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How To Get A Good Night's Sleep

From eDiets - The online diet, fitness, and healthy living resource

No matter what you set out to do, you can’t maintain your motivation to do it if you are tired. Sleep is essential to psyching yourself for success.

But abundant evidence suggests that we Americans are a very sleep-deprived lot. Sleep experts -- backed by a formidable array of laboratory data and even images of our brains performing ordinary tasks and nodding off -- insist we need at least eight hours of good-quality sleep a night. On average, American adults sleep just under seven hours a night on weekdays. A third of adults sleep six and a half hours or less a night. Its even worse for kids.

Adults rob sleep to pay all the competing demands for their time. They say they sleep less to accomplish more. Stop right there. That's totally the wrong approach, insists psychologist James B. Maas, Ph.D. What's worse, it's a very unhealthy fallacy.

For one thing, says Dr. Maas, professor of psychology at Cornell University, sleep is critical to performance. "If people got eight hours of sleep they'd be so much more efficient. They'd get everything done they were trying to do and still have time left over," he insists.

According to surveys conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, more than 50 percent of American workers report that sleepiness on the job interferes with the amount of work they get done. Fully 40 percent of adults admit that the quality of work suffers when they are sleepy. More than two-thirds of adults (68 percent) say that sleepiness interferes with their concentration and makes handling stress on the job more difficult. Nearly one out of five adults (19 percent) report making occasional or frequent work errors due to sleepiness.

Sleep prepares us for peak performance. Sleep organizes and reorganizes our nervous system and consolidates learning. It enhances information processing. Images of the brain at work show that the areas specialized for math, verbal or motor tasks are most active when we are well rested and that performance suffers when we lose sleep.

And not just any sleep will do. It must be continuous. It's in the late stages of sleep -- last two hours of a night's sleep, between the sixth and eighth hours of sleep -- that the brain consolidates the memories of habits, actions, and skills learned during the day.

Dr. Maas describes a number of techniques guaranteed to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep.

  • Create the right environment. A bedroom that is cool, dark and quiet is essential to promote good sleep that is not fragmented.

  • Invest in a good pillow and a good mattress. A good pillow is one that supports your head, neck and spinal cord in alignment as if you were standing up. And especially if you sleep with a mate, select a mattress that has low motion transfer -- constructed so that the coils are not yoked together across the top and bottom. Otherwise, you go where your partner goes, and you can lose up to 20 percent of delta sleep, the deep sleep during which body recovery takes place.

  • Drink no caffeine, including caffeinated sodas, after two in the afternoon. As stimulants they delay sleep onset and disturb dream sleep.

  • Consume no alcohol within three hours of bedtime. It disrupts deep, restorative sleep and leads to early-morning awakening.

  • Take a warm shower or hot bath before bedtime. They tend to relax your muscles and raise body temperature. When you go to sleep, your body temperature drops, and it is that drop that encourages delta sleep.

  • Compartmentalize worry time. If something is concerning you or you are a chronic worrier, speak your worries into a pocket tape recorder before you get into bed. Or write them down on 3-by-5 cards, put them on the night stand, and then go to sleep worry-free.

  • Use muscle relaxation techniques, visual imagery or meditation to reduce stress as much as possible.

  • Turn your clock around so that its electric display doesn't disrupt your sleep -- or freak you out if you wake up.

  • If you toss and turn for more than 10 minutes, get out of bed. Do something low-key like reading, and keep the lights low. Avoid anything strenuous or anxiety-provoking.

    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.

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