The 4 Golden Rules Of Great
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Fact: A midday nap reverses
information overload, those feelings of irritation, frustration and declining
performance on mental tasks that set in during intense encounters with new
Fact: The late stage of sleep --
sometimes missed by early risers -- can boost your acquisition of coordination
crucial for playing a sport, a musical instrument, or any fine motor control by
Fact: Sleep strengthens the nerve
circuits that underlie learning and memory, allowing the brain to make and
consolidate new neural connections.
Fact: Missing out on sleep seriously
impairs the body's ability to process blood sugar, impeding the action of
insulin much as in diabetes. Sleep deprivation may be an important contributor
to obesity. It also elevates the stress hormone cortisol.
Fact: Sleeping for six hours a night
may sound pretty good, but it's not likely enough to keep your immune system
happy. Restricting your sleep by a mere two hours a night for one week provokes
the process of inflammation, which may set people up for heart disease.
Fact: Sleep deprivation curtails
your ability to come up with creative solutions to life's challenges.
No doubt you know by now that sleep doesn't
just put the brain on hold while you lay in bed. Your brain is very active
during sleep. Sleep organizes the memories of habits, actions, and skills
learned during the day. Sleep gives you the mental energy to master complex
tasks and the ability to concentrate.
In other words, success comes not only from
what you accomplish when you are awake. We also get power from the ability of
the body and mind to consolidate themselves during the night.
Sleep is so important that your brain
remembers how much of it you get. And it compensates for sleep loss by allowing
you to fall asleep faster and staying asleep longer the next night.
Sacrifice sleep and you sacrifice peak
performance. It's noticeable in rates of traffic accidents and work injuries.
The trouble is, modern life is eating away at your sleep. There's too much to
do, and too little time to do it in. So we give up sleep. More and more, we are
sleeping less and less, and building up a sleep debt in the process.
The trouble is, say experts, society may
have changed since the introduction of the light bulb eroded the natural cycles
of day and night to which our energy levels are tuned. But our bodies have not.
There's no one set amount of sleep that's
best for everyone. People vary greatly in their need for sleep. Still, surveys
by the National Sleep Foundation report that most adults get less sleep than
they need. On average, adults sleep seven hours a night during the workweek.
Only 35 percent of adults sleep eight hours or more per night; 36 percent sleep
6.5 hours of less. Most people compensate by sleeping longer on weekends, a
switch guaranteed to keep your body clock confused.
The price we pay for cheating sleep is
steep: short-changing the brain of learning potential, short-circuiting your
moods, and dimming your alertness, maybe even making you gain weight and
compromising your health. Coffee can keep you going for a while. But nothing
can compensate for sleep. Your body needs it and your brain needs it.
Cornell psychologist James B. Maas, Ph.D.,
qualifies as one of the nation's leading sleep advocates. In his book Power
Sleep (HarperCollins), he implores us to sleep not necessarily more but
more efficiently, so we can always perform at our best. Here are his Golden
Rules of sleep.
1. Get an adequate amount of sleep every
night. Identify the amount of sleep you need to be fully alert all day long
and get that amount every night. It will dramatically change your mood and your
ability to think critically and creatively. For some people, six hours a night
may be adequate. One or two in a hundred can get by on five hours. Many others
will need as much as 9 or 10 hours. Whatever the amount, most people need 60 to
90 minutes more sleep than they presently get.
2. Establish a regular sleep
schedule. Go to bed every night at the same tine and wake up without an
alarm clock at the same time every morning -- including weekends. Within six
weeks the hours you spend in bed will begin to synchronize with the sleepy
phase of your biological clock. Your mood will be the winner.
3. Get continuous sleep. For sleep
to be rejuvenating you should get your required amount of sleep in one
4. Make up for lost sleep as soon as
possible, even though you cannot replace lost sleep all at once. And when
you sleep longer to catch up, try to do so by going to bed earlier than usual.
Otherwise your normal waking time will shift and you're unlikely to get to
sleep at the usual time the following night.
Hara Estroff Marano is Editor-At-Large of
Psychology Today magazine and Editor-In-Chief of Psychology Today's
Blues Buster, a newsletter about depression. An award-winning writer on
human behavior, Haras articles have appeared in publications including the
New York Times, Smithsonian, Family Circle and The
Ladies Home Journal. She lives in New York City.