Meredith Schneider for Hive
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Sleep is fundamental to basic human functioning. But did you know that about half of adult Americans aren’t getting the sleep they should? And up to 70% of American adults feel exhausted on a regular basis. You may be one of them. Not enough sleep leaves us not only tired, but can drastically impact our mood, productivity and sometimes even our body’s basic ability to function. The numbers are shocking, and it is a problem that is getting progressively worse over time.

Circadian rhythms are daily (24-hour) cycles that serve as the body’s internal clock to regulate sleep, productivity, and more. Many species of animals and plants create community and sustainability around their own circadian rhythms. The sleeping cycle is one of the most important aspects of this rhythm and is certainly one of the most well-known. When disrupted or adjusted, it can really change the way you are able to approach your day.

But what can we do when there never seems to be enough time for adequate sleep? It doesn’t matter if you experience issues falling asleep, lack the ability to stay asleep or have shorter stints of sleep than what is recommended by experts. It is high time to prioritize the space and stillness that allows your body to regenerate and keeps you at peak performance. Let’s look at the ways sleep benefits your overall productivity and how to improve your sleeping habits.

1. Sleep aids your immune system.

Are you getting the recommended 7-9 hours per night? If not, you may not be allowing yourself the time to recover from the illness and the environmental stressors of your average day. Sleep deprivation inhibits your immune system and can lead to an array of issues. These include anxiety, heart failure, digestive issues and erratic blood pressure. Aside from potential long-term effects, wouldn’t you rather have a productive day than deal with symptoms of any one of these issues?

Sleep disorders are of more concern as you age. Over time, your body loses its ability to bounce back from the discomfort and exhaustion. Many people report issues with sleep, including insomnia and delayed sleep-wake phase disorder (DSWPD), which is when you happen to get the right amount of sleep, but it doesn’t align with the timing that your body craves or needs.

Sleep can help provide your immune system with the natural aid that it needs. According to the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute, “Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.” During sleep, the immune system stays awake, releasing cytokines that alert the body to infection or inflammation.

2. Sleep provides you with a clear mind.

According to the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, “The homeostatic theory of sleep proposes that sleep prunes out unnecessary connections between cells, freeing up resources and space for new learning to take place the following day.” During sleep, the brain has time to properly flush out toxins, as it helps rid the rest of the body of unnecessary stressors and contaminants as well. Getting the right amount of Z’s can actually make you feel more clear-minded heading into work.

3. Sleep increases retention.

Sleep, after you learn something new, is just as important as during preparation. Studies show an increase in brain tissue and activity following learning a new concept. In fact, lack of sleep is linked to numerous physiological and mental conditions, including memory loss. So it’s not too difficult to see that sleep can help our minds bank memories and increase our learning capacity. When we get the amount of sleep our body needs, there is less of a chance that molecular processes that steer memory function will malfunction. This can help substantially in any work environment.

4. Sleep encourages empathy.

Empathy is a key element in any thriving workspace. Having the ability to understand and appreciate the feelings of another person – as well as to share those feelings through a similar experience – is an incredibly valuable trait. Sleep deprivation is associated with lower emotional intelligence and interpersonal functioning, among other things, and can greatly affect a person’s ability to empathize at any given moment.

5. Sleep powers innovation.

Coupled with empathy, passion is an incredible driving force in the workplace. If you feel less passionate about the work you are doing and nothing in the office has particularly contributed to your negative thought process, sleep could be an identifiable culprit. A recent study indicated that sleep can increase work enjoyment and lead to cooperative interactions with colleagues.

People with genuine enthusiasm for the work that they do, the projects they work on and the community they are a part of are more likely to collaborate – and even innovate – within their spheres. How are you supposed to start your workday with a positive and enthusiastic mindset if sleep hasn’t been a priority?

Improve your chances of a good night’s sleep

Cortisol-conscious movement is key to a healthy functioning body, especially when outside stressors are playing a big factor in your life. Without your recommended sleep, cortisol cannot be fired off consistently throughout the day to keep your circadian rhythm working. Engaging in early, slow movement can help kickstart your natural circadian rhythm and help you prep for an amazing night’s sleep at the end of a long, hard day.

The blue wavelengths used in the light on your screens — which are often beneficial during daylight hours for a boost of serotonin and heightened attention — are responsible for negative health implications, like sleep issues, low energy, decreased productivity, eyestrain, headaches and more. If you’re looking for another key way to improve your sleep, limiting screen time within the last two hours before your head hits the pillow can work wonders.

If you’d like to improve your efforts and take advantage of these great sleep benefits, accountability could be key. Encourage your team to participate in a sleep challenge. Be sure to keep track of your emotions and energy around the challenge, and experience the productivity and innovation increase tenfold.

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This article originally appeared in Hive — the world's first democratically built productivity platform. Learn more at Hive.com.

What’s your no. 1 piece of sleep advice — especially for a stressed or burnt out professional woman? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!