How to Sleep Better to Boost Your Productivity and Your Health
3 Simple Tactics That Can Make All The Difference
“When I look back on mistakes I’ve made, they all have one thing in common. I was tired.” — Kristin Lemkau
We all aim to do more and do better, at work and at home. But sometimes we forget how important it is to sustain our daily efforts with adequate sleep the night before.
Lack of proper sleep kills our productivity
I have been there; Going to bed late after working on the couch well into the night. I would pull myself out of bed again after a few hours. Back to the race.
But I would do so with no fuel in my brain.
On those days, I had no willpower. No tolerance. No patience. It was okay for important things to wait until the following day. I made mistakes. Worst of all, I did not care so much about making them. I became unproductive and destroyed value. When sustained over time, I harmed my relationships with coworkers and family.
Not a sustainable setup.
Not sleeping is not a badge of honor anymore
We all know examples of public figures (politicians, business people) that are proud of their lack of sleep. They believe it to be a testament to their dedication beyond the call of duty.
In fact, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan made a point of their ability to thrive with only 4 hours of sleep per night, for instance.
But it may not be such a good idea after all.
According to Professor Matthew Walker, author of “Why we Sleep”, in a recent interview, “You can’t tell anything from two people, but I always have been curious and interested in the fact that both Reagan and Thatcher went on to develop Alzheimer’s disease and we know that insufficient sleep across the lifespan is one of the most significant lifestyle factors that will determine whether you get Alzheimer’s disease. So I think it may not be coincidental.”
Lack of sleep is putting us at risk in ways that we could not imagine
We are by now familiar with the fact that lack of sleep is at the roots of illnesses like cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and obesity.
But science has now proven that it can also kill us also in a far more common way: by increasing our chances of being involved in a deadly car accident.
Just nineteen hours of sleep deprivation will make us as cognitively impaired as if we were legally drunk. According to Professor Walker, “Get behind the wheel of a car when having slept just four hours or less the night before and you are 11.5 times more likely to be involved in a car accident.”
We can do something about it. We can improve our sleep hygiene
The US National Sleep Foundation defines sleep hygiene as the “variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.”
These are 3 simple practices backed by science that I have adopted over time. They provide the highest return on investment when aiming to optimize sleep on a consistent basis.
1. Keep a constant sleeping schedule
The only way to start the day early and fresh is to prepare the night before.
If you have to stick to just one principle to get the best out of your sleep, that would be to go to bed and to rise in the morning at the same time every day.
If we use an alarm to wake up in the morning, why not use an alarm to go to bed at night? The key is to give ourselves enough sleep opportunity and stick consistently to a “lights out” daily policy.
I am fine with 6.5 to 7 hours of net sleep, which means that I have to give myself a sleep opportunity (time in bed) of around 7.5 to 8 hours daily to extract enough net rest.
It may help you to gamify the process with the use of an app
I use an iPhone app called Sleep Cycle. It analyzes how changes in my routine affect the quality of my sleep. It has raised my awareness and made me a better sleeper.
Above you can see my stats for the night of 22nd to 23rd March (translation follows below).
It will give you the following parameters when you wake up:
- How much time you spent awake, in light sleep and deep sleep;
- The sleep opportunity you gave yourself (7:57) that night;
- Quality of your sleep (79%);
- Snoring time (0% in my case, yay!);
- Activity in steps on the day prior (3,223), and
- The total record with your average sleeping time
Over 181 nights since I started using the app, I have slept an average of 7:19, which is compliant with my target of 7 hours per night.
2. Minimise blue light exposure if you have to work at night
We know that exposure to blue light, the one coming from LED bulbs, computer screens and your cell phone, suppresses the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that regulates your circadian rhythm. Your wake and sleep cycle.
But it may be worse than that.
According to Harvard Medical School “We do know that exposure to light suppresses the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that influences circadian rhythms, and there’s some experimental evidence (it’s very preliminary) that lower melatonin levels might explain the association with cancer.”
F.lux and iOS “night shift” features can help
If you have to work at night — like I sometimes do — make sure that you install an adapting software like f.lux on your Mac or PC. This app will tweak your screen output to reduce the effects of blue light, turning your screen to a warmer orange tone. I have also turned on my “night shift” screen option on my iPhone and iPad for a similar effect (on iOS, under settings/screen).
Your eyes will feel more relaxed. By implementing these changes, it will become easier to fall asleep once you hit your bed after a late night work session.
3. Create an unwinding bedtime ritual. And leave the phone and social media out of it
A while ago, going to bed used to mean social media for me. Of course, my brain made a habit of it without me even noticing. The cue was going to bed at night, and the reward was all that empty content.
But I have now replaced that habit. I realized that I needed to unwind before going to bed if I was to make the most out of my sleep. On a normal day, I now aim to close down at around 22.45–23.00.
It is well known that reading before bed reduces cortisol levels (our stress hormone) so I created a bedtime routine that included reading a book for at least 30 minutes. This not only helps me unwind but it also allows me to progress towards my target of reading 50 books this year.
After putting the book down, I will devote 5 minutes to recap my day writing down 3 things that worked well that day. Those that I am grateful for and that made the day a good one.
The idea is to feed your subconscious mind with positive memories before going to sleep, to stop the spinning wheels and settle down after a long day. Its effectiveness has been scientifically proven and is one of the core interventions you will learn in Positive Psychology.
Increasing our awareness is critical. Lack of sleep is already a global epidemic with very worrying prospects.
“If sleep does not serve an absolutely vital function, then it is the biggest mistake the evolutionary process has ever made” — Matthew Walker
If we want to be healthy, effective and productive, our sleep has to become the first item on the list to focus on. Without this building block covered we won’t be able to live a meaningful life.