Turn Off the Computer
Signal to your body that it's time to wind down.
Being on the computer before bed undermines sleep in more ways
than one. First, any activity that engages your mind — whether it’s
shopping online or redoing your resume — keeps you alert when you
should be getting sleepy. Your mind can’t possibly relax and work at
the same time. Plus, the computer exposes your body to light, which signals that
it’s time to be awake, not asleep.
Instead, pick a time, at least an hour before bed, when you will
shut down the computer, no matter how many emails you still have to answer.
They’ll have to wait until morning. Better yet, don’t turn
on the computer at all after dinner.
Danger! Danger! Danger!
Avoid the Afternoon Coffee Break
Caffeine suppresses chemicals in the brain that induce sleep
— which might seem like a good thing right before your 3 o’clock
meeting. But it’s also a stimulant, which means it can raise blood
pressure, heighten anxiety, cause nervousness and dizziness, and increase
alertness — none of which you want when you crawl into bed.
enough not to drink coffee at night. But caffeine has a half-life of about six
hours. So that tall macchiato you had midafternoon is still
in your system at midnight. (Note: Tea has roughly half the amount of caffeine
as brewed coffee, while soda has roughly one quarter the amount. Decaf coffee
contains very small amounts of caffeine.)
Instead, have your last cup of coffee
or tea with lunch — meeting or no meeting. Avoid drinking decaf at
night, too, since trace amounts of caffeine can still have an effect.
Turn Your Bedroom Into a Cave
Avoid any unnecessary disruptions.
Many forces in your bedroom conspire to keep you awake: the TV,
the riveting book on your nightstand, your laptop. But the biggest problems are
light, heat, and noise.
Any light that seeps in, whether it’s from
the master bath or the TV room down the hall, will trigger the wake sensors in
your body. “Even the light from the alarm clock can fool the brain
into thinking it’s not sleep time,” says Dr. Carol Ash,
medical director of Sleep for Life in Hillsborough, N.J.
Being overheated is
equally disruptive. Your body temperature naturally falls when you sleep. When
the room is too warm, it interferes with your body’s need to cool
off. And noise? Just another disturbance when you’re trying to sleep.
The solution is to turn your bedroom into a sleep den. Keep it
dark and cool. Turn your alarm clock to face away from the bed. Wear as little
as possible to bed, while still being comfortable. And ask everyone else in the
house to turn it down.
The Sleep Deficit
The good news about sleep loss is that if you’re
just pulling a couple all-nighters, you can reverse the symptoms fairly
quickly. After one full night of sleep (7-8 hours), your cognitive abilities
bounce back, and after two nights, your mood and emotional control return to
normal. The bad news is that when you consistently deprive yourself of sleep,
you incur a “sleep debt” that could make it harder for you
ever to recover your peak abilities, even if you think you’re doing
If you shorten your sleep by two hours a night during the
week, for example, you’ll be in the hole for 10 hours by Friday. You’d
have to sleep 12 hours on both Saturday and Sunday to restore your performance
to peak level. And what if you keep this up for 20 years?
Long-term sleep debt
has been linked with obesity and heart problems; it’s hard to imagine
it does your career any good, either. “People think you can make up
for bad habits,” says Dr. Ash. “But it’s like
only brushing your teeth on the weekends.”
Set a Schedule and Stick to It
Train your body to go to sleep on time — every night.
“The body loves conditioning,” says Dr.
Donna Arand, clinical director of the Kettering Medical Center Sleep Disorders
Center in Dayton, Ohio. “It functions well with regular schedules.”
So instead of going to sleep and waking up whenever you feel
like it, set a fixed time to wake up every morning, and don’t sleep
beyond that, even if you’ve gone to bed late. Once you’ve
done that, set a fixed bedtime that allows for seven hours of sleep.
create a routine that conditions your body to wind down and get ready for
sleep. Stop whatever work you’re doing — laundry, bill
paying, etc. — at the same time each night. Take a hot bath or shower
(when you get out and your body cools down, it simulates the temperature drop
you experience during sleep).
Crawl into bed with a book, or watch TV for a set
amount of time. Just don’t watch horror movies or crime shows. They
could overstimulate you and keep you up. Besides, aren’t you getting
enough horror show just watching your company stock?
Insomnia vs. Sleep Deprivation
If you have trouble falling asleep, or you’re up
half the night fretting, you’ve got insomnia. You can’t
help it; your body just won’t let you sleep. Insomnia leaves you
feeling tired and miserable during the day but, amazingly, still able to go
through the motions.
If, on the other hand, you choose to limit your
sleep — staying up past midnight to finish a project, or waking
before 6 to get to work early — that’s sleep deprivation.
Whether you’ve got insomnia or are sleep deprived, you’re
crippling your ability to perform your best at work, and you need to take steps
to fix the problem.