We are bombarded with ways to improve ourselves: do more cardio, eat more vegetables, eat only “healthy” fats, try high intensity interval training, eat whole foods or plant-based foods or both. And the list goes on and on. But whether you are a vegan yogi, or a grass-fed-beef cross-fit junkie, there’s one rule that applies to almost all of us:
get more sleep
The world is a demanding place — and we tend to push ourselves to meet those demands, even if it means getting up an hour earlier, multi-tasking throughout the day, working through lunch, and answering emails late at night. Whether you realize it or not, all of the above are missed opportunities to restore ourselves by sleeping, resting, focusing and playing.
In his book “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working,” Tony Schwartz highlights the importance of restoring ourselves. He list many passive and active ways to consider, including sleeping more, taking micro breaks (30-60 seconds), napping, meditating, listening to music, reading, being aerobically active (raising our heart rate), weight lifting, and other strength training such as yoga and pilates.
But the single change that will make the most difference is to get more sleep. Based on countless studies, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Benefits of more sleep? Better thinking, quicker reaction times, and better memory. And the downsides of not sleeping enough? Getting sick more often, being moody, and over-eating.
Convinced yet? Or are you telling yourself that you’re getting by just fine on 5 or 6 hours? If so, you have lots of company: about 40% of Americans sleep less than 7 hours per night (Gallup poll). But if you still think, “I don’t have time for sleep” and “they’re aren’t enough hours in the day,” then keep reading. It might just be the opposite:
there’s nothing more important to your effectiveness
at work than getting enough sleep.
Here are 7 reasons why you want to get more sleep:
- Better thinking: according to the NIH, sleep is essential to help you think clearly, react quickly and form memories. Lack of sleep slows down thinking processes, and makes you more easily confused and less able to focus and pay attention
- Weight maintenance: Lower sleep levels has been linked to lower leptin levels. Leptin is the hormone that signals our body cells to regulate appetite and food intake. In one study of over 10,000 people, those who slept 5 or fewer hours per night were 60% more likely to be obese than those who slept 7 hours or more.
- Increased performance: Sleep deprivation can be very dangerous. Sleep-deprived people who were tested using a driving simulator or performing hand-eye coordination tasks did as badly as, or worse than, people who were intoxicated (NIH). I’m sure we’ve all heard of or experienced sleepiness behind the wheel – it could be fatal. Drowsy driving causes thousands of car crashes each year
- Better immune response: the Mayo Clinic reports: “Studies show that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as a common cold virus.” Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick
- Ability to regulate blood sugar (a risk factor for diabetes). “Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine found that people who slept less than 6 hours a night had more blood sugar complications compared to those who received 8 hours of sleep”
- Learn in your sleep: Schwartz explains that we “process, consolidate, and stabilize memory during sleep.” It’s simple: “if you learn something and then sleep on it, what you’ve learned becomes clearer” (Dr. Joanne Cantor, in Psychology Today).
- Resistance to disease: chronic sleep deprivation, very common with shift workers, can reduce melatonin levels. Melatonin is naturally produced by the body, with levels increasing a few hours before your natural sleep cycle, remaining high at night, decreasing in the morning and remaining low during the day. Some believe that melatonin is an important contributor to limiting tumor growth and combatting cancerous cells.
So, if you’re interested in getting more sleep because you want to stay healthy, think better, or just be more effective at work, here are some practical suggestions to get you going:
- Figure out how much sleep you currently get (create a sleep log or use a device like an Apple Watch or Fitbit). Then make your target ONE HOUR MORE per night
- Calculate what time you need to be asleep by in order to get your extra hour
- Turn off all screens 30 minutes before your “fall asleep time”; screens can limit our ability to emotionally disconnect from the world, and exposure to blue light screens can suppress melatonin that helps induce sleep.
- For up to 25 minutes, wind down by reading something relaxing — not your business brief or the news of the day
- Keep your bedroom cool and dark
- Five minutes before your chosen sleep time, do a 5-minute meditation using a sleep app (there are several mediation apps that all have guided mediations) or try Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing method — a natural tranquilizer for the body.
If you’re up for the challenge, start tonight. And if you’re trying it even though you’re unconvinced, then consider keeping a short journal noting how sleepy you felt when you woke up, when you felt drowsy during the day, and how alert and engaged you felt at 3 to 4 different times during the day. Get one extra hour of sleep a night for 2 weeks and see if you feel any different. My guess is that you’ll feel more rested, alert and engaged.
Once we’ve mastered sleeping more, then there is more — from food, to other rest and recovery. But let’s take it one change at a time.