Cutting back on your sleep time because you have to work is, generally speaking, a bad idea. Sometimes it may seem necessary because someone has set an arbitrary deadline for a certain project and you have to spend a few days working 14 hours to make it on time.
And if you succeed, the feeling of success can even make this behavior addictive.
However, making sleep deprivation a habit has consequences, both for your work performance and your health.
- It affects how you make your decisions. When you are solving a problem and considering different alternatives, fatigue will push you to use a shorter path that seems to offer a quicker solution, but is likely to be suboptimal in the long run.
- It affects your ability to explore solutions. Lack of sleep diminishes your creativity. Depending on what you do for a living, that can be bad or very bad. Again, the ability to design effective and innovative solutions will be seriously impaired.
- It affects the quality of your work. Lack of sleep makes it much harder to stay focused and easier to get distracted. Working longer does not mean working better. In fact, when you don’t sleep well you are much more prone to make mistakes, to do things incorrectly.
- It affects your physical and mental state. When exhaustion becomes your usual state, morale decreases and stress and irritability increase. As a consequence, the motivation to do important things gradually disappears. Absurdly, you will be spending many hours awake for work and yet devoting a good part of them to inconsequential nonsense (randomly surfing the internet, visiting your social media, etc.).
Instead of cutting back on your sleep, consider working more effectively during the day and getting a good night’s sleep. There is ample evidence that a good night’s sleep seriously increases productivity.
Sacrificing sleep for work and then working more to make up for lost productivity can become a vicious cycle. The paradox is that many people don’t get enough sleep because they work too much, and they don’t work efficiently because they don’t get enough sleep. It’s necessary to break that pattern.
If you want to get a good understanding of the relationship between your productivity and your ability to sleep well, and how the two feed back on each other, I recommend you listen to this TED Talk by Dr. Matthew Carter: