A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP

"A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow."

-Charlotte Bronte

If sleep researchers are to be believed, the vast majority of us are sleep deprived - that is, we are functioning below our full capabilities because our bodies aren't getting enough sleep. Current estimates suggest that it takes as much as 9 to 10 hours of sleep each day to fully regenerate and renew our body, mind, and spirit.

While I'm sure a few of you will be cheered by this news, and happily share it with all those misguided fools who thought you were just being lazy :-), for many of us, the thought of "losing" even more of our precious time to sleep each day can be daunting.

In fact, we tend to sleep least when we need it most, working round the clock to manage a crisis, run a company (or country!), or even just to make ends meet.

As someone who has spent years resisting sleep as an annoying interruption to my otherwise productive life, here are some of my favorite bits of research on why sleep is a good thing, especially when times are hard...

1. More Sleep = More Productivity

One of the common arguments for voluntary sleep deprivation is the need to find more hours in the day - i.e. "the less I sleep, the more I get done". But a study at the University of Michigan found that when people increased their average nightly sleep cycle by only one hour, their ability to focus the next day increased by 25% - in other words, one extra hour of sleep brought the equivalent of an extra 4 hours of productive time the next day.


2. More Sleep = More Safety

Recent Canadian research into sleep deprivation showed that every Spring, on the day nearly everyone loses an hour of sleep due to daylight savings time, there is a 7% increase in traffic accidents over the daily average. Perhaps unsurprisingly, every Fall, when the clocks "fall back" and people gain an hour of sleep, traffic accidents drop by 7% below the daily average. This is believed to be due to a measurable increase in "reaction time" in sleep deprived drivers, somewhat akin to that experienced by drunk drivers.


3. More Sleep = More Health

Here's a short list of health problems known to be related to sleep deprivation:

*Higher risk of infection
*Abnormalities of bowel habit
*Higher risk of diabetes
and most commonly,
*Depression


4. "Power Naps" really are powerful

The good news is that sleep deprivation doesn't have to be cured all at once - a rule of thumb is that you can "make up" lost sleep at a ratio of nearly 1:3 - i.e. you only need an extra 20 minutes of sleep the next day to make up for a lost hour in the night.

The secret to a good power nap is all in the timing. Researchers suggest you make sure your naps are either less than 20 minutes or more than an hour. This will prevent you from waking up "sleep drunk" - that uncomfortable, groggy feeling which many people associate with a mid-day snooze.


5. Resting before you sleep makes your sleep more restful

Strange as it may seem, research has shown that five to fifteen minutes of relaxation before bedtime, be it through a hot bath, deep breathing, gentle stretching, guided imagery, or any other form of meditation, leads to a more productive and rewarding sleep cycle.

And for you contrarians out there...

6. Early to bed and early to rise doesn't actually make any difference

A study in Great Britain tested the efficacy of Benjamin Franklin's famous advice on how to become healthy, wealthy and wise. They compared a test group of "Larks" (people who went to bed before 11pm and got up before 8am) and "Owls" (people who went to bed later and got up late) to see if there were any measurable differences in health, wealth, or wisdom (measured by a standardized IQ test).

The results? Sorry, Ben - the only statistically significant difference was a slightly higher median wealth score amongst the
"Owls".

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Today's Experiment:
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1. Take a short "power nap" during the day today. Remember, you'll get the optimal benefits by setting your alarm for 20 minutes or less. (Both Salvador Dali and Thomas Edison were rumored to nap by sitting in a chair with a fork balanced in their hand. When they fell asleep, the fork would fall, waking them almost immediately!)

2. Create a bedtime ritual for yourself by doing this "relief breathing" exercise adapted from an original design by intelligence researcher Win Wenger:

1. Think of a difficult situation from today - something you struggled with at the time or are still struggling with now.

2. Imagine you are wearing a hot, heavy, clammy suit of armor. Feel it begin to weigh your shoulders down, compressing and constricting your body.

3. Now, imagine removing the armor and enjoy breathing in a huge sigh of relief.

4. For the next minute or so, breathe each breath as if it is your first breath free of the burdensome weight of the armor.

5. Check back in with your situation. Chances are, it no longer feels like such a burden. You may even find yourself with new insights and a renewed sense of energy and vigor.

6. Repeat with any other stresses or struggles from the day.

Have fun, learn heaps, and...well, I'd come up with something clever but I've got to get some sleep! :-)

With love,
michael

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