The Shriver Report – 5 Tips to Get a Better Night’s Sleep

Special Edition

5 Tips to Get a Better Night’s Sleep


Why skipping sleep isn’t worth it

When you’re trying to squeeze a little extra productivity out of your day, do you sacrifice sleep? If you forgo sleep in favor of getting more done you’re not alone. As tempting as it may be to stretch the length of your day by limiting your sleep, this practice can actually be detrimental to your productivity, your focus and attention, your emotional well-being, and your overall health. What’s more, while insufficient sleep isn’t healthy for anyone, research suggests that women face particular health risks from not sleeping enough.

Sleep loss diminishes cognitive function. While burning the midnight oil or rising before dawn will give you more waking hours, your performance will likely suffer. You’re likely to be less productive and less focused, less intellectually agile, and less capable of retaining new information. That’s because sleep plays a critical role in learning and memory formation, problem solving, and attention span. Think you can go light on sleep during the week and make it up on the weekend? Not so fast. Research suggests that recovery sleep doesn’t truly restore what’s been lost during a sleep-deprived week, particularly when it comes to attention and focus.

Sleep deficiency undermines mental and emotional balance. Sleep deprivation causes changes to brain function that upsets our emotional equilibrium. Research indicates that lack of sleep hinders our ability to process negative emotions and be more reactive to negative stimuli. Our judgment and decision-making abilities are also compromised. Insufficient sleep is strongly linked to elevated risks for depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.

Poor sleep increases risks for chronic disease. The physical health risks from poor and insufficient sleep are wide ranging and can be serious. Lack of sleep undermines healthy immune function, making our bodies less able to fight illness and disease. Poor sleep is strongly associated with weight gain, and with increased risks for metabolic diseases including type 2 diabetes. Sleep deprivation is also linked to cardiovascular diseases, including high blood pressure and an elevated risk of heart attack and stroke. Studies have shown that women may be particularly vulnerable to sleep-related cardiovascular problems. And a growing body of research indicates that poor and disrupted sleep may play a role in the risks for some cancers.

Sleep can offer powerful protective benefits to health, physical and mental. In order to fully reap these benefits you must get sufficient sleep on a regular basis. How much sleep is enough? Most us need somewhere between 7-9 hours of sleep per night in order to function at our best cognitively and emotionally, to have sufficient energy for the demands of our waking hours, and to protect our health. If getting this much sleep on a regular basis sounds like a pipedream, think again. There are a number of simple steps you can take to improve the quality of your sleep and ensure you’re getting enough sleep on a regular basis. These are all changes you can make right now, to improve your sleep tonight:

1) Know your bedtime—and prepare for it. Regular bedtimes aren’t just for kids. Unfortunately, as adults, we often lose track of setting a bedtime, and with it we lose the routine and security that a consistent sleep schedule can provide. To create a realistic bedtime, start with an honest assessment of the time you need to get up in the morning (without hitting the snooze button!). Work back 7.5 hours to allow for five 90 minute sleep cycles, the average amount most people should have each night.  This is your bedtime.  Now go back another hour—and set an alarm to remind you that it’s time for you to begin preparing for bed. This “power-down” hour is crucial to relaxing your mind and body in preparation for sleep. It can be a time of gradual slowing down, taking care of last minute preparations for the next day, a time to stash away your phone, turn off your computer, dim the lights and quiet your thoughts in anticipation of a night of rest.  If you wake up before your morning alarm, you’ve found your bedtime.  If not, you may find you need to adjust the timing back in 15 minute increments before you hit upon the right schedule for yourself, and in the process you’ll learn how much sleep is right for you.

2) Limit alcohol. Drinking too close to bedtime can be disruptive to sleep. A couple of glasses of wine in the evening may make you feel sleepy and relaxed, but alcohol in the system overnight leads to a more shallow, reduced-quality sleep, with more frequent waking and less time spent in the deepest and most restorative stages of sleep. Studies indicate that women may experience more strongly the sleep-disruptive effects of alcohol.  To avoid having alcohol interfere with sleep, keep consumption moderate and don’t drink within 3 hours of your bedtime.

3) Make your bed. Creating a comfortable sleep environment can make a big difference in how much and how well you sleep. Making your bed in the morning, changing linens regularly, keeping your bedroom clean, and regulating the temperature so your sleeping space remains cool all contribute to an environment that is both inviting and sleep friendly. Among the most important aspects of your sleep environment? Darkness. Use shades or curtains to block unwanted light and give your body the dark it needs for sleep.

4) Keep electronics out of the bedroom. This is another important way to avoid sleep-disruptive artificial light. Too much exposure to light in the evening can throw off your body’s natural sleep cycle, diminishing both quality and quantity of sleep. Use your power-down hour to step away from the gadgets and screens. Keeping your bedroom free of electronics—including TV—will help ensure you’re not exposed to stimulating, sleep-preventing artificial light.

5) Get some sun. While nighttime exposure to light is detrimental to sleep, daylight exposure early in the day is a great boost for sleep. Taking in light in the morning strengthens circadian rhythms, boosts daytime alertness and reduces daytime fatigue. Research indicates daylight exposure also may increase the amount of time you spend asleep at night. Whether it’s getting out in the direct sunlight for a morning walk, or working with access to window light, this is one simple, powerful way to enhance your nighttime rest.

Don’t ignore your sleep. Creating time and space for sufficient, high-quality sleep is a critical investment in your productivity and your performance, in your health and your well-being, now and over the long-term.

Sweet Dreams.

Dr. Michael J. Breus is a Reporter for The Shriver Report.
Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., is a Clinical Psychologist and both a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine. With a specialty in Sleep Disorders, Dr. Breus is one of only 163 psychologists in the world with his credentials and distinction. Dr. Breus is the author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep (Rodale Books; May 2011), a groundbreaking book discussing the science and relationship between quality sleep and metabolism. His first book, GOOD NIGHT: The Sleep Doctor’s 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health (Dutton/Penguin), an Amazon Top 100 Best Seller, has been met with rave reviews and continues to change the lives of readers. It is now available in paperback as BEAUTY SLEEP: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep. Dr. Breus is also the creator of The Dr. Breus Bed®, the first and only mattress collection ever designed by a sleep specialist.
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