Sleep. It seems really simple, and yet most of us aren’t doing it right. Research shows that up to 65% of adults in Australia either don’t get enough sleep or get poor quality sleep. Stay awake longer than 18 hours and reaction speed, memory, problem solving and cognitive speed all start to suffer. Work for 24 hours straight and you are 61% more likely to make mistakes on routine tasks, and 460% more likely to have a near-miss accident driving home. And if you average less than six hours of sleep a night for four to five days, the effects are pretty much the same.
Sleep deficit is like being legally drunk – you swear you’re completely capable and yet just below the surface, you’re not. Add to this that lack of sleep contributes significantly to dementia in old age, as well as being a predictor of all-cause mortality and sleep becomes, perhaps, the most important thing that we can do for our wellbeing.
A great night’s sleep looks like this: you take between three and 12 minutes to fall asleep, you have little to no disturbances, you don’t need an alarm to get up and you feel fully alert 30 minutes after waking (without coffee, that is).
So here are some simple tips for getting a great night’s sleep more regularly:
7-8 Hours is the Sweet Spot
Without the right amount of sleep - even if it’s good quality – you don’t wake up recharged. A good rule is to be in bed trying to sleep for eight hours. This does not include reading time.
Darkness, Quiet and Cool
Light interrupts our sleep, so block out all the light possible or wear a sleep mask. If you are somewhere noisy, try ear plugs as well. Finally, we sleep best when our core body temperature is lower: the optimal room temperature is around 18-20 degrees Celsius.
Morning Light Exposure
Your circadian rhythm starts in the morning! Exposure to direct sunlight first thing in the morning is perfect for setting up your body clock for a good night’s sleep. Try it without sunglasses for maximum effect.
Consistency is Key
Go to bed and wake up at the same time at least 6 days a week. After a while, your body and brain will know when it is meant to go to sleep and when to wake up Your sleep cycles become consistent and you should no longer need an alarm.
Switch Off, Literally: No Screens
Turn off anything with a screen at least 30-40 minutes before bedtime. Screens emit blue light that keeps us awake, and multimedia is designed to stimulate our senses.
Have a pre-bed routine
Just like Pavlov’s dogs, we can train our physiology to pre-empt sleep. Follow the same routine, every night, for the final 10-30mins before bed. If you travel a lot, make sure it is a routine you can repeat on the road.
** Tony Wilson is a Workplace Performance Expert focussed on helping leaders build the environment for high performance. His insights into performance science and it's application in the workplace will make you re-think the way that you approach leadership, culture change, high performance and productivity. Tony has an MBA and a BSc majoring in physiology and combines the two for a different perspective. He is also the author of Jack and the Team that Couldn't See and delivers workshops and keynote presentations around the globe.