Running a small business can be demanding, and you’ve probably found yourself working late into the night on more than one occasion or unable to sleep due to the stresses of the day.
If so, you’re not alone. More than one-third of American adults are sleep-deprived.
But to give each day their best, adults need seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Getting less than the required amount of sleep can affect your health, your mood and your brain’s ability to function—and the longer you go without the sleep you need, the more the harmful effects compound.
So it pays to make sleep a priority every night of the week, even if you need to cut back on your work time to do so. Here’s what science has to say about sleep, why you should make it a priority and how to make sure you get the ZZZs you need.
What Happens When You Sleep?
Sleep is a mysterious and complex part of our lives, and not at all the passive state it appears to be. Some functions of the body and brain are actually more active during sleep than they are during waking hours, busily performing a collection of housekeeping tasks necessary for health and homeostasis.
During sleep, your brain consolidates the information you have taken in during the day, cementing new memories in long-term storage. It also clears away toxins that have built up in your brain during your waking hours that could otherwise lead to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.
The rest of your body also undergoes its own nightly tune-up as you sleep. The immune system is strengthened, tissue and nerve cells are renewed and repaired, and hormones are synthesized. When you get the right amount of rest, you awaken with your body restored and ready to take on the demands of a new day.
The Sleep Research Society says that sleep influences nearly all of the body’s molecular, cellular, physiological and neurobehavioral processes. Meeting our bodies’ need for sleep is essential to life, health and productivity.
Why Should You Make Sleep a Priority?
Sleep’s most obvious benefit is energy. With a good night’s sleep, your mind is alert and your body is responsive and resilient. You can learn more quickly and better remember what you learned. Your judgment is more likely to be on target, and your reaction time optimized. On the other hand, lack of sleep can negatively affect your mood and your ability to think and function. Your productivity and your creativity are likely to be compromised as a result. This can translate into being less responsive to customers and employees, and less effective as a leader. You’re also more likely to make mistakes and have accidents.
Over time, lack of sleep can have consequences to your physical health. Heart disease, high blood pressure, weight gain, diabetes, depression and anxiety are among the many conditions that have been linked to insufficient sleep.
How to Get the Sleep You Need
Although cutting into your sleep time may give you more time to get things done, making you feel more productive, the reverse is actually true. Getting your seven to eight hours of sleep in each night is a wellness formula for you and your business. These suggestions can help you get the sleep you need.
Stick to a schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This will keep your internal clock, or “circadian rhythm,” regulated. This tells your body when to sleep, rise and eat, and also controls body temperature, blood pressure and the daily release of hormones. When your sleep schedule is disturbed, such as by jet lag or from staying up late or sleeping in, your circadian rhythm can be disrupted, and sleep can become elusive until the rhythm is reestablished.
Dim the lights. Your brain has receptors that sense light and dark, helping you to fall asleep at night and wake in the morning. Light promotes wakefulness by inhibiting the production of melatonin, the hormone that is released in preparation for sleep. To set the stage for sleep, avoid bright light after dusk, and dim the lights you do use.
Put electronic devices away. Experts believe that cell phones, computers, tablets and televisions are a leading contributor to America’s epidemic of sleeplessness. The short-wavelength or “blue” light these devices emit is the most melatonin-suppressive of all artificial light. Some newer-model devices have a night shift option that softens the light emitted at night. You can also use software such as f.lux, which automatically adapts your display to the time of day, or by wearing a pair of amber-lensed goggles after dark. Another option, of course, is to put the devices away.
Set the right bedroom conditions. A healthy sleep environment is relaxing, peaceful and cool (60-67 degrees is optimal). Your room should also be dark. Use blackout shades to maintain darkness, and make sure you have a good mattress and pillow that are free of allergens.
Exercise regularly. Moderate to vigorous activity on a regular basis can improve sleep quality and also help you feel less sleepy during the day. Just be sure to not exercise too close to bedtime. It may have the unwanted effect of energizing you rather than helping you fall asleep.
Watch what you consume in the evening. Avoid big meals that can cause digestive discomfort and make it difficult to sleep. Limit how much you drink before bed to prevent having to get up in the middle of the night. Be cautious with stimulants, such as caffeine and nicotine, as they can keep you up. Also avoid alcohol after dinner. It may help you fall asleep quickly but tends to disrupt sleep in the middle of the night.
Practice relaxation. Try different relaxation exercises once you’re in bed. Mentally relax your body, beginning with your toes, feet and ankles and gradually working your way up to your shoulders, neck and head. Repeat several times. Another option is to breathe deeply at a slow and controlled rate for five or 10 minutes until you drift off to sleep.