Think Smarter, Play Harder, Be Better: Sleep

Are you getting enough sleep? How long have you been getting less than your optimal amount of sleep and blaming it on being busy? Do you think your performance isn’t effected by your lack of sleep?

On the whole, people in the America today don’t get enough sleep. Dr. Daniel Amen, author of Making a Good Brain Great, notes the hours for an average night’s sleep have plummeted. At the turn of the 20th century, Americans got 9 hours of sleep, on average. In 1975, they averaged 7 and a half. By 2008, an average night’s sleep plunged to 6 hours!

P1000930

Do you fall into the “go to bed late and get up early” category? Or do you toss and turn all night wishing the morning would come? Perhaps you prefer to squeeze out every last bit of shuteye by slapping the snooze button a time or three. Maybe you just wish you could get more sleep. Regardless, I’ve got news for you.

Why Sleep Matters

The amount of sleep you get has a profound impact on your performance at work, at home, even on the road. If we’re honest, some of us haven’t seen our best performance in quite a while.

When I began to train people on the effects sleep has on performance, I found some very compelling reasons to value my sleep. People who don’t get enough sleep:

  • experience compromised judgement
  • have decreased blood flow to their brain
  • show a decrease in productivity
  • have trouble thinking clearly throughout the day
  • have trouble with memory and concentration
  • have lower grades in school
  • don’t manage stress and emotions very well
  • have an increased likelihood of depression
  • are at increased risk for driving accidents
  • have a weakened immune system

To help us all perform better in our work and play, here are 4 practices for better sleep health.

1. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.

For a while, I fought this one. But, now that my body has gotten into a routine, it throws me off to sleep in too much. Mainly, keeping a sleep schedule helps to regulate chemicals in our bodies, like adenosine, which causes drowsiness by building up in our blood throughout the day. It tells us when we’re tired.

When we try to compensate with caffeine, the caffeine masks the build up of adenosine and increases our bodies’ stress levels. Bottom line, keep to a schedule. Your brain, body and boss will thank you.

2. Exercise for at least 30 minutes per day.

We all know exercise is good for us. It helps us physically, of course. But, it also is beneficial for our mental and emotional health. People who exercise report better sleep and feeling more rested than those who don’t, according to an article in USA Today.

In the 2013 Sleep in America Poll, 83% of people who took part in vigorous exercise reported better sleep quality, compared to 56% of non-exercisers. Recent findings indicate that contrary to popular opinion, exercising close to bedtime may not affect sleep for most people. It seems getting the exercise, whenever you get it, is what matters most.

3. Limit substances.

Alcohol disrupts sleep, often waking you in the night. Even half the legal intoxication limit makes a difference. Research suggests limiting alcohol within 6 hours of bedtime. Caffeine and nicotine intake should be avoided up to 6 hours before bedtime also.

So, if your late night hours include a cigarette, cup of coffee and a horror film, I’d suggest you reconsider. Personally, in recent years, I’ve noticed that I’m fairly sensitive to caffeine after dinner. My mind struggles to slow down when it’s time for bed.

4. Develop a bedtime routine.

This practice can have a huge impact. In some ways, it’s behavioral conditioning. You probably already have a routine. Does this routine help you to slow down, relax and prepare for bed? If not, perhaps your routine needs to be refined.

I’d recommend starting the wind-down process at least an hour from when you’d like to be asleep. Turn down the lights, avoid social media, read a mellow or boring book, take a bath, turn on soft music or nature sounds, get a massage – all good suggestions. A self-awareness activity is to write down your current routine. Then think about what you’d like your routine to be. Move towards that.

You may not choose to track your sleep closely, but placing more value on sleep will not go unrewarded. Studies show that we are terrible at identifying the long-term performance impacts from lack of sleep. We think we adjust and rebound, but in reality, performance continues to suffer.

I’ve been tracking my sleep much more closely lately. Fitness and sleep monitors are fantastic tools. I can look back and identify when I was dragging, lacking focus or irritable. It’s mirrored in the amount and quality of my sleep.

Give these suggestions a try for yourself. Investigate and see what more sleep would make possible for you. And of course, sweet dreams…

 

Question: What is keeping you from getting more sleep and what can you do about it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. 

Links:

 

Please note: I encourage reader discussion, however, I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.