The Importance of Sleep

On days when I didn’t get enough sleep the night before, there are cranky toddlers who are more reasonable to deal with. Those cranky toddlers probably feel better and may even get more done than I do on such days.

Something as simple as going to bed an hour late can throw me off: I need my eight hours of sleep and that’s final.

Sleep is a Matter of Health

Given how crappy we all feel when we don’t get enough sleep, it’s pretty obvious that enough sleep is important to staying healthy. It’s a matter of both physical and mental health: when we don’t get enough sleep, we build up a sleep debt. We directly impact our abilities to perform high-level cognitive functions. That means that not only is creative work going to fly out the window, but even things like properly putting together a sentence get much harder.

Of course, there is a lot of variation in how much sleep a given person needs — and when. I need my eight hours, but my husband prefers sleeping seven hours a night during the week and sleeping ten hours a night on the weekends. I’m less sure that my sister is well-rested — she’s a college student and seems to sleep about four hours a night, but she seems to pay her sleep debt during the holidays, which she can easily sleep through entirely. We each have to get a picture of how much sleep we actually need.

It’s a matter of sleeping at the right time, and even limiting your sleep in some cases. Most afternoon naps entirely destroy me — if I lay down for less than four hours, I’m going to be pretty cranky when I wake up — so I’m generally better off just trying to go to bed a little early if I’m really tired.

Changing Your Sleep Patterns

Interestingly, I’ve had sleep patterns other than eight hours every night that were pretty successful. In college, there was a period of time when I had eight days a week — or at least eight cycles of going to sleep and waking up. Due to my work schedule (which included needing to be at work at 2 am on the weekends), it was the only way I was going to get the quantity of sleep I need. After a period of adjustment, I did surprisingly well on that schedule.

I’m reluctant to change my sleep patterns around a lot today, though. I know when my best times are for productive work and I’d rather not mess with that. I’m certain that, if I do, I can get myself into a new sleep pattern that will work out well — but it will take me several weeks to adjust to it. But if your current sleeping pattern isn’t getting you enough rest, it may be time to consider another one. Even something as simple as going to bed an hour earlier may help.

And before you tell me that getting everything done an hour earlier would be too hard, think of it this way: if you’re working with a sleep debt and you can get more sleep, you’ll probably be able to work more efficiently and maybe even get more done. It seems counter-intuitive, but sleeping more may be an opportunity to add more hours to your day.

Image by Flickr user Chris Gin

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One Response to “ The Importance of Sleep ”

  1. Andy Hayes says:

    Unfortunately, I tend to get not enough sleep during the week, and then I catch up on that sleep debt usually on the weekends, but since my schedule is flexible, I just make sure there are two days a week where I catch up.

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