In 'The Power of Sleep, Pt. 1', we touched on the dangers of sleep deprivation and the hazards associated with a lack of quality sleep. Now, we have a multitude of reasons to improve our sleep habits, but that can be more easily said than done. At the Lawyers Assistance Program, we recognize change can be difficult, and what may work for one person, may not work for another. Below is a list of suggestions that some people have found helpful in banking a better sleep.
How to Sleep Better
- Naturally regulate your sleep-wake cycle: You can do this by increasing your exposure to light during the day and decreasing your exposure to artificial light at night. Our bodies are lulled to sleep by the relaxing hormone, melatonin. You won’t feel sleepy while exposed to bright light because light suppresses melatonin production. Surround yourself with darkness if you want to improve your sleep.
- Reduce noise: Consider a white noise machine or ear plugs.
- Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime: Many of us crave a bedtime snack or eat dinner late in the evening. A large amount of food consumed shortly before bedtime means your digestive system is working in overdrive, which means your sleep pattern will be disrupted.
- A full bladder: Too many liquids before bed will keep you up during the night, and running to the washroom.
- Avoid electronics: While catching up on emails and social media may satisfy the fear of missing out, doing so keeps us stimulated. Each time we check our email or social media we receive a shot of dopamine, a chemical that our brain releases to stimulate pleasure. Moreover, the artificial light from your computer screen, iPad, phone or television will keep your body and mind stimulated, and unable to sleep. The artificial light emitted from screens will also suppress melatonin production.
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule: Going to bed and waking up at the same time, even on weekends, helps to regulate your body clock. You can also let your body know it is time to prepare for bed by following a bedtime routine that you repeat nightly. For example, make your lunch, lay out your clothes, wash your face and brush your teeth.
- Cold toes: Lack of circulation in your feet, especially during cold months, can keep you awake. Slipping on a pair of warm socks can improve circulation in your extremities, and help you fall asleep faster.
- Avoid stimulants: Nicotine, soda, caffeinated tea and coffee, alcohol, and chocolate, are all stimulants that accelerate your heart rate and interfere with sleep.
- Stress: Work stress, financial stress, and marital discord all put the neurotransmitters in your brain on alert, which means your brain will be stimulated. You may have difficulty sleeping until you can reduce the stress in your life.
- Pain: Physical pain can be a significant sleep disruptor, whether caused by an injury, a physical condition, or a lack of proper ergonomics at work. Talk to your doctor and/or learn proper ergonomics to help prevent pain from interfering with your sleep.
- Snoring: You may have difficulty falling and staying asleep if your partner snores. Moreover, if you suffer from sleep apnea, a condition linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke, it is unlikely you are achieving a night of restful sleep.
What does all of this mean for business and productivity? Research shows that sleep-deprived employees are vulnerable to gaps in safety, and lower productivity. In other words, sleep deprivation is a threat to the bottom line. Poor sleep is a major risk factor for injuries and mistakes at work, and absenteeism. Sleep-deprived employees have poor short-term memories, perform poorly on new tasks, and are at greater risk for mood disorders.
So what can we do about it? Look out for 'The Power of Sleep, Pt. 3', the final blog post in this series, where we'll explore low or no cost employer strategies to remedy the problem.
 Connolly, C., & Ruderman, M. et al. Sleep Well, Lead Well. How Better Sleep Can Improve Leadership, Boost Productivity, and Spark Innovation. Centre for Creative Leadership Whitepaper, 2012.