January 7, 2013

Go to Bed

Look around your office.  How many co-workers would you guess need more sleep?  How many would have a better mood or more positive approach to projects (or even basic human interaction) if they got more sleep?  My guess is 90%, because let's face it: at least 10% of coworkers are simply ornery all the time. The US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention say that than more than 35% of Americans do not get enough sleep for optimum health and productivity.

Again and again, sleep experts note that there is no "magic number" when it comes to how many hours one needs per night.  Both quality of sleep and sleep debt are significant factors in the amount of shut-eye that each person needs. That said, there are serious benefits to be had from upping your hours each night: improved memory, weight management, better judgement, less anxiety, even a longer life! If you don't believe me, take it from Bob Pozen of Brookings Institution, Harvard Business School, Harvard Law School and MFS Investment Management fame.  He just published a book called "Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Improve Your Hours" and recently spoke about the importance of sleep, napping and productivity on MSNBC's Morning Joe.

If you're like me, you probably roll your eyes at "better sleep tips".  I follow a nighttime routine, my bed is pretty darn comfortable, I keep the bedroom a little cool and I don't sleep with my significant other iPhone anymore.  Done.  But here are some things I never considered before:

1. Go to sleep when you're truly tired.  If you find yourself lying awake thinking about work, kids, tomorrow's to-do list or the latest Homeland episode, you should get up (and out) of bed.  While this is certainly no time for Jazzercise, there are plenty of relaxing things you can do to ease into the night without tossing, turning and generally feeling pitiful about how wide awake you are.  Read a book, do a crossword, take a bath, even take the dog on short walk... all of these will make you feel better before crawling into bed.  Caveat: keep the screens off!  Once you open up your laptop and see that e-mail icon, it's all over.

2. Avoid alcohol.  That glass of wine will actually NOT help you sleep.  In fact, chances are that it will rudely awaken you a couple hours later.  Don't be fooled by the seduction of a nightcap as seen in old movies!

3. No big meals.  I know, I know. There is really nothing better than eating a huge feast and then passing out on the sofa to watch football.  However, if you really want to improve your sleep habits, you'll stop eating so late and stop eating so much.  Once again, the French have it right when they designate lunch as the biggest meal of the day.  Big meals force your body to spend energy digesting, not relaxing.  Give yourself three or four hours after mealtimes before hitting the sack.

Check out Harvard's Get Sleep program or the National Sleep Foundation if you want to learn more about becoming a better sleeper.

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