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Can lack of sleep slow down your career? Find out

By Nilanjana Chakraborty, Chandralekha Mukerji | ET Bureau | Aug 08, 2016, 06.30 AM IST

When a Ludhiana-based businessman sought treatment for his insomnia, he had no idea how badly his sleeplessness was affecting his business. When he returned to work, he realised that many of his employees had been taking advantage of his drowsiness at work, and making him sign off on leaves and permissions that he had no memory of approving. Manjit Kanwar, Founder of Apollo sleep Disorder Institute, who treated the businessman, says, "It was a case of sleep apnea, the most common sleep-related respiratory disorder."

Sleep apnea is just one of many issues plaguing our sleep. Kanwar says he encounters innumerable cases of insomnia, not only physiological, but resulting from lifestyle issues and bad sleep habits as well.

We are bombarded with stimuli from various sources all day, and most of us carry the distractions into our nightly routine. "Watching TV in bed, browsing the Internet on your smartphone, an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and not having a set routine for turning in at night are all factors that add up to getting inadequate or poor quality of sleep," says Kanwar. The impact this can have on us is severe. Not only your quality of life, but your career and finances can suffer as well.

How it affects your work
Getting inadequate sleep over a period of time results in accruing 'sleep debt'. This cumulative deficit can result in severe mental and physical fatigue, which can lead to myriad problems in your professional life.

Sleep deprivation results in an overall slowing down of complex brain function and response time. This affects your productivity and ability to learn new tasks, and participate in debates and brainstorming sessions, thereby impacting your career growth.

Not going to sleep at a reasonable hour also means struggling to wake up the next morning. For professionals with inflexible work hours, this could spell disaster. Other issues like lethargy, irritability and mood swings can also arise, which could impact professional relationships and prospects.

An occupational hazard
"We consider sleep to be the foundation of good health," says Vishal Gondal, CEO of California-based fitness technology venture GOQii. He adds that aside from work-related stress and overstimulation, the chief reason for occupational insomnia is erratic work shifts that BPO and KPO employees have.

High-stress occupations that call for extended hours, combined with lack of sleep, can be dangerous. Take the example of Ranjan Das, CEO and MD of SAP for the Indian subcontinent, who died in 2009, after suffering a massive cardiac arrest following a rigorous workout session. A health buff and avid marathoner, Das had been doing everything right, except getting enough sleep. Varun Khurana, an entrepreneur who has been working in startups for 15 years, says, "Sleep is a luxury when you work in a startup. You usually don't work based on hours and some days turn out to be very long."

Companies care too
Not only do burnouts cost you money, but bad decision-making at work can cost the company too. Large corporations are acutely aware of how much employee wellness contributes to productivity. Many of these organisations are therefore deeply invested in encouraging employees to lead healthy lives.

"In 2012, a study revealed that employees getting less than six hours of sleep are predictors of job burnout and are seen having difficulties in detaching from work-related thoughts during leisure," says Rituparna Chakraborty, Co-Founder and Senior Vice-President, TeamLease Services. "To combat burnouts, organizations must understand the source of the problem and implement stress reduction techniques and encourage employees to get some 'me time'," she adds.

Rajgopal Thirumalai, Vice-President, Global Medical & Occupational Health, Unilever, says, "It is a part of our business agenda to take care of the wellbeing of our employees. If they are healthy, they can contribute better to the success of our organisation."

Since the pressures of a rigorous work schedule and hectic travel can wear employees down, Unilever has a work culture based on flexible hours. "We are more driven by the contribution of the employees than the time they spend in office," Thirumalai adds.

"Flexi hours eliminates the pressure of being late, half day deductions and stress of reaching office on time," says Sunil Goel, MD GlobalHunt, an senior executive search firm.

HR at various companies have also observed that employees are more productive when they are allowed to work from home. Telecommuting on need basis is therefore a standard policy at most IT firms. Infosys even offers a fixed nine-day work-from-home option to all its employees per month. "To ensure psychological well-being, we also have a confidential hotline facility, which provides instant access to a trained professional. Also, every development center at Infosys has professional counsellor, peer network counselling and regular workshops on stress management," says Richard Lobo, SVP and Head of HR, Infosys.

"Staying healthy is a culture. If professionals see their colleagues, especially superiors, maintain healthy lifestyles, they too will be inspired to do so," Gondal concludes.

Risking illness and accidents
Your career is not the only thing at risk. Studies have shown that a large portion of traffic accidents around the world are related to inadequate or disordered sleep. According to the International Journal of Preventive Medicine, sleep disorders are linked to reduced efficiency in operating a vehicle.

Sleep deprivation can also cause chronic illnesses and burn a big hole in your pocket. Health insurers do not bear expenses for stress-related psychiatric and psychological disorders. An experienced psychologist or somnologist will charge you Rs 1,000-2,000 per session for a regular visit. Further, having a lifestyle disease can push up your health insurance premium by 10-50%.

The problems don't end here. Have you ever locked yourself out of your home? Or perhaps left the stove or iron on, and caused damages? A lot of oversights that we attribute to inattentiveness are rooted in sleep deprivation. So, make sure you don't lose your sleep.

* Increased response time
* Lack of attentiveness
* Memory lapses
* Impaired cognition
* Increased risk of heart diseas
* High blood pressure
* Risk of Type 2 diabetes
* Depression
* Micro-sleep
* Mood swings/irritability
* Frequent colds
* Tremors and aches
* Weight gain
* Weakened immunity

Choose a fitness regime: Physical exhaustion is very conducive to sleep, as is overall fitness. Select an exercise routine that fits into your schedule, as well as keeps you motivated.

Get rid of distractions: Getting the TV out of your bedroom is a good idea. Avoid browsing the net or logging on to social media just before you go to bed.

Cut out caffeine: Consuming caffeine at night can affect your body's internal clock and push the beginning of your 'biological night' back by several hours. Switch to herbal tea or warm milk.

Invest in a tracker: If you suspect that you are a light sleeper of that your sleep is disturbed, a fitness tracker can give you the answers you need.

Eat right and stay healthy: A balanced diet, and regular exercise can remedy sleep lessness. However, it is wise to seek medical attention if the symptoms persist.

Your insurer can help: You should also take advantage of the wellness programme run by your health insurer, many of whom offer online tools for stress assessment.