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6 Ways Tech Workers Can Improve Their Sleep

6 min read Mansoor Ahmed

By the Crescent Team

A few years ago, before anyone thought about pandemics, a survey of more than 1,000 employees across various industries revealed that 70% of tech workers—the highest percentage of all workers and industries surveyed—admitted they’d fallen asleep on the job. Whatever the reason for their tired state—a high-stress environment, life events like a newborn, or meals eaten too late at night—they clearly were not logging enough healthy, high-quality hours of rest to keep them from dozing off during the day.

Then the pandemic arrived, and with it, a heightened state anxiety that did its best to keep us up til all hours of the night. In our WFH setups, the boundaries between work and home were further blurred (if they even existed). Roughly 40 percent of adults experienced sleep disorders during the last two years, leading sleep scientists to coin the term coronasomnia to describe our sleep struggles.

What makes tech workers unique?

In the midst of our collective unrest, tech workers face some unique challenges that can conspire to prevent them from getting a good night’s sleep: long hours, extended screen time and blue-light exposure, not enough exercise, and working with global teams across time zones, to name a few. Silicon Valley has long embraced a sprint, “sleep is for sissies” culture. It’s hard to move fast and break things between 9 and 5. 

If the Internet never sleeps, neither should the folks who build it, right? 

Wrong. Of course, we now know that poor sleep affects every aspect of our health. It’s a time when our body heals and restores. If sleep deprivation is hard on the body, it’s equally hard on the mind, impairing productivity, creativity and decision-making skills. Product teams, take note: A lack of sleep affects our ability to learn, remember, innovate, as well as process our emotions.  

So, what are some of the ways you can improve your sleep? Jenna Gress Smith, PhD, sleep scientist-in-residence at Crescent, has some suggestions.

Forget “sleep hygiene.” Think sleep-promoting behaviors

The term sleep hygiene has traditionally been used to describe a set of sleep “best practices” for improving sleep health. Things like keeping your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool.  That’s fine, as far as it goes. But Dr. Gress believes that that term is a misnomer and should be scrapped. “First of all, the name makes it sound like you’re dirty, or you forgot to brush your teeth before bed!” she says. “Second, there’s often no reference as to the time it takes for meaningful change to occur once you adopt these practices. Creating a habit and seeing the effect,” she says, “takes at least 2 weeks.”

“It’s better to think in terms of sleep-promoting behaviors, which imply that there are behavioral changes you can make that, over time, will help you get better sleep. Here are 6 geared especially toward the tech industry:

Six ways tech workers can improve their sleep habits

Tip #1. Get morning light  

According to Andrew Huberman, professor of neuroscience at Stanford University and host of the Huberman Lab Podcast, when it comes to sleep, the most important thing for setting your biological clock (your sleep-wake cycle) is to get sunlight in your eyes first thing when you wake up. Morning light signals the brain to kick off cortisol production and stop melatonin production, letting your body know that your day has started. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a night owl or an early bird, Huberman said. The important thing is to get some sun for at least a few minutes soon after getting out of bed.

Tip #2. Put a hard stop to the end of your workday 

With long hours that include working across time zones, it’s easy to get caught up in a 20-hour work day. “Especially in our hybrid work environments, it’s important to create a separation of work and home life,” Dr. Gress, says. She suggests scheduling your last meeting no later than an hour before the end of your day, and sticking to those boundaries. “It can be helpful to write up a to-do-list for the next day to clarify in your mind that the day is over, and it’s time to transition to evening mode.”  

Tip #3. Try some deep breathing to manage stress 

One of the simplest ways to calm yourself in any high-pressure situation is by taking some deep breaths. Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve which helps calm the fight-or-flight stress response. A growing number of studies show that deep breathing techniques are effective against anxiety and insomnia

Box breathing is an easy technique where you breathe in through your nose, count to 4, hold your breath for 4 counts, then exhale for a count of four. Do about 5 rounds to help you feel relaxed, or check out our partners at Othership.us to time short breathwork sessions with music.

Tip #4. Exercise to offset sedentary lifestyle

Studies show that exercise can help you fall asleep more quickly and improve the quality of your sleep. Moderate aerobic exercise also increases the amount of slow wave sleep you get—the deep stage of sleep when the brain and body have a chance to rejuvenate. Exercise can also stabilize your mood and decompress the mind, a cognitive process that is important for naturally transitioning to sleep, says Dr. Gress.

Tip #5. Create a pre-bedtime wind-down routine

Your body is not a machine that can be powered off by the touch of a button. “Space and time are needed for sleep to unfold,” says Dr. Gress. Reading a book, listening to music or some gentle stretching are great ways to signal the body that it’s time to wind down.  

A warm-to-hot bath or shower an hour or so before bed can help you fall asleep more easily—but not for the reason you think. A cooler core body temperature signals that it’s time for sleep. By raising and then lowering your body temperature, you’re essentially augmenting that natural cooling process, which has shown to promote better sleep. 

Tip #6. Don’t eat or drink close to bedtime 

Working late at night can lead to late meals, or a stiff drink after a stressful day. “The timing of meals is tightly intertwined with the hormones that regulate our circadian rhythms, sleep, and metabolism,” says Sohaib Imtiaz, MD, MPH, doctor in residence at Crescent. “Eating just before bed increases glucose levels in the blood and signals the brain to stay awake, lengthening the time between going to bed and actually falling asleep. I recommend no meals within 3 hours of your bedtime.” 

While a nightcap may initially be sedating, alcohol too late in the evening can disrupt what’s known as your sleep architecture, the usual phases of sleep we go through every night. As the body metabolizes alcohol you will experience lighter, more fragmented and  fitful sleep. And you will feel the effects the following day. (Sound familiar?)

Bottom line: You cannot reboot your body by hitting a button. It cannot sink into sleep like a stone. Poor sleep can interfere with key traits needed to become a great manager, says an Harvard Business Review article. Besides cognitive function, they include emotional intelligence, relationship management, and social and self-awareness.  All suffer when you lack quality, consistent sleep.

Why Sleep on the Quolum Blog? 

To celebrate Sleep Awareness Week, Quolum put its website asleep. It’s a truly one of a kind movement. We are taking a stand against unhealthy life choices, made worse by the hyper-connectivity in tech.

So while Quolum can save you from sleepless nights thanks to SaaS spend, you can read about the real reason here. If you love the idea, we would love to hear from you.

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