In our fast-paced, driven culture, where the competition is fierce, and many of us work long hours only to come home and run our kids to soccer and ballet and Tae Kwon Do, and somehow, someway, get dinner on the table, then help our kids with homework, after which we finish the day with laundry, dishes, and our own “homework” that we didn’t have time to finish at work, it’s no wonder that most of America is sleep deprived and places sleep last on the list of priorities.  “There isn’t enough time for a good night’s sleep,” we protest.  But, here’s the thing.  The consequences of consistent and chronic lack of sleep are too dire to ignore, and too serious not to put forth every effort to make it a priority in your life again.

Chronic sleep deprivation is responsible, directly and indirectly, for obesity, heart disease, lowered immune function, memory loss, lowered learning ability, fatal accidents, depression, suicide, risky behavior, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and kidney disease.  On a short-term basis, sleep deprivation can cause problems with learning, focusing, and reacting.  You may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, remembering things, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change.  You may take longer to finish tasks, have a slower reaction time, and make more mistakes. So, while our business world is set up to reward those who ‘put in the long hours’, in actuality, the ones who go home and get some rest are more productive and better able to make sound judgments and decisions.

You may be wondering, “How much sleep is enough?  And how do I know if I am getting enough sleep?” On average, adults need 8 hours of sleep, but some operate optimally with only 7, while others need 9.  It varies from person to person.  One way to check if you are sleep deprived is to keep a sleep diary.  Here is a link to a great sample diary, as well as more in depth information about sleep and sleep deprivation:  http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/sleep/healthy_sleep.pdf.

A quick note about napping and sleeping ‘extra’ on the weekends:  Napping is wonderful, and if you can manage a half hour to an hour nap in the middle of the day, you will wake up with the freshness of morning.  Your quality of work will improve and you will be more productive, not to mention in a better, brighter mood for the latter half of your day.  But, a nap does not replace lost sleep from the night before.  There are specific things your body and brain get from the continuous sleep and corresponding sleep cycles that do not occur during a short nap.  As for sleeping extra, this also does not make up for lost sleep and can, in fact, exacerbate sleep deprivation because regular sleep/wake times are an important component to your body’s ability to get a good night sleep on a regular basis.

The following are some simple steps to help you sleep better:

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule.  Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.  Also, try to keep the same sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends. Limit the difference to no more than about an hour. Staying up late and sleeping in late on weekends can disrupt your body clock’s sleep–wake rhythm.
  • The hour before bed time should be quiet and relaxing.   Avoid bright artificial light, such as from a TV or computer screen, which may signal the brain that it’s time to be awake.
  • Avoid heavy and/or large meals within a couple hours of bedtime. (A light snack is fine.)
  • Avoid nicotine, caffeine, sugar and alcohol before bed.
  • Exercise daily and spend time outside if possible. (Try not to exercise after dinner, as it might keep you awake.)
  • Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.  Your bedroom should be designed as your sleep sanctuary.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day.  If dehydrated, your body will respond as though it’s in stress, and stress hormones are “awakening” hormones.
  • Do something relaxing before bed.  Adopt some relaxation techniques, meditate, or take a hot bath, for example.