You have probably heard by now that sleep is good and not sleeping not so much. Regular quality sleep for sufficient duration leads to improve emotional, mental and physical health, higher performance, better memory, etc. Just one week of insufficient sleep, on the other hand, affects decision making, increases likelihood of depression and anxiety, and impairs cognition, and can affect cravings. Put simply, being well rested feels good and not being well rested . . .well, if you are like most people I know, you already know how that feels.

Lack of Sleep Justifies Poor Choices
Study after study sites the deficits that occur or the consequences of chronic sleep insufficiency but I wonder how often we actually take a moment to reflect on how those rough nights affect our choices, mood and behavior. Not sure what the trigger was, maybe thinking about writing a post on sleep for all I can recall (probably due to impaired memory from lack of sleep), but I’d had a rough night’s sleep and was justifying to myself why I ‘deserved’ a vanilla latte when I stopped to consider how even one night of poor sleep could derail good intentions. I paid closer attention throughout the rest of the day and realized there were many instances that I could justify a less than optimal choice because ‘I’m too tired,’ ‘I don’t feel like it,’ or because I felt crappy, ‘I’ll have this because it will make me feel better,’ ‘I deserve it’ or simply, ‘I’m too tired to care about my good intentions, I want that pumpkin scone!’ This wasn’t about cravings per se, but more about justification and decreased willpower in my fatigued state. I suspect that I do not have a unique claim to this particular side effect of poor sleep.

‘Enough’ Sleep Is Not Defined by Comparison to How Much Sleep Others Get
Fast forward a couple of weeks and I’m chatting with someone I meet at a conference. Upon learning what I do for a living, this 30 something year old man explains that he lost a bunch of weight this year but has hit a plateau and was wondering what I would recommend. Among other questions, I asked how much sleep he gets on average per night. He proudly responded, “Oh, I get plenty of sleep.” “Fantastic,” I respond, “how much is plenty?” “I usually get 5 to 6 hours of sleep per night.” I went on to question why he felt this was plenty and his response, as an employee at a large Bay Area tech firm, was I get more sleep than most people I know. Although more, and possibly better, sleep might not be the only answer to his weight loss challenge, I’d better dollars to donuts that it is part of the equation. The exciting part is he likely doesn’t even know how much better he could feel. “Studies show that over time, people who are getting six hours of sleep, instead of seven or eight, begin to feel that they’ve adapted to that sleep deprivation — they’ve gotten used to it,” Phil Gehrman, assistant professor of psychiatry and clinical director, Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program, University of Pennsylvania, says. “But if you look at how they actually do on tests of mental alertness and performance, they continue to go downhill. So there’s a point in sleep deprivation when we lose touch with how impaired we are.”

Through my decades of coaching, I have learned that people are very protective of their beliefs. Ex. This particular food is good for me even though I’m bloated and gassy after I consume it or I know how to lose weight because I’ve done so in the past (hint: if what you do to lose weight works, you don’t have to do it again). In this case, this gentleman believed that five to six hours was sufficient so we should move on to the next variable. But, with this particular ‘belief, why fight it? Sleep feels good. Sleep enhances mood, enhances productivity, enhances sex drive . . .why wouldn’t we at least want to try focusing on improving the quantity and quality of our sleep before moving on? Worst thing that happens if we get more and better sleep is we are happier, we make better decisions and we feel better – doesn’t sound too bad to me.

Maximize Sleep Quality
But how? ‘Life is full. There’s not enough time in the day.’ No one will argue that it is tough to fit it all in AND get enough sleep but it’s a proven fact that you will work more efficiently and effectively when you are well rested. Now that we have overcome that objection, it’s time to think a bit about sleep hygiene. Here are some things you can do that should help you on your way to getting high quality zzz’s.

—  Eat light at night. If you are having a late dinner, opt for lots of vegetables and a small portion of lean protein.
—  Minimize alcohol consumption. If you are imbibing, try to consume your last drink 2 hours prior to heading to be – this reducing impact on sleep quality and reduces alcohol’s interference with fat metabolism.
—  Avoid caffeine after noon.
—  Dim the lights as artificial light affects our circadian rhythms. Blue light blocking glasses like these also help mitigate the sleep disrupting effects of screens and LED lights.
—  Clear your mind – journal, breath, meditate . . .establish a ritual that tells your mind and body that it’s time to say night night.
—  Earplugs and an eye mask are fantastic sleep aids – try either or both. Bet once you do, you won’t go back.
—  Cool the room – 65 degrees is the temperature for sleep. If you like to pile on the blankets, set the thermostat even lower (60.8 degrees)

It’s important to remember that changing habits is hard but changing the ones that aren’t serving us well is worth it. In this case, we are talking about sleep and really, who doesn’t wish they could sleep more? So, you have permission. Go ahead and try something different. I’ve provided seven ideas above so try implementing 1 additional recommendation each night this week. Can’t wait to hear how much better you are feeling by next week!