CHICAGO (TheStreet) -- In an ultracompetitive business climate, sleep gets a bad rap. Boasting how little sleep they need has become a form of one-upmanship for executives who say it frees up hours to get things done. When you run your own business, sleeping the full seven to nine hours each night that experts recommend can seem like an indulgence. Couldn't all those late-night or early morning hours be used more productively?
What this mindset overlooks is that sleep itself is a multidimensional process that has huge ramifications for how your body operates. Depriving yourself of sleep can have a negative effect on everything from your mood to your health to your company's bottom line.
Need proof a full night's sleep is a necessity? Just look at the latest medical research, which has shown the many ways getting enough rest prepares your body to perform optimally at work:
1. Sleep lowers stress
Research performed at the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Medical School used brain scans to examine how sleep-deprived and non-sleep-deprived subjects reacted when shown positive and negative images. The study found that the amygdala -- the section of the brain most closely associated with anxiety -- was 60% more reactive when the subjects who had not slept were shown disturbing images. At a biological level, they were less able to summon the logical reasoning that would assure them the images were not real.
What are the implications for business? Sleep-deprived workers (and owners) are more likely to react emotionally to perceived threats and less likely to think through solutions logically. More sleep means less anxiety, and a less stressed-out workplace.
2. Sleep helps you learn skills
Numerous studies have examined the link between sleep and memory retention. Sleep appears to play an important role in memory "consolidation": the process of implanting a memory in the brain so it can be summoned later. If you don't get adequate sleep, not only will you have a tougher time learning something new (because you're tired and distracted), you'll find it harder to hold onto what you've learned over the following days and months. At a time business owners must be nimble and able to adjust to changing technology, those who can pick up skills quickly are at a competitive advantage.
3. Sleep reduces health care costs
Studies have shown that people who go for long periods without a full night's sleep have weaker immune systems, an increased risk of heart disease and are more likely to suffer a stroke. The connection could not be clearer for business owners: if you and your workforce are sleep-deprived, your health care costs will go up. The healing powers of sleep can also have short-term benefits: encouraging employees to take a sick day (and taking them yourself) not only prevents the spread of germs through the workplace, it allows the sick employees to go home and sleep -- which speeds up recovery.
4. Sleep encourages weight loss
America's growing obesity levels have brought much national hand-wringing, but few magic-bullet answers. Now we're learning that factors other than diet and exercise play a role in weight gain, including sleep. Get more shut-eye and you're more likely to lose weight. (And that, in turn, can bring about a further reduction in a company's health care costs.)
While you sleep, for example, the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin is released. (Leptin is the reason you don't wake up starving in the middle of the night.) If you don't sleep, your body releases less leptin, making you feel hungrier during the late-night hours that you are awake.
Scientific research is also examining the biological effect of sleep deprivation on a body's fat cells. A study published in this week's
Annals of Internal Medicine
found that without adequate sleep, fat cells stopped responding properly to the hormone insulin, leading to a higher risk of diabetes and obesity. As University of Chicago professor Matthew Brady, one of the study's co-authors, explained to
, "If you're sleep deprived, your brain may feel groggy, and it turns out that your fat cells also need sleep or they are metabolically groggy."
5. Sleep primes your body for challenges
Think of what you put your body through during an average day. Even if you're sitting at a desk rather than running marathons, your brain is at work constantly, shifting between work and family commitments, worries about the future and memories of meetings from weeks ago. While researchers are still examining the exact mechanisms, there is evidence that sleep promotes self-repair of brain connections that might be otherwise overtaxed. Think of sleep as nature's tune-up shop, a process that keeps everything in running order.
So the next time you're tempted to sit in front of your computer instead of turning in, remember that sleep is not negotiable. It is a critical piece of your business's ultimate success.
This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.