Sleep. We all know we need it. We all try to get enough of it. But according to Arianne Huffington’s latest book, The Sleep Revolution, most of us are not getting nearly enough of it. And even when we do get enough, the quality of our sleep is poor, leading to chronic exhaustion, unhappiness and lost productivity.
When we are tired, our entire day can feel like a long slog to quitting time, rather than a sprint to excellence. This mentality often means we do not bring our “A” game to work. Completing tasks is harder. Talking to coworkers is harder. Thinking is harder. While stimulants like caffeine can help overcome some level of exhaustion, they cannot replace that fresh-eyed feeling that a good night’s rest brings. Ms. Huffington argues that $63 billion is lost each year in the U.S. economy due to sleep deprivation, which works out to somewhere around $2,280 per worker. This is a sobering statistic. While some of this loss is due to absenteeism, much of it is simply lost productivity because we are too tired to work at the level at which we are capable.
Ms. Huffington is a staunch advocate for dealing with this problem, not only to correct this large economic loss, but also to help each of us perform – and feel – better every single day. I know I am a better employee, wife, friend, and family member, and I am a happier person, when I am well rested. Further, my day feels energizing instead of just draining and difficult. Also, I feel like I can perform my daily functions to the absolute best of my ability and, therefore, be the best government leader in my professional pursuits.
Knowing sleep is extremely important to our well-being, how do you go about getting more and better quality sleep? I used to be one of those constantly sleep deprived people, but I changed my habits and generally get at least 8 hours of sleep a night (and often times 9 hours, which is what I really need). Here are some practical solutions that have helped me prioritize and best utilize those 7-9 hours a night:
- First and foremost, figure out how much sleep you really need. Ms. Huffington addresses this extensively in her book. She suggests that you allow yourself to go to sleep as long as you need to wake up naturally to determine your total sleep need. From a practical perspective, think about times where you have had nowhere to be in the morning, maybe when you were on vacation. How many hours did you sleep? You could also try this technique out on a weekend, allowing yourself to wake without an alarm clock. Knowing where in the 7-9 hour spectrum you fit is key to understanding the scope of the sleep-deprivation problem you are dealing with.
- Make sure your bedroom is ready. Before addressing quality issues, make sure your bedroom is a pleasant, comfy place to sleep. Experts suggest keeping your bedroom cool, between 65 and 68 degrees, so be sure to adjust your thermostat. Block out ambient noise with earplugs or a sound machine (I have used a sound machine for years, and it works wonders). Kick your devices out of your bedroom (more on that below). Put up room darkening curtains or use an eye mask to keep the room dark. Buy comfy bedding and a good mattress. By preparing your room for its main purpose, you are halfway to successful rest.
- Prepare for bedtime just like you would for a meeting by creating an evening ritual. Creating a set of activities that you do every night, with limited exceptions, tells your brain it is time to settle in and prepare to sleep. Some people use a nightly hygiene ritual, a ritual to close up the house, or a ritual to prep for the morning. Others read in bed for a certain length of time or spend time debriefing the day with a significant other. Whatever your sleep prep plan, make sure you stick to it as much as possible to help your brain prepare for bedtime each night.
- Turn off your electronic devices and leave them outside of your bedroom. Experts suggest turning off electronic devices 30 to 60 minutes before you plan to fall asleep to allow your brain to wind down appropriately. While it is tempting to check that one last email before you fall asleep, or to check social media first thing in the morning, avoiding this will improve the quality of your sleep. If you currently use your phone as an alarm clock, go out and buy a simple alarm clock to use instead. I find that by leaving my charger in another room of the house, I am not even tempted to bring my phone to bed with me. While it may be hard to adhere to these rules at first, it will become natural, and even necessary, over time.
- Schedule your sleep. Just like anything else important in your life, schedule time for sleeping. If you have to start your day earlier than usual, protect the night before on your calendar to be sure you can go to bed at the appropriate time to get your necessary hours of shut eye. It may be helpful for you to have a daily calendar reminder or set an alarm to remind you it is time to wind down for the evening. There are online sleep calculators and apps to help you determine a bedtime based on when you need to wake up; use one to make sure you are in bed at the appropriate time. Whatever your methodology, scheduling your rest means you will almost always get it.
- Seek professional help when necessary. There are a number of sleep disorders for which it is necessary to seek help. Sleep apnea, chronic insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and other conditions can make it nearly impossible to get a good night’s rest despite extensive planning. If you think you have any of these conditions, see a doctor A.S.A.P. Your health is too important to put off seeking treatment.
Working to improve the length of time you sleep as well as the quality of your sleep will positively impact your life and is worth the investment. Sweet dreams!
This article is written by Elizabeth Fischer Laurie.