Six Ways to Improve Your Sleep for Better Results
Life can be demanding. Whether you’re running a small business, managing a team, or launching a new project, you’ve probably found yourself working late into the night from time to time. Maybe you’ve even struggled to sleep due to the stresses of the day or the things still running through your mind as you climb into bed.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. More than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis.
Yet in order to show up at our best each day, science shows that we need seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Getting less than this can affect your health. It can also affect your mood and your brain’s ability to function.
In fact, the longer you go without the sleep you need, the more these harmful effects add up.
All of this of course impacts how you show up at work, for your clients, for your loved ones – and your own day-to-day experience of life.
So it truly pays to make sleep a priority every night of the week, even if you need to cut back on your work or play time to do so.
Read on for what science has to say about sleep, why it’s important to make it a priority now and how to make sure you get the restful sleep you need to be at your best.
Let’s Talk About Sleep
Sleep is an important and somewhat mysterious part of each of our lives, and it’s not the passive state it may appear to be. Sleep is an active state during which important processing and restoration occurs. Some functions of our body and our mind are even more active when we’re sleeping than when we’re awake, busy doing important maintenance for our health.
When you sleep, your brain incorporates the information you’ve taken in during the day. It creates and stores new memories. Recent studies also show it clears toxins that have built up in our brain while we were awake. These toxins could otherwise lead to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
The rest of our body also gets important repair and integration when we sleep. Our immune system gets strengthened, our nerve cells and tissues get renewed and repaired, and hormones are synthesized. When we get enough rest, we wake up feeling restored, energized and ready for a new day.
The Sleep Research Society says that sleep influences nearly all of our body’s critical processes: at a cellular, physiological and even neuro-behavioral level. So making sure we get enough sleep is not only essential to our health but also to our focus, productivity and enjoyment of the day.
Why Make Sleep a Priority?
Perhaps the most obvious benefit from getting enough sleep is energy. When you get a good night’s sleep, your body is more energized and resilient. Your mind is more alert. You’re able to learn more quickly and your memory is better, too. Your judgment is more likely to be accurate, and your reaction time is even improved.
On the other hand, if you don’t get enough sleep, it can affect your mood along with your ability to think clearly and to function at your best. So your productivity and your creativity aren’t at their optimal, either. This can mean that you’re less responsive to customers, team members and loved ones, and less effective as a leader. You’re also more likely to make mistakes or even to have accidents.
Over time, not getting enough sleep can also have serious consequences to your physical health. High blood pressure, weight gain, heart disease, even depression and anxiety are just a few conditions connected to a lack of sleep.
Six Ways to Get the Sleep You Need
It’s clear that sleep is beneficial, yet it can truly be a challenge to get enough. And it can feel like we’re being more productive if we cut into our sleep time. After all, getting less sleep gives us more time to get things done, right? Unfortunately, the reverse is actually true. When we don’t get enough sleep, we may have more hours but our actual productivity and effectiveness suffers. We aren’t thinking clearly, our judgement and even our reaction time can suffer.
So getting your seven to eight hours of sleep in each night is an important part of the success formula for yourself and your business or career. Read on for six suggestions to help you get the sleep you need.
- Set a schedule and stick to it. Do your best to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. This helps regulate your internal clock, or circadian rhythm. Among many things, this rhythm tells your body when to sleep, when to wake up and even when to eat. If you think of times when your sleep schedule is off in a big way, such as from jet lag or staying up late or sleeping in much later than normal, your circadian rhythm can also be disrupted. Until this rhythm is re-established, sleep can become more challenging for even the most sound sleepers among us.
- Exercise regularly. Moderate to vigorous activity on a regular basis can help improve your sleep quality. It can also help you feel more alert and energized during the day. Be careful not to over-do it because this can have the opposite effect. Similarly, exercising too close to bedtime can energize you instead of helping you fall asleep.
- Watch what you consume, especially later in the evening. Avoid big meals that can cause digestive discomfort as this can make it harder to sleep. Limit how much you drink before bed so you don’t have to get up in the middle of the night. Also avoid alcohol after dinner. Although it may help you fall asleep, it tends to disrupt your sleep later in the night.
Avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine, too. They can keep you tossing and turning at night. Even sugar, which is a carbohydrate, can act as a stimulant and affect your ability to fall asleep at night. Many clients report sleeping much more soundly when they avoid having any caffeine after noon – or switch to less caffeinated beverages such as green tea for a few days each week.
- Dim the lights & put away your devices. Your brain has receptors that sense light and dark, helping you to fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning. One way that light encourages us to wake up is that it inhibits the production of melatonin, the hormone our bodies release to prepare for sleep. So try to avoid bright lights after the sun sets and put your devices away at least an hour before bed. Cell phones, computers and televisions emit light at a wavelength that suppresses melatonin more so than any other artificial light. So if you must use your devices just before bed, try the night view or night shift option.
- Set the conditions for sleep. An optimal environment for your best sleep is quiet, relaxing, and on the cool side (many suggest 60-67 degrees is optimal). Experiment to see what works best for you. Your bedroom should also be dark. Use window shades or an eye mask to help ensure it’s dark. Make sure you have a good mattress and pillow that comfortably support you (and are free of allergens).
- Practice relaxation. Use your breath, meditation, listen to soothing sounds, or have your partner give you a massage. You can also practice a physical relaxation technique to ease into sleep such as a body scan or a few minutes of light yoga. Try different relaxation exercises to see what works best for you.
A simple one is to close your eyes and mentally relax your body, beginning with your toes, feet and legs and gradually working your way up to your shoulders, neck and head. You can repeat this several times. Another option is to breathe deeply at a slow rate for several minutes until you drift off to sleep. Try to allow your exhale to be slightly longer than your inhale as this can reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.
Our bodies all require long periods of sleep in order to restore and rejuvenate, to grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesize hormones. Try giving yourself the gift of getting enough sleep and practicing good sleep habits. See what works best for you. Notice the difference it makes in your performance – literally almost overnight.
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