About 3% of the population makes up what scientists call short sleepers. They are a rare group who sleep only three hours a night before hitting the gym. They are resourceful and successful, and they thrive on little sleep. But odds are you’re part of the larger whopping 52% of Americans who say work stress interferes with sleep. And if you’re not getting enough, that can spell trouble. A long-term sleep study shows that people who sleep less than six hours at night have a decline in brain function equivalent to aging four to seven years.
Getting More Shut Eye
Sleep is restorative. When you don’t doze enough, sleep deprivation lowers your resistance to stress and harms your brain. Research shows that lack of sleep interferes with memory and learning. Your brain moves slower. You’re more forgetful. Your attention is short-circuited, and you’re grumpier. Plus, you’re more likely to nod off at your desk. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that these situations derail career success. Studies also show that if you don’t get enough sleep, you’re at greater risk of heart attack or stroke, and your risk of death from heart disease more than doubles. Lack of sleep is linked to depression, impaired immune system function, weight gain, hypertension, and Type 2 diabetes.
The Road To The Land Of Nod
Why fight sleep? If your mind is still wide awake long after your body has called it quits, there are steps you can take to get to the land of nod. Before you hit the hay, try some of these changes to your routines so you can catch more z’s:
- Go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time to keep your body regulated and to make it easier to fall asleep.
- Make sure your bedroom is cozy, inviting, and well ventilated. Before you start counting sheep, block out any light to create a dark room.
- Use your bed exclusively for sleep and sex, not for arguing or watching disturbing television news stories or movies, and go to bed only when you’re sleepy. When you think of your bed and sleeping, you want to have positive associations.
- Avoid bedtime when your mind is racing with worry. Try not to over stimulate your brain by overthinking a project or trying to solve a problem at work. Wait until you’ve calmed your mind with meditation or a cup of chamomile tea before you tuck yourself in.
- Avoid working on electronic devices an hour before going to bed or while you’re in bed. A National Sleep Foundation study showed that the glow from electronic devices suppresses melatonin and interferes with falling and staying asleep.
- Avoid late-night meals. Eating late meals, especially heavy foods that are hard to digest, can keep you from nodding off.
- Reduce alcohol intake. If you drink alcohol, you might have noticed that it acts as a sedative at first, but when you consume too much, you might awaken in the middle of the night unable to go back to sleep. Prolonged dependency and addiction to alcohol disrupts sleep and contributes to insomnia.
- Limit nicotine and caffeine. Lighting up and gulping down too much java, tea, or energy drinks can keep you up at night. Stimulants reeve up your body when your goal is to calm it down.
- Put a time limit on naps. Napping for too long during the day can interfere with your nighttime sleep. If you do take naps, limit them to thirty minutes and take them earlier than later in the day.
- Exercise early in the day or three to four hours before bedtime so you can fall asleep faster and sleep through the night. Working out too close to bedtime can re-energize and give you a second wind, making you feel as if you’re ready to embrace the day.
Each night before bedtime, take a chill pill (such as meditation, listening to soft music, or reading an inspirational book) instead of a sleeping pill to relax your mind. As you put your mind at ease, your sleep—in the words of William Shakespeare—will mend your raveled sleeve. You’ll saw more logs than a lumberjack, take your job off life support, and give your career the oxygen it needs to thrive.