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Our Infidelity with Sleep and How It Affects Our Mental Health

Death by a Thousand Cuts of Your Mental Health and Career

Matthew Berg |Founder at Somni

This article was originally published on Mind Share Partners' "Mental Health at Work" section on Thrive Global.

We hate when people cheat on tests, cringe at the thought of being cheated on by a lover, and nothing frustrates us more than when a person cheats to get ahead in their career. Yet, we don’t think twice when cheating on our greatest confidant, our most loyal caregiver—sleep.

Unfortunately, the peddling of the empty advice to ‘sleep when you’re dead’ of our culture couldn’t be more dangerous to our mental health and careers.

The Gifts of Sleep

If you haven’t heard the news yet, sleep is nothing short of a miracle drug—and one miraculously without side effects.

Sleep helps regulate emotions, protects against stress, increases learning and decision-making ability, strengthens our social relationships, boosts creativity, improves fertility, regulates weight, balances the gut microbiome, fights diseases and more.

And what does sleep ask in return for these amazing benefits? As any devoted relationship, just some good ole’ quality time.

The True Cost of Life Without Adequate Sleep

Unfortunately, the cost of not sleeping all too often outweighs the reward of whatever stole its place. Especially, because of the toll, it takes on our mental health and ability to function at work.

Why? Because chronic sleep deprivation—routinely sleeping less than 6-7 hours per night—is tightly correlated to:

And that’s just the beginning. Our mind and body continue to unravel the more you put sleep to the wayside, and after passing the 17-hour mark without sleep, nearly every cognitive and physiological process starts to degrade.

All this can hinder performance at work, destroy relationships, sabotage health and eventually lead to severe mental health conditions if not corrected.

Compounding, Sleep, and Your Career

If your work or your sense of work is important to you, then you most likely spend time striving to be good, great, and maybe even world class at whatever you do. You probably do this by way of trying to learn, read, practice, create, develop relationships, etc., all with the intent it will help you get better at whatever thing you do.

Yet so often we sabotage our own success by not taking care of the most fundamental building block towards it—our sleep.

Poor sleep and insomnia are associated with lower productivity, performance, and safety (work accidents).

We’ll trade precious and productive sleep for sending one more email, a poorly timed early workout, hitting one more bar after leaving the show, browsing for that last hour on our Instagram feed, spending just a bit longer on our project—all in our misguided effort to “make the most” of the day.

In our effort to do more we actually do less—how perfect the irony.

Our Choices

All things considered, it’s hard to find a reason why we’d trade anything for sleep and how we make any significant forward progress in our lives without putting sleep as top priority gets even more unclear.

If you continually sacrifice sleep the question isn’t if you’ll pay the price—it’s when. And the cost will come at the expense of your relationships, your body, and your mental health.

So next time you decide between a healthy amount of sleep and something else, perhaps try something different—try being faithful to your relationship with sleep. Don’t cheat on it. Honor it, and prioritize it.

Maybe actually choosing that extra bit of sleep, over time, compounds to provide us the meaningful edge and improvements we so desire in our work, relationships and life.

Ready to Make a Change? Let’s Do Something About It

If you ever feel yourself in or headed towards a downward spiral with your sleep, there’s good news—you can correct it. I’ve learned how to improve sleep through the work my company, Somni, does. 

Here are a few things you can do immediately to protect your mental and physical health.

Get 20 More Minutes: Looking for a quick win in the right direction? Just get 20 more minutes each night. This small habit change compounds quickly into a sizable ‘sleep snowball’. If you sleep 20 minutes more each night it’s an extra 2.5 hours per week or 5 days per year. So hop into bed early or sleep in a little bit later.

Be Consistent: The hormonal rhythms of the brain and body follow the schedule of a finely tuned clock. So try getting consistent sleep the next three nights in a row—as in go to bed at the same time each night. This will allow your body to buffer stress better.

Get a Routine: Give yourself at least 45 min before bed to prepare for sleep. Get your mind and environment right to get deep restorative sleep. 

Reminder—you are human, not a machine that can be turned off with a simple click of a button. 


Matthew Berg is the founder at Somni - a company working to improve sleep for better health. Somni makes sleep health programs that include coaching, education packs, products and sleep tracking for individuals or organizations. Matt helped found Somni after a personal crisis with sleep. He is a 2012 graduate of the University of Notre Dame.



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