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Feeling a little bleary? Kickstart your day by having coffee -The first thing in the morning to jolt yourself into alertness? Maybe you aren’t getting sufficient hours of sleep. When we don’t get enough shut-eye, we have trouble concentrating, focusing, working, making decisions, remembering things, and being our best selves. We happen to get grumpy, crabby, tetchy, and unpleasant too in most cases. But the problem is more serious than just being in a bad mood.
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) says we’re 12% more likely to die prematurely as our bodies become vulnerable to different diseases if we don’t get the ideally recommended seven to nine hours a night.
A 2007 Harvard report showed that the effects of a lack of sleep include reduced efficacy and productivity, induces more errors, and causes accidents due to absent-mindedness. These consequences can even be deadly.
The Harvard report noted that preventable medical errors, many of which are the result of physicians and surgeons not getting enough sleep, cause more than a million injuries and between 50,000 and 100,000 deaths each year.
Moreover, the Harvard study showed that some of the deadliest accidents in recent history could be related to sleep deprivation, including, the report noted, the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, the grounding of the Exxon Valdez, as well as the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.
Now that we’re aware of the dangers that result due to lack of sleep (which are, ironically, enough to keep you awake at night), let’s discuss ways to get your eight hours in as best as you can.
Try to keep your routine as regular as you can. A consistent sleeping routine allows our bodies to use their natural cycles most efficiently. Given our busy schedules, it may not be possible to have a set bedtime every night, but small things—not sleeping in on weekends, not trying to “catch up” on sleep, not fighting the body’s natural cycles—can help us sleep more efficiently. Keep a journal of when you feel tired and when you’re more awake.
Technology is your sleeping self’s friend. Are you on your phone or computer a little too much in the evening? Set an alarm that will tell you when to go to bed. If you find you’re addicted to your electronics, there are many apps that will shut them off.
Beware the blue screen of wakefulness. It turns out that the blue light emitted from most electronic devices is Public Enemy #1 when it comes to sleep. It destroys melatonin, one of the hormones that help us sleep. If you have a hard time letting go, there are (fortunately) some apps that will help reduce the blue light that hits our retinas.
Make sure your sleeping area is restful. Our bodies work around the cycle of the sun. When it’s light out, we want to be active, and when it’s dark, we tend to shut down. Any sound can creep into our consciousness, so, while no noise is best, white noise (from an app or a machine) can provide a neutral background to block out other, more meddling, sounds.
The benefits of getting a good night’s sleep are many, but most notable are:
- More focus. When you’re fully awake, your mind has an easier time staying clear, your eyes stay open, and you’ll be able to concentrate on your goals.
- Sharper decision-making. If you’re well-rested, you’ll have the mental capacity to consider more aspects of anything—in fact, the0 NSF shows that decision-making skills can improve by as much as 4 percent.
- Improved memory. The end-of-the-day sweeping gets rid of a lot of clutter and allows you to remember the stuff that counts. The 2007 Harvard study cited above showed that the consolidation of information that takes place only during sleep is “essential for learning new information.”
- Better accuracy. We all know how alcohol impairs our motor and decision-making skills but being sleep-deprived can impair you by as much as fifty percent more than being under the influence.
For many people, the idea of being told that it’s time to go to bed reminds us of being a child. Not only that, we feel like we have too much to do and not enough time to monitor our chores. Given the alternatives to getting enough sleep, though—poor productivity, inability to concentrate, and health risks that can, in extreme cases, kill us—the benefits of turning out the lights and hitting the hay far outweigh the temptations of staying up late.