The Power Of Sleep

I’ve been re-reading Tony Schwartz’s book The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, and this guest post by Robyn Adams definitely speaks to a major theme in the book: the power of sleep. Robyn has learned to simplify life and increase productivity so she can enjoy life to the fullest. Her blog Living the Simple Life Now chronicles her journey as she has sought to simplify her family’s life and pursue happiness. You can download a free copy of “101 Ways to Simplify Your Life Overnight” on her blog.

We are all given 24 hours each day, but exactly how much of those hours should we spending sleeping so that we can achieve our maximum productivity level?

The answer to how much sleep we really needs lies in the power of sleep. In our modern era, this seems to be something that has slipped in importance in the average Westerner’s agenda. Many think they can get more time and be more productive simply by skipping sleep.

According to WebMD, “Decreased alertness and excessive daytime sleepiness impairs your memory and your cognitive ability — your ability to think and process information.” In fact, by getting just a half an hour less of sleep a night than you need can reduce your mental alertness and productivity by 32%. (Note from Mike: Sleep Standards has a comprehensive piece on sleep deprivation that’s also worth checking out.)

The 8 Hour Myth

We’ve been told for the last 25 years that we need the ideal 8 hours of sleep to achieve the perfect amount of sleep. But the amount of sleep we need depends on the individual needs of your body. It may be more or less than the stereotypical 8 hours. In order to get proper sleep, you need to be healthy and taking care of your body so it can do what it needs to do while you sleep. This includes things like:

  • Keep a regular sleep/wake schedule 7 days a week
  • Get regular exercise
  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Avoid alcohol and heavy meals before sleep
  • Don’t consume caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime

So, How Much Sleep Do I Need?

If you are living a healthy lifestyle, your typical sleep needs will be around 8 hours, possibly less. The best way to tell exactly how much sleep you do need is to start with 7 or 8 hours. Do you feel rested and productive all day? If not, you may need to add an extra 30 minutes or an hour of sleep and see how you feel. If you feel fine, you might trim 30 minutes off the next day and see what your productivity level is.

An interesting study by Daniel Kripke, co-director of research at the Scripps Clinic Sleep Center in La Jolla, California, found that people who sleep between 6.5 hours and 7.5 hours a night may actually live the longest. And people who sleep 8 hours or more, or less than 6.5 hours don’t live quite as long.

Sleep needs can also change from day to day. If you are sick, you will need more sleep so your body can fight off the virus or infection. The same is true if you had an extremely physical day that tired your body out more than usual. Experts say there is no “magic number” for how much sleep you need. Only you can tell, and only by monitoring your mental alertness and productivity can you determine how much sleep your body needs.

Productive Sleep Is A Process

For most people, sleep is not something that happens automatically. You can’t just lie down and fall asleep in 5 minutes. Your path to the ideal sleep and productivity balance will be much easier.

For most people, there is a process of winding down and preparing for sleep. This step is skipped by many and it leads to insomnia and other sleep problems, which only decreases productivity. Recognizing your individual sleep process is an important first step in increased productivity. As the time you have determined is the best time for you to go to bed approaches, you need to start “winding down” so your brain knows that it must start to slow down to ready for sleep.

Getting good sleep is a habit. It’s easy to let sleep be the first thing to slip in its importance in your life when things get stressful. It’s tempting to stay up an extra hour so you can be more productive. But studies show that finding the right amount of sleep for you will lead to your optimal level of productivity instead.

Want to increase your productivity? Start tonight and try to determine the right amount of sleep your body needs. Once you find the right amount, your productivity levels are likely to soar!

Photo credit: Paul 李加乂 Li via flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0 license)