The health effects of neglecting sleep are no secret. Cardiovascular disease, elevated stress hormones, and reduced immunity—just to name a few. Less noted is the effect skimping on sleep has on our work performance. Have you ever had one of those days when you’re just dragging, when no amount of coffee helps and you can’t seem to get out of the fog and focus on anything you need to get done? Productivity suffers tremendously when we’re not adequately rested.
How many hours of sleep do we need? A third of Americans get fewer than six hours of sleep a night. Even that number might be skewed, since we tend to count time in bed, not time actually sleeping. Seven hours seems to be the necessary minimum, but eight hours is ideal.
Getting into the habit of a good night’s sleep can be tough, though, especially if you’re used to staying up late watching TV or scrolling on your phone. Here are three things you can do to overcome those temptations and make sure you get a good night’s sleep:
- Prepare the environment. We pick up cues biologically from our environment, so make sure the room is dark. That cues us to go to sleep. A cool room also helps. It’s a personal choice, but some experts say the ideal sleeping temperature is between 60 and 67 degrees. Consider running a fan or sound machine, too. White noise masks outside noise and helps us fall asleep—and stay asleep.
- Prepare yourself. Avoid caffeinated drinks in the evening. When I was younger, I could drink coffee anytime—even after dinner—and it didn’t affect me. No more. Caffeine is a psychoactive stimulant that works against you at nighttime. It might take some experimenting, but find and stick to a cutoff time that works for you. Also, eliminate negative input. It might mean not taking work calls in the evening, avoiding the news, or staying off social media. Try putting your phone on Do Not Disturb, and don’t look at it an hour before bedtime.
- Go to bed on time. This might be the biggest struggle, but we have to be strict with ourselves. There’s always one more thing to do, even if it’s just one more episode of a show, or another few pages in a book. We have to resist the urge if we want to be on our game the following day.
If we’re not smart about our sleep, we can undercut our productivity, efficiency, and worse, our health. Instead of framing sleep as a “nice to have,” we need to think of it as the foundation of meaningful, productive work and life. How can you set yourself up for a good night’s sleep?
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