This morning, I watched my beloved and bleary-eyed husband pour orange juice into his empty bowl. When the kids and I started howling with laughter, he realized what he was doing, grinned, and spooned his oatmeal into his glass and sat down to eat, slurping juice from the bowl and eating oatmeal with a fork from the glass (I love this man). Not usually absent-minded, he was in a fog this morning because he had been up with our wakeful daughter from about 2:30-4:00 a.m. last night (yet another reason for parenthetical above). He’s also been pulling late nights and then getting up early, so like many working parents, he is already chronically under-slept. Me too. But mostly we continue to function, chugging along and hoping to catch up on our sleep …. when? Sound familiar? We all know we should sleep more, but most of us persist with our poor sleep habits. So in the hope of helping others and myself, I am tackling this topic again and renewing my commitment to go to bed earlier.
Three Reasons to Get More Sleep
1. You Will be Happier (and Kinder, Too!). You know it’s true, but research also supports the conclusion that sleep deprivation leaves you feeling more irritable, stressed, and short-tempered. There’s a reason that happiness maven Gretchen Rubin started her Happiness Project with a resolution to get more sleep — it is the foundation of a happier you. A well-rested and happier you is also more patient with your kids and spouse and just generally is more fun to be around.
2. You Will Learn Better and Remember More. Though the exact mechanism is not known, sleep is vital to memory-formation. Think of how little you remember of your infant’s first year — it’s not just because it was so long ago ….. now what was I saying? Oh, yes. More sleep will make you a stronger learner and will help you retain and be able to access your learning better.
3. You Will Eat Less. Have you ever noticed that you eat more when you are tired? In a small but striking Mayo Clinic study, sleep-deprived subjects ate 549 calories per day more than their better-rested counterparts and did not burn more calories. And in another study, women who slept fewer then six hours per night or more than nine hours per night were more likely to gain 11 pounds. It’s pretty simple: when I am tired, I seek out food to help keep me going, using carbohydrates as a stimulant. In addition, my will-power is weaker when I am tired, so when the urge to eat arises, I am more likely to give in.
These are only a few of the more compelling reasons to get enough sleep, but how do you actually make yourself go to bed?
Three Tips to Help You Get More Sleep
1. Turn off the t.v./computer/tablet. After dinner and the kids are in bed, many people relax in front of the television or check email and surf the net. Nothing wrong with that. Or is there? It turns out that the glow of the screen actually stimulates your brain to be wakeful by limiting the production of melatonin, according to research. In addition, if you get engrossed in a program or checking people’s Facebook status, you can blow blow right through your bedtime. Experts recommend turning off your screen one hour before bedtime.
2. Set an alarm. Most of us use an alarm to get up, but it can be very helpful to set an alarm to remind you to go to bed. Set your alarm for 30-60 minutes before bedtime so that you can wind down with a calming routine and be ready to sleep by your chosen bedtime (which should be seven to eight hours before you need to get up).
3. Skip the afternoon coffee. Caffeine stays in your system for anywhere from three to twelve hours, so if you are in the habit of a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, you have been loading your body with a stimulant that may keep on giving until well in the evening. Instead, if your energy is flagging, work standing up, take a walk around the block or around your office, or do 20 jumping jacks. By the way, though alcohol may make you sleepy, it too can interfere with sleep, so watch alcohol intake as well.
For additional tips to improve your sleep habits, here’s a resource. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for me to turn off my screen. My alarm just reminded me that bedtime is in about an hour.