How I improved my productivity by changing my sleep habits

I’ve always admired people who can sleep less than five hours and seem to function. I’ve always thought that the people who have trained themselves to sleep for such few hours accomplished more than I possibly could, as I sleep for at least 7.5 hours daily. To be honest, I average 8.5-9 hours.

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I’ve tried the whole I’m-gonna-sleep-for-four-hours-and-then-hit-the-ground-running thing, but it has never worked for me. Sure, on the first day I will feel like Superwoman, but by the second day I am a zombie. Even with the tons of coffee.

So what does research tell us about sleep? The National Sleep Foundation released the results of a study that took over two years to complete and offered the following recommendations:

For healthy individuals with normal sleep, the appropriate sleep duration for newborns is between 14 and 17 hours, infants between 12 and 15 hours, toddlers between 11 and 14 hours, preschoolers between 10 and 13 hours, and school-aged children between 9 and 11 hours. For teenagers, 8 to 10 hours was considered appropriate, 7 to 9 hours for young adults and adults, and 7 to 8 hours of sleep for older adults. (Excerpt from the National Sleep Foundation report published in the Sleep Journal. Read full report here.)

Basically, as an adult, I need to spend a third of my day asleep (validation of my sleep!).

Reseach also shows that some of the costs of insufficient sleep include:

  • Physical maladies such as obesity, headaches and migraines, gastrointestinal issues, liver disorders, slowed metabolism, among others;
  • Occupational injuries such as crashing motor vehicles or having near-misses;
  • Reduced productivity in the form of impaired cognitive and motor skills, making unsound decisions, giving muddled presentations, trouble learning, easily distracted, weakened social skills, missed work days due to health concerns, among others.

Some say that a sleep deprived person (one getting 5 or less hours of sleep) are akin to those who drink and drive above the legal limit.

So, what are some things that one can do to encourage better sleeping patterns?

  • Set a bedtime routine and stick to it. This includes winding down at least one hour before your bedtime by switching off all electronics. You could drink a cup of herbal tea while listening to some soft music.
  • Create an environment that encourages sleep – basically comfortable, quiet and dark.
  • Exercise for 20 minutes daily to ensure good fatigue, which contributes to deep sleep.

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Lessons

Someone once told me that you will forever be in a situation until you learn the lesson in it. I look back at my life and try to reflect whether I have learnt all my lessons, as there is nothing as frustrating as feeling as though you are stuck in a senseless rut. As I ponder, I remember some of my trying moments in life and wonder how I even managed to get out alive. Situations in which you wish you could curl up and die. Betrayals and lies that run so deep you feel like you could never possibly recover from that blow.

The process seems to be the same. The shock, anger, and pain. The screaming and fighting. The disbelief and absolute denial that someone you love could ever hurt you in such a manner. Then the tears come. You weep like your heart would break. The apologies and self-absolution. “Oh my God” and “It wasn’t me”.

The tears finally run dry, and there you are. Spent, but no closer to the truth. Your brain begins its feeble attempt at rationalizing the whole issue. Your heart cowers every time the mind speaks, afraid of getting hurt again. It’s at this point you look in front of you and realize that you are at a junction. To your left lies the truth. Investigations, so to speak. Harsh words exchanged. The truth must out, so help me God. “Silence, dear heart of mine! You are too biased to be involved.” I find out the truth. But what do I do with it?

The other road, the one to my right, looks less trodden. Why? I ask myself. It is the road of blind faith; the road that lets go with no question. It is the path that demands of you absolute faith – sometimes more than that the mind can have. It speaks to the heart, and the heart listens. The mind rejects all notions that the road suggests; it is, after all, contrary to what it believes. The heart responds gladly, for it believes in the goodness of mankind. And after contemplating, after fighting the battle between mind and heart, I am walking down the road. Some look at me and think I am foolish or naive for making this choice, but the road less traveled gives me peace.

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If you enjoyed this post, I’d be very grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook. Thank you!