Written by Rebecca Faith

Neglecting your workforce is the second roadblock given in the initial article of this series on productivity. An independent contractor is a workforce of one. To operate productively, we must take care of ourselves by tending to the Big Three—sleep, exercise, and diet.


Some successful people claim to sleep only four to six hours each night. But Dr. Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley, in his highly entertaining book, Why We Sleep, says concentration “buckles under even the smallest dose of sleep deprivation,” and habitually getting less sleep than our body needs is worse for performance than showing up for work drunk.[1] Showing up at our home-office desk with too little sleep in the bank sabotages our efforts from the get-go.

Does sleep or the lack thereof affect productivity? In 2003, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania studied the cognitive abilities and effects of sleep on forty-eight volunteers. These were divided into three groups: one group slept for eight hours, one group for six hours, and a third group for four hours per night. Each group was monitored in the laboratory for fourteen consecutive days. Data showed that participants who got only four or six hours of sleep per night over the two weeks were neurobiologically and cognitively impaired to the same degree as if they had been awake for forty-eight hours. Furthermore, the participants were oblivious to their increasing cognitive impairment. Drunks don’t realize how impaired they are, and apparently neither do we when we haven’t had enough sleep. “Claims that humans adapt to chronic sleep restriction within a few days … are not supported by the present findings. Since chronic restriction of sleep between 4 h and 6 h per night for 14 days produced cognitive performance deficits comparable to those found under conditions of 1 to 2 days of total sleep deprivation, it appears that [sustained] moderate sleep restriction … can seriously impair waking neurobehavioral functions in healthy young adults.”[2]


I started exercising because I couldn’t zip my jeans anymore, but it was some time after I could wear the jeans again that I realized I felt better and was sleeping better. I wasn’t plagued by aches and pains. I could sit at my desk for longer periods of time and my back no longer throbbed. Even my wrists became stronger, and “mouse” pain disappeared. My body was pleasantly tired following a gym workout, but my mind was clear and alert. My concentration and overall stamina improved.

My nonscientific findings corroborate studies of workplace exercise programs intended to improve health, health care costs, and workplace performance. Besides the expected improvements in heart and lung fitness, strength, and balance control, one study also documented reduced neck pain among computer workers and increased workplace productivity as muscle strength improved and body mass index decreased.[3]


The stronger I got at the gym, the hungrier I got. My trainer explained that my body was craving the fuel necessary to get stronger. With his help I learned to increase the amount of protein and carbs to fuel my workouts so I could continue to get stronger. As I modified my diet to accommodate my workouts, I had the energy to work out harder; the more I exercised, the sounder I slept; the stronger I got and the better I slept, the more my stamina and work focus improved. It was a triple win!

A corroborating study by health science professor Ray Merrill found that employees with unhealthy habits of diet and exercise caused much higher levels of lost workplace productivity.[4]

We can’t perform well if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. Are you struggling to accomplish your work? Are you often distracted and unfocused or drinking too much caffeine? Do you suffer with body aches? Do you take too many breaks and end up working into the evening just to stay caught up? Try making some changes in what you eat, how much you move, and how long you sleep.

To paraphrase Sir Richard Branson, if you take better care of yourself, you will take better care of your clients.

Rebecca began editing engineering papers in 2010 through a providential set of circumstances that taught her to never underestimate what God can do. Although she still edits for the engineering client, she also edits nonfiction Christian material for individual clients, an independent publisher, the Truth For Life radio ministry, and a wide variety of nonfiction topics for university presses, PhD students, a laboratory press, and independent authors.

Rebecca lives in northeast Ohio and is active in her church and rural community. You can contact her at rebecca@faitheditorial.com.

[1] Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams (New York: Scribner, 2017), 135, 137.

[2] Hans P. A. Van Dongen, Greg Maislin, Janet M. Mullington, and David F.  Dinges, “The Cumulative Cost of Additional Wakefulness: Dose-Response Effects on Neurobehavioral Functions and Sleep Physiology from Chronic Sleep Restriction and Total Sleep Deprivation,” Sleep 26, no. 2 (2003): 117–126. doi: 10.1093/sleep/26.2.117.

[3] Gisela Sjøgaard, et al., “Exercise Is More Than Medicine: The Working Age Population’s Well-being and Productivity,” Journal of Sport and Health Science 5 (2016): 159–165.

[4] Ray M. Merrill, et al., “Presenteeism According to Healthy Behaviors, Physical Health, and Work Environment,” Population Health Management 15, no. 5 (Oct. 2012): https://doi.org/10.1089/pop.2012.0003.