Getting a Good Night's Sleep

Starting Each Day Fresh, and Full of Energy

© iStockphoto/sswartz

Do you often wake up in the mornings feeling more tired than when you went to bed? Do you regularly wake up during the night for no apparent reason? Or do you have trouble getting off to sleep in the first place?

Poor-quality sleep can quickly lead to reduced performance at work from reduced concentration, poor memory and diminished motivation, impaired judgment and irritability. Lack of sleep can also cause the body to crave high-calorie foods, potentially leading to weight gain. All of these side-effects can increase stress which, in turn can adversely affect your sleep and work.

If you are one of the millions of people who occasionally suffer poor quality sleep, and you want to feel more rested, alert and ready to go, then the good news is that you can improve the quality of your sleep and so maximize your work performance.

Tip:

If you have more serious difficulties sleeping or are constantly tired, you may have a sleep disorder that requires medical attention. The web site www.sleepeducation.com does a great job explaining sleep disorders. If you are concerned about your sleep problems, you should, of course, consult a medical expert.

What affects the quality of your sleep?

Good quality sleep is an uninterrupted stretch of roughly 7-8 hours, during which your mind and body rest and recuperate, ready for whatever the next day brings. Some people need as little as 5 hours, and some as much as 10 hours, but the norm is 7-8 hours for most adults.

The quality of your sleep is affected if it's interrupted. Two periods of four hours sleep, even quite close together, are not as beneficial as a solid 7-8-hour stretch.

Getting uninterrupted sleep is obviously a challenge for parents of young children. However, others may have more control over their routine. So many factors can affect whether your sleep is interrupted – from external things like noise and light, to personal factors like snoring, or what (and when) you have eaten. The secret is to find out what factors affect your sleep and control the ones that you can. We have some resources and tips to help you do that later in the article.

Just as interruptions to sleep affect its quality, so do irregular sleeping patterns: Changing your bedtime or waking time can play havoc with your body clock. Shift workers are the extreme example; they have to change their sleeping pattern regularly to fit with their shifts, and so they have to work harder to get good-quality sleep. It is hard to find the same levels of darkness and quietness during the day, and as our natural rhythm is to respond to natural daylight and darkness, shift workers have to contend with this issue every time they change shifts. For more help on shift work-related sleep problems, the Sleep Foundation has information and advice on how to cope.

Regular day time workers may find that they are also affected by changes in sleep patterns at the weekends. The body takes a few days to adjust to a new pattern of sleeping and waking. So people who like to sleep till noon at the weekend but then party the night away may find that their bodies have just about worked out how to do this by Monday morning, and so they find it a real struggle to get to work on time!

Jet lag is another well-recognized affect of changing sleep patterns, which occurs when you travel across several time zones. When traveling across time zones, your body clock gets confused by the levels of light and darkness at different times of days.

Did you know that jet lag hits harder when traveling west to east rather then vice versa? So a traveler from North America to Europe will usually suffer greater effects of jet lag on the outward (east bound) journey than on the return home. This is because our bodies cope better with extending the day, than with reducing it.

A traveler from New York to London, for example, is more likely to suffer jet lag when he reduces his day by 5 hours on the outbound journey, than when he extends his day by 5 hours on the way home.

For more information on jet lag, British Airways has some good information, and also a neat little Jet Lag Advisor to help you work out when to avoid daylight, and when to seek it.

How well do you sleep?

The first step to a better night's sleep (and a better day's work) is to evaluate how well you are sleeping at the moment. When it comes to getting a good, uninterrupted night's sleep there are a great many factors to consider. Take a look at www.sleepeducation.com for some more detail on these.

A good way to work out how what affects you is to keep a sleep diary. This will help you identify the factors that you can control. If you do find your sleep problems needs medical attention, it can give your medical adviser full information on which to base his or her recommendations.

To evaluate you sleep habits further, we also recommend a couple of online tests that help you do this. (The first test is provided by the better health site of the government of Victoria, Australia, and the second is at www.sleepnet.com):

Changes for a better night's sleep

Once you have analyzed how well your sleep, and especially if you have kept a sleep diary, you will start to see things that you can control for your better night's sleep. Do you sleep better when you eat earlier, or avoid a certain type of food? Do you sleep better when you go to bed 30 minutes later than usual or vice versa? Write these down and start to make those changes to you habits and routine.

Here are some tips to consider when you are planning the changes you need to make:

  • Ensure that your bedroom is neither too hot nor too cold, and is quiet
  • Make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable
  • Avoid tea, coffee and other drinks that contain caffeine before you go to bed (some people find it difficult to sleep if they drink coffee as early as 4pm)
  • Also avoid alcohol – it may make you fall asleep, but it can affect how deeply you sleep and so you may wake up during the night or simply have poor quality sleep
  • Don't eat within two hours of going to bed
  • Don't exercise strenuously before going to bed, but do exercise during the day so you are physically as well as mentally tired.
  • Do things that help you to relax before going to bed, such as taking a warm bath, doing some gentle yoga, or using aromatherapy

Working on a regular sleep routine (when this is in your control) can also help:

  • Try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day. This will help to "set" your body clock, and "teach" your body to go to sleep at the same time too.
  • Avoid naps during the day
  • Try not to get stressed by not being able to sleep as this just makes the situation worse. If you wake up during the night, get out of bed and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy again.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

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Comments (2)
  • ella wrote Over a month ago
    I also like to wind down. First though, I make my to do lists for the next day. I keep a "personal chores" list and my "work" list. That way, it is off my mind until morning. Then I like to get into my comfy clothes and read. That always put me to sleep after a long day. I do not read in bed as I find then I cannot sleep. - Ella
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi everyone,
    Thought I'd share with you my strategy for a good night's sleep ... and it's clean

    I make a point of 'winding down' before drifting off to sleep. I do this by reading, listening to relaxing music or even writing in my journal to settle my thoughts. I avoid (most of the time) anything that mentally stimulates me such as watching violent / aggressive TV shows or sometimes the news. Even reading for work, rather than reading for pleasure, is a mental stimulation because I end up thinking about work stuff all night long!

    I find this 'wind down' time helps me to have a more restful sleep whereas if I go to bed 'charged up' then I tend not to settle into a restful sleep for the night and wake up tired.

    What strategy do you use for a good night's sleep?

    Midgie

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