Saying that self-control is a positive character trait is, for most of us, an exercise in stating the obvious. Scientists, psychologists and philosophers have been extoling the virtues of self-control...
During the average lifetime, we spend 26 years of it sleeping. That sounds like a lot, yet most of us struggle to get the amount of sleep required to ensure we are at our best every day. So, how much sleep do we really need and how can we ensure we get it?
First of all, the “fact” that we all need 8 hours of sleep every night is a bit misleading. There probably isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to how much sleep we need. Daniel Kripke, co-director of research at the Scripps Clinic Sleep Center in La Jolla, California, has completed research suggesting that people who sleep between 6.5 hr. and 7.5 hr. a night, tend to live longer than those who sleep 8 hr. or more, or less than 6.5 hr. He asserts that there is just as much risk associated with sleeping too long as with sleeping too short.
But, most of us don’t have the problem of sleeping too much, do we? Most of us spend too many days slightly (or extremely) sleep deprived, and the effects can be quite damaging.
According to research presented in 2007, sleep deprived people can actually deliver the same results on many tasks as someone who’s well rested. However, problems arise when a sleep deprived person needs to maintain focus. All of us loose focus from time to time whether we’ve had enough sleep or not. When our brain has received the amount of rest it needs, it will easily pull us back to the task at hand and direct additional energy toward maintaining attention. When we haven’t received the sleep we need, our brain simply can’t refocus.
“The main finding is that the brain of the sleep-deprived individual is working normally sometimes, but intermittently suffers from something akin to power failure.”
Sleep deprivation can also affect our ability to learn, increase the likelihood that we’ll make more mistakes throughout the day and cause headaches.
So, what can we do to ensure that we are getting enough sleep to operate at peak performance? According to most experts, there are three things we should all be doing to ensure a better night’s sleep.
- Take naps. According to The National Sleep Foundation, a short 20-30 minute nap every day can significantly improve alertness and performance without interfering with nighttime sleep. A quick afternoon nap can also help us deal better with stress, heighten sensory perception, and increase our creativity. Taking naps can even reduce our risk of heart disease. According to a 2007 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, those who take afternoon naps at least three times per week are 37% less likely to die of heart disease.
- Develop a sleep ritual. In The Power of Full Engagement, authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwarz, distinguish between habits and rituals. Habits are generally perceived as negative – as things we have to force ourselves to do. Rituals are activities that we choose to make a regular, meaningful part of our life. Rituals tend to put us in a more positive, calm and centered frame of mind.
Creating a sleep ritual can help us to disengage from the day’s activities, setting us up for a good night sleep. Your ritual might involve taking a long bath or shower, reading a great novel, or even taking a short walk. The point isn’t as much what activities are included in our sleep ritual, just that we teach our brain to recognize the ritual as a signal for sleep.
- Wear yourself out. Another key point in The Power of Full Engagement is that for the highest quality of sleep, it’s important to be both physically and mentally drained at the end of the day. This doesn’t mean that we have to push ourselves to the point of sheer exhaustion every day! It just means that when we’ve been both mentally and physically challenged at some point during the day, we are more apt to fall into deep, restorative sleep.
I know that when I don’t get enough sleep, I am not as focused, creative and productive. What about you? Are there things you do to ensure that you get enough sleep or is this a challenge for you right now? Let me know in the comments!