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The link between REM sleep and your productivity

How does REM sleep affect your productivity

REM ‘Rapid Eye Movement’ sleep is part of our sleep cycle that accounts for most dreams. After falling asleep at night, you fall into a deeper and deeper sleep, until after around 90 minutes, at which stage you enter REM sleep. After this, the sleep cycle starts again, with you falling into a deeper and deeper sleep, then entering REM for the second time and so on, so forth.

It is widely accepted that REM sleep is the state at which the body and mind relax, revitalising you for the next day, improving mood and memory. In an average night’s sleep, you will enter the REM sleep stage around 4 times, with the total time spent in REM sleep being around 2 hours. This means that in a whole night’s sleep, you are only in the important REM stage of the sleep cycle 20% of the time!

Have you ever had a nap, and woken up feeling worse than you did when you drifted off and then end up wishing you hadn’t had a nap in the first place?

This is because you’ve interrupted your sleep cycle, waking up out of deep sleep without reaching the REM stage, or from within the REM stage. You can combat this by ensuring that when you nap, you wake up from light sleep, without letting yourself fall into deep sleep. This means napping for approximately 10-30 minutes.

So, how does this relate to productivity?

You do, of course, need a good night’s sleep to be productive and to focus, but there’s more to it than that.

There’s a state called 'flow'. It’s also known as ‘being in the zone’. This is the state where you feel completely engaged in your task. Time flies as you are absorbed by your work or activity, and you feel relaxed but challenged. If there’s too much to do, this becomes anxiety. If there’s not enough to do, you get bored. Right in the middle is the 'flow'. This is the state you want to be in, to maximise your focus and productivity.

But there’s a problem...

Interruptions are often frequent at work and at home, with family members or colleagues coming over to chat, or emails coming in, distracting you from your task. Nearly everyone in the workplace experiences unnecessary interruptions at least a few times a day, and we often brush this off as a necessary part of life.

How does this link to REM Sleep?

Like REM sleep, entering the state of flow, or ‘getting in the zone’ takes a while, it does not happen immediately. This means that if you are working, and you get interrupted, like waking up during or soon before REM sleep, you have to start the cycle again, and slowly work towards getting back ‘in the zone’. This will impact the quality of your work, ability to concentrate, and your productivity.

So, what can you do?

Disable automatic ‘send and receive’ on your emails. Discuss REM sleep and Flow with colleagues. Choose and communicate times at which you need to work uninterrupted. Be aware that when someone comes over for a chat, it can reduce your productivity, and have a go-to phrase e.g. "I’m in the middle of something right now, can we talk at 12?".

iHASCOs online courses can be stopped and returned to at any time if you can’t avoid an interruption. Our Stress Awareness course gives fantastic tips on how to manage a busy life and a busy mind, and we are releasing a Time Management course in the spring!