Growing up in a hard-working Midwestern city in the 1980s, I quickly learned that sleep is the first expense I should cut in a given day. The men I looked up to at a young age regularly boasted about running on just a few hours of sleep. While this was rooted in a good-natured work ethic, it led me to view needing sleep as a sign of weakness. I continue to see this perception in the workplace today, where it is considered a badge of honor to stay at the office late working on a project.
The problem is, one less hour of sleep is not equal to an extra hour of achievement. In many cases the opposite occurs. When you lose an hour of sleep, it decreases your well-being, productivity, health, and ability to think the following day. One of the most influential studies of human performance, conducted by professor K. Anders Ericsson, found that top performers slept 8 hours and 36 minutes per day. The average American, for comparison, gets just 6 hours and 51 minutes of sleep on weeknights.
You are simply a different person when you operate on insufficient sleep. And it shows. If you do not get enough sleep, it can lead to a cascade of negative events. You achieve less at work, skip regular exercise, and eat poorly.
This lack of sleep is also costly. According to a study from Harvard Medical School, lack of sleep costs the American economy $63 billion a year in lost productivity alone. The problem is not just people missing work on account of sleep, the larger issue is people who show up for work in a sleepless state. One scientist, who has studied this topic extensively, claims a loss of four hours of sleep produces as much impairment as consuming a six-pack of beer. According to a survey from the National Sleep Foundation, roughly two-thirds of people studied do not get enough sleep on weeknights.
However, if you are able to get an additional hour of sleep tonight, it can make the difference between a miserable day and a good one. A small adjustment, even 15 or 30 minutes, could make or break your next day. The key is to aim for somewhere between seven and nine hours of quality sleep per night. While getting this much sleep each night is easier said than done, there are a few small tricks to improve your odds of a good night’s sleep.
What you do in the hours before bed could matter most. More than 90 percent of Americans admit to using electronic communications in the hour before bed. This is an obvious problem in terms of allowing things like late-night messages to enter your thoughts. What you may not realize is that the light from these devices alone could also suppress your melatonin levels by as much as 20 percent, which is a more direct threat to your sleep. To avoid these issues, impose a moratorium on all electronic devices in the hour before your normal bedtime and be cautious about bright light from any sources in the hours before bed.
Creating the right environment for sleep in your bedroom can also give you a head start. It is easier to sleep in a room that is a few degrees cooler than the temperature you are accustomed to throughout the day. This prevents your natural body clock from waking you up in the middle of the night. The same principle applies to noise, where using white noise apps or devices can drown out sounds that wake you up unnecessarily throughout the night. What’s critical for a good night of sleep is to create a routine where you eliminate as much variance as possible.
Prioritize seven to nine hours of high-quality sleep ahead of all else. You will be more likely to have a good workout, get more done at your job, and treat your loved ones better when you put sleep first. Keep in mind that every hour of sleep is a positive investment — not an expense. Based on all of the research on this topic, we need to make sleep a core value at home and work.
Sacrificing sleep may no longer be a sign of strength.