Optimize Your Sleep For Better Health and More Free Time

Last Updated Jun 2, 2011 3:28 PM EDT

Getting too much sleep is hazardous to your health -- it may lead to higher risk for obesity, diabetes, and premature death. We've been brainwashed to think we need 8 hours of sleep a night, but sleep requirements vary greatly by age, stress level, and health. In fact, research suggests 7 hours might be the ideal amount of sleep the average adult needs per night, and getting 8 or more hours can lead to increased mortality -- even more so than too little sleep!

All this talk about how we are sleep deprived and how we need more sleep is enough to, well, put me to sleep. Even the good folks here at MoneyWatch (including my boss!) have pounded the table that "improving job performance may be as easy as getting a good night's sleep" and that "getting a good night's sleep is the single best way you never thought of to improve your abilities and human capital literally overnight."

Hogwash! Not only can too much sleep be bad for your health, it can rob you of your other 8 hours. If you work 8 and sleep 9, that only leave 7 hours for you to pursue your goals and live your life. Every hour, minute, and second you sleep more than you need to is a complete waste of time and your life.

Too little or too much sleep can lead to low energy and mental sluggishness. Your goal is to get an optimum amount of sleep, which I define as the least amount of sleep possible while still feeling physically energized and mentally alert. So how do you know how much sleep you need? Test, test, test. Here's what to do:

Step 1
Start with 8 ½ hours of sleep. Make sure you get the full 8 ½ hours. No more and no less.

Step 2
The next day, complete the Sleep Optimization Form. This is a simple form to gauge how you feel (physically and mentally) at different times during the day. Because stress, eating habits, and a host of other factors can influence our energy levels and outlook, try to keep all other variables constant (i.e., unchanged as possible).

Step 3
Repeat Steps 1 and 2 for four nights in a row.

Step 4
Reduce your sleep by 30 minutes and start the sleep/test process again for four nights in a row. Keep cutting your sleep in Step 1 by 30 minutes until you reach 7 hours.

Step 5
Analyze the data. Review your Sleep Optimization Form and identify which days you felt the best (based on higher scores). If you find that you feel good on 8 ½ hours of sleep, but you also feel good on 7 ½ hours of sleep, you've just saved yourself an hour a night and given yourself an extra 30 hours a month to create something.

If you really want to get fancy, you can test 15 minute increments (e.g., 7 hours and 45 minutes versus 8 hours). Remember, we're trying to identify the absolute minimum amount of sleep you need because every minute you aren't sleeping is another minute for you.

Now I just hope I don't lose any sleep over contradicting my boss...

If you're interested in using your other 8 hours to get your finances in shape, you can download my free eBook/audiobook "Plan Z: How to Survive the 2009 Financial Crisis (and even live a little better)."
(Image of woman sleeping by planetchopstick, CC 2.0)

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    Robert Pagliarini is obsessed with inspiring others to create and empowering them to live life to the fullest by radically changing the way they invest their time and energy. He is the founder of Richer Life, a community of passionate people who want to learn and achieve more in life and at work. He is a Certified Financial Planner and the president of Pacifica Wealth Advisors, a boutique wealth management firm serving sudden wealth recipients and affluent individuals. He has appeared as a financial expert on 20/20, Good Morning America, Dr. Phil, Dr. Drew's Lifechangers and many others.