact on daily functioning.
There are several factors that contribute to our decreased sleep. Experts believe that we’re experiencing greater daily stress along with increased connectivity, both of which can affect the quality of our sleep. SleepFoundation.org also points to statistics showing that people spend an average of 4.5 hours each week completing work off the clock, at home. This inevitably creates a cycle of catchup for most workers – working at home to make up for being less productive at work because we’re working when we should be sleeping.
Why Sleep Matters
Sleep can affect your physical and mental well-being
Before diving into how sleep affects job performance, it’s important to also discuss how it affects your overall health. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services warns that poor sleep quality can lead to serious, long-term illnesses, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. The agency also cites studies linking a person’s ability to tolerate pain to how well they’ve slept.
Along with a decline in physical health, poor sleep can be detrimental to mental health. Lack of sleep has been linked to depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.
Sleep can affect your job performance
When you don’t feel your best, you won’t perform your best. This is especially true if you’re suffering from sleep deprivation. Poor sleep negatively affects your ability to recall information and practice cognitive thinking. The CDC estimates that American businesses lose $63 billion each year because of lost productivity as a result of sleep deprivation.
But enough of the negative stats, let’s talk about what good sleep can do for you as an insurance agent. Researcher Christopher Barnes, speaking on The Anxious Achiever podcast, argues that better sleep can help you be more charismatic and more effective while on the job. He’s not alone; according to Inc.com, sleep can influence a person’s emotional intelligence (EQ). EQ helps us to understand and process others’ emotions, and higher EQ often equates to higher work performance in client-facing industries. Barne’s research also indicates that people who get adequate sleep act more ethically. So, when it comes to the insurance industry where business is based on great relationships and trust, sleep can be an agent’s best sales tool.
How to help improve your sleep hygiene
Alright, we’ve talked about why better sleep is important. Now let’s talk about how to get it.
Get to know your unique rhythm
The first step to getting better sleep is to understand your circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is your body’s natural tendency to be asleep at night and awake during the day. However, there are variations between people. For instance, some people are more awake and alert later during the day, while others perform their best before the sun even rises. You may already be aware of whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, but if you haven’t found your body’s circadian rhythm, try noting the time you seem to be at your peak for a few days. If possible, try adjusting your sleep and work schedules to match your body’s internal clock.
Train your brain for sleep
Next, establish a bedtime routine. A nighttime routine helps prepare your body for rest. The best ones include a quiet, relaxing activity, such as reading or meditation, for at least 30 minutes before going to bed. Avoid screens, especially your smartphone or work laptop, during the half hour before bed. These devices emit a blue light that is disruptive to your brain’s ability to fall asleep. Dim the lights as much as possible, and set your thermostat at a comfortable, cool temperature. You may even want to consider using a white noise machine to drown out any distracting sounds.
Daytime routines matter too
What you do during the day also affects your sleep. A healthy diet and regular exercise can help you achieve better sleep, but these also need to be timed correctly. Avoid rigorous exercise during the four hours before bed, and try to eat meals at regular intervals. While caffeine is a popular option for poor sleep sufferers, “it only masks the effects of sleep deprivation” and can prevent you from catching those zzz’s later, states the Harvard Business Review. Try to limit your caffeine intake to the first half of your day to help lessen its negative side effects.
It’s also important to take a break now and then during the day. While it’s tempting (and even necessary at times) for agents to work “off-the-clock,” setting aside time to unwind during the day can help boost your sleep quality at night. Working late into the night will exhaust your mind and body, but also keep it alert, making it more difficult to fall asleep.
We think it’s time to put to bed the myth that sacrificing sleep is the pathway to success. Whatever dreams you have for your career, improving your sleep quality can help you achieve them.
If you’ve run out of opportunities and prospecting tactics, it might be time to explore a new industry (or venture down the river, if you will).
Transitioning from an insurance agent to an adviser is about more than how you represent yourself – it's about value selling and providing sound advice.