How To Get A Good Night's SleepFrom
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No matter what you set out to do, you cant
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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.