Too busy to sleep?
Our disrespect for sleep has become a national epidemic.
We all know not getting enough shut-eye can cause all sorts of health and behavioral problems, but we're pushing back bedtime to get in more work
It's midnight and Carolyn Donaldson is clacking away on her keyboard. Although she's yawning, it might be another hour before Donaldson's head hits the pillow. Of course, that's if she forces herself to go to sleep before 2 a.m.
Meanwhile, Donaldson is zipping off e-mails to members of one of the three nonprofit boards she sits on. She's coming up with new marketing strategies for her son's fitness business and she's working on projects for her own consulting clients. With only 24 hours in a day, she's willing to give up sleep to get more done.
And, so it goes with American workers today. We push our bedtime back to fit in extra work. We get up early for a jump-start on the competition. Our disrespect for sleep has become a national epidemic and many of us have forgotten the feeling of being rested.
"People look at sleep as expendable," says psychologist Diane Halpern of Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., author of Women at the Top: Powerful Leaders Tell Us How to Combine Work and Family. "But there are other solutions."
In a Working Mother survey, a stunning 77 percent of mothers said they don't get the shut-eye they need. A survey by Men's Health shows men aren't doing much better. Indeed, 62 percent said they manage on less than seven hours of sleep a night.
At least four days a week, Mike Cannon wakes early to work out with a coach or run a few miles. By 7:30 a.m., Cannon, a communications manager, is at his desk at AutoNation reading e-mails before his staff walks in at 9 a.m.
"Our jobs have us doing more, we're more interconnected," Cannon says. "The only way to get in exercise is to do it in the morning and give up sleep. If I don't do it then, I won't do it all."
By now, most of us know that too few zzz's can cause a host of health and behavior problems, from being unable to focus at work to being susceptible to illness, moodiness, depression and even injury. It can elevate our cortisol levels, which can put a spare tire around our waists, thin our skin and cause wrinkles.
But we're willing to take the risk to cross one more item off our to-do lists. The result is that Americans are tired at work. A March study by the National Sleep Foundation found the average worker spends 9 1/2 hours a day at the workplace, topped off by another several hours of work from home — decreasing total sleep time during the week. By 3 p.m. most workers hit an afternoon slump.
In her research, Halpern discovered women who made it to the top of their organization, repeatedly took time from sleep, losing about one hour a night compared with women who didn't have caregiving and high-powered work responsibilities. "Over a week, that's seven hours or one full night of sleep. That's a lot."
For some of us, it is justifiable to blame technology for our sleep deficit. Did you know that 28 percent of iPhone users check or update Twitter before getting out of bed? And, just imagine what lies ahead for the next generation: Pew Research found more than eight in 10 millennials sleep with a cellphone glowing by the bed, poised to dispatch texts, phone calls, e-mails and videos.
Of course, not every individual needs the same amount of sleep and not all sleep deprivation is by choice. Adults typically need seven to nine hours of sleep each night, or "enough to feel awake, aware, and rested throughout the day," according to Dr. Matthew Edlund, author of "The Power of Rest." Edlund believes rest is as important as sleep. "People need to alternate physical activity with mental activity. Sometimes getting out of the office and walking will restore you."
Meanwhile, debate rages on about whether you can make up for lost sleep. A study by medical researchers at the University of Pennsylvania concludes: it takes several nights of extra sleep to make up a severe sleep deficit."
Napping may be one solution. Cannon says he power naps on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons. But rather than trying to catch up on sleep, experts advise better managing your time and changing your habits. Alternatives are to work more productively, set one priority per day, learn how to wind down earlier at night and squeeze rest time in to the workday.
"Today, the demands on people are overwhelming," says Judith Casey, director of the Sloan Work and Family Research Network at Boston College. "There's an endless amount of things you can be doing. You have to realize you can't do everything. You need to sleep."
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Tips for getting more sleep and working more efficiently
— Prioritize. Decide the task you really need to get done. Figure out a time and place in your schedule early in the day to get that one thing accomplished.
— Focus. Spend 15 to 30 minutes on your priority without interruption. Neil Fiore, a psychologist and author of "The Now Habit at Work," says staying focused helps shut out the stress hormones, doubles productivity and will keep you from wasting sleep time on unimportant tasks.
— Start earlier. Make your to-do list well before bedtime and if you're troubled, write down problems and solutions. "You want to be done worrying and planning hours before sleeping," says Dr. Matthew Edlund.
— Eat early. Eat a light dinner at least two hours before sleeping and consider walking after the meal.
— Power off. Keep your smartphone out of your bedroom.
— Slow it down. Don't hop into bed right after checking Facebook, sending e-mail or visiting a website. Shut off your computer an hour before bed.
— Wind down. Edlund advocates resting for at least 20 minutes before you sleep. Try chatting with your spouse or reading. You'll find it easier to fall into a deep sleep.
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