Countless studies have shown that sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on your health as well as your decision-making and productivity.
From how to identify whether your sleeping habits are a problem to how to transform yourself into a morning person, we’ve covered this essential element of health and success from several angles. Now, we’ve put all our coverage in one place.
Signs you have a problem:
You are asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow
“If you fall asleep in less than ten minutes, this is a sure sign you’re significantly sleep deprived,” says Dr. Michael Breus, author of Good Night: The Sleep Doctor’s 4 Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health (Dutton, 2006).
Sleep is a process that takes approximately 30 minutes for the body to complete. “Sleep is not an on/off switch. It’s more like pulling your foot off the gas and slowly putting it on the brakes. There’s a process that needs to occur and the body needs time to shut down properly,” says Breus.
You try to “make up” for missed sleep on the weekends
You’ve likely heard you should go to bed and get up at the same time every day to help optimise your sleep. It is advice entrepreneurs often ignore because they’re busy burning the midnight oil and think they can compensate later. But that’s not how it works. Experts say it’s critical to keep a target sleep time in mind – even if it’s midnight – then meet it consistently.
Why is this so important? Our bodies are extra sensitive to conditioning, says Daniel Taylor, associate professor of psychology at the University of North Texas. When you go to bed and wake up at drastically different hours, you disturb your circadian rhythm.
“It’s like living on the East Coast for the week, flying to the West Coast for the weekend and then turning back around and flying back to the East Coast on Sunday night,” says Taylor. “If you do that every weekend, you’re going to have problems.”
How to build better sleep habits (and transform yourself into a morning person in the process):
Use a smart alarm to break the snooze button habit
The snooze button was designed to allow people to go back to sleep for a few minutes without re-entering a deep sleep cycle, but it can hinder your transformation into an early riser, says Dr. W. Christopher Winter, medical director for the Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center.
Instead, Winter likes to use a smartphone alarm app, such as Smart Alarm or Math Alarm, that requires him to solve a math problem to turn it off or set it to snooze. “Solving a problem makes your brain awake enough to make an informed decision,” he says.
Keep track of how you spend your evenings
Time-management expert Laura Vanderkam, author of What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio Trade, 2013) says one of the reasons people say they don’t like mornings is that they stay up too late. She recommends keeping a time journal for a week to identify where you may be using your time inefficiently.
Vanderkam finds when many self-professed night owls look at their time journals, they often find they aren’t spending their evening hours productively or doing anything particularly enjoyable.
Skip the nightcap and turn off your smartphone
While alcohol may help you fall asleep, it will affect the quality of your slumber. When you have a drink before bed, “sleep is lighter, and you have less REM (the deepest stage of sleep),” says sleep expert Dr. Lisa Shives. Alcohol can also wake you up in the middle of the night. “Many people wake up after about four hours, because that’s how long it takes to metabolise alcohol, then they have trouble getting back to sleep,” she says.
You should also turn off your smartphone and your e-reader at least an hour before you go to bed, Shives says. “The light that’s emitted [from the screens] slips your neurotransmitters into an awake position,” she says. Our gadgets also force our brains to stay active when they really need relaxation time to distress before bedtime.
Why developing (and sticking to) good sleep habits are worth it:
You’ll have a better memory and be more creative
During sleep, your cardiovascular system and brain are doing a lot of work when it comes to creativity, critical thinking and memory. For example, short-term memories get registered and stored in the brain during sleep. “There’s a physical change in the brain that happens only as a product of adequate sleep,” says Jim Maas, author of Sleep for Success: Everything You Must Know About Sleep But Are Too Tired to Ask, (AuthorHouse, 2010).
You’ll get more done
You are less likely to get distracted in the morning, and you have more willpower to accomplish the things you need to do. If you wait until the afternoon or evening to do something meaningful for yourself such as exercising or reading, you’re likely to push it off the to-do list altogether.
And, even if you aren’t a morning person, you may have more willpower in the early hours than later in the day. “Willpower is like a muscle [that] becomes fatigued with over-use,” says Vanderkam. During the course of the day as you’re dealing with difficult people, making decisions and battling traffic, you use up your willpower, leaving you feeling depleted toward the end of the day. You’ll feel extra depleted if you are also running on a lack of sleep.