We all know that time is precious. It’s our most valuable resource and we have full control of how we spend it. Using this logic, if going to bed is a function of time, then sleep is also precious…it’s just that most of us don’t think of it this way.
Moderate sleep deprivation has the same level of impaired judgment as being legally impaired by alcohol (Occup Environ Med. 2000 Oct; 57(10): 649–655). It results in accidents, a weakened immune system, mood disorders, and poor decision making all throughout the world. Sleep deprivation is so widespread in fact, that it’s now been pronounced as an epidemic. The CDC has found that one in three adults suffer from lack of sleep on a daily basis and spending to combat it is expected to reach $85 billion annually by 2021 on sleep devices, medications, and studies. In August this year, National Geographic released an issue, focusing on the science of sleep and pointed out that we’re spending more than $411 billion to make up for the accidents and loss of productivity caused by lack of sleep.
Sleep deprivation isn’t isolated to just certain groups of people. Everyone is at risk – there used to be a time when working off of four to six hours of sleep a night was a badge of honor oft-worn by top executives. If you are still wearing this badge, this article on Inc.com suggests there’s evidence that for leaders, being sleep deprived not only results in poor decision making and mistakes, but it can also have a direct impact on how well you relate and connect with others.
The good news, since we all have control of our time, you just need to make the time to sleep. The CDC’s current recommendation for adults over the age of 18 is to achieve at least seven hours of sleep a night. How do you know you’ve gotten enough sleep? Easy, you wake up feeling rested. If this isn’t the case for you, your sleep hygiene may need some improvement.
Here are some essentials of good sleep hygiene:
- Develop a sleep regimen. Maybe it’s taking a shower, listening to some relaxing music, and then retreating to your sleep sanctuary at a set time to sleep.
- Make yourself a sleep sanctuary. Your room should be dark and free of artificial lights. Invest in breathable bedding such as cotton-based sheets. Keep your room at a comfortable temperature.
- Eat right. Save heavier meals for lunch and skip the after-dinner dessert. Eating sugary and rich meals for dinner can cause sleep disturbances as your body works to break down fatty foods and cope with surges in energy that may not be needed.
- Skip the caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine might be essential to help you get a jump start on your day, but if you find that you need caffeine to keep yourself going throughout the day, this could be a sign that you are already sleep deprived. If that’s not the case, say no to caffeine within 6 hours of bedtime. Contrary to what once might have been true, a “night cap” may help you fall asleep, but inhibits your ability to stay asleep.
- Exercise. Arguably a cure-all, it’s no surprise that exercise rears itself as a benefit to improving one’s ability to sleep as well. Just skip vigorous exercise too close to bedtime.
- Limit naps to no more than 20-30 minutes and not too late in the day.
- Avoid blue light emitting devices before bed. This includes TVs, phones, and most electronic devices. Blue light is a form of light emitted naturally by the sun that stimulates us to produce serotonin which is the hormone that causes us to be alert and focused.
- Get outside for 10-15 minutes a day in the morning. In an Environmental Health Perspectives article about the benefits of sunlight, melatonin researcher Russel J. Reiter of the University of Texas Health Science Center says, “…it’s important that people who work indoors get outside periodically, and moreover that we all try to sleep in total darkness. This can have a major impact on melatonin rhythms and can result in improvements in mood, energy, and sleep quality.”
- Manage your stress. Stress is a part of life. Even good stress like weddings and buying a new home can have an impact on us. The unfortunate reality is that it’s usually not the positive stressors keeping us up at night. It’s the unwanted stress such as missing a deadline at work or having an argument with your significant other, that does. We tend to carry these daily stresses of life with us. We’re like hobos collecting every interaction we have throughout the day in a bindle over our shoulder only to take them out and unpack when we go to bed. If you find yourself spinning your wheels at night, you’re not alone. Retraining yourself on how to cope and manage stress is just like any other behavior change. It takes time and practice. Most health insurance plans offer wellness coaching that can help you learn to cope with stress such as doing mind-body and relaxation techniques. If that’s not your cup of tea, try keeping a small journal or notepad by your bed. If you wake up or can’t go to sleep because you are thinking about something, quickly jot your thoughts down in the book and go back to sleep. A lot of times we continue to think and process things because we need to internalize or we’ll “lose it.” Writing it down gives you the space to move on from whatever you are working through so that you don’t have to get to a place where it’s been internalized. Once you’ve done that, focus on your breathing and go back to bed.
If your sleep hygiene is great and you still find yourself waking up at night or sleeping but waking up groggy, it might be time to see your doctor. Sleep-related conditions are on the rise. Sleep apnea, in particular, can be dangerous if left untreated.
Hopefully, you’re convinced to make sleep a priority for you and for the benefit of those around you. If you aren’t yet ready to change your habits, just “sleep on it” and revisit it tomorrow.
Director of Member Services
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (858) 453-2128