Sleep Is Your Secret Weapon

Posted by on Nov 6, 2013 in Health | 4 Comments

Did you know that sleep is one of the pillars of health and personal productivity?

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.

Poor Richard's Almanack, courtesy of Benjamin Franklin

If you know anything about me, you probably know that Benjamin Franklin is my hero.

If you know me fairly well, you also know that I'm a big believer in the power of sleep. My family has a running joke about my “early to bed” habits as resembling that of an elderly rural neighbor who was always in bed (asleep) just after dark.

I'm not quite that bad, but I'm almost always asleep by 10 p.m., at least if I have to be up around 6. If I stay up past 10, I need to move my wake-up time forward accordingly.

I've learned, through trial and error and positive reinforcement that I feel better and am more efficient and productive when I sleep well.

Recent Research Confirms The Health Benefits of Sleep

The BBC recently published the results of a study that found, among other things:

What they discovered is that when the volunteers cut back from seven-and-a-half to six-and-a-half hours' sleep a night, genes that are associated with processes like inflammation, immune response and response to stress became more active. The team also saw increases in the activity of genes associated with diabetes and risk of cancer. The reverse happened when the volunteers added an hour of sleep.

 

Similarly, The New York Times reported the results of several studies on sleep deprivation in this post: Lost Sleep Can Lead to Weight Gain. Studies found that less-than-sufficient sleep led to carbohydrate cravings and changed the biology of fat cells.

I've had personal experience confirming the research findings, with my own n=1.

Like most college students, I stayed up late socializing, especially on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

But unlike most college students, I didn't pull all-nighters to study. I I knew that if I would perform better on a test with plenty of sleep and little study, versus studying all night and showing up for a test. I tested this hypothesis multiple times  in undergrad and law school and never found a reason to reject it. I did better on tests if I just went to bed without studying than I did if I tried to stay up late “cramming” for a test.

As a working professional, I know that the nights I don't get adequate sleep are followed by days where my productivity wanes.

I might occasionally fake my way through a reasonably productive workday after night of tossing-and-turning or some event that kept me up late. But faking usually requires lots of caffeine.

A few sleep-deprived nights in a row almost inevitably lead to a craving for something sweet in the afternoon.

In short, I almost never crave junk food or candy bars unless I haven't been sleeping well. But when I don't sleep well, I find that I'm more likely to want something sweet-and-fatty and less willing to resist the temptation of a muffin to go with the coffee that I need to fuel me through the workday.

My willpower has a direct correlation with quality and quantity of sleep.

On the positive side, if I sleep well, I can handle pretty much anything life throws in my way. But if I haven't slept well, I will be, as my mother puts it, “fractious.” [No idea how to spell that word. It's my Mom's word.] I think she means temperamental.

The Take-Away: Sleep Matters

One of the fastest ways to feel better, improve your overall health, reduce your risk of auto-immune and other chronic illnesses, and lessen the risk of weight gain is to get at least 8 hours of quality sleep each night.

In addition to the health benefits, you'll also increase your efficiency and productivity each day. In short, you'll do more in fewer hours and maybe even free up time to pursue new interests.

So why aren't you sleeping already?

The Ben Franklin Follies

Sleep is one of the topics I'll be looking at in greater depth over at The Ben Franklin Follies. We'll have interviews with sleep-research experts and others who've studied the relationship between sleep, health, well-being and personal productivity and offer tips on how to boost the quality of your sleep and ensure you're getting adequate sleep each night.

Previews of the new season of The Ben Franklin Follies will start during Thanksgiving week. I hope you'll join us there on your path to health, wealth and wisdom.

Are you a fan of sleep? Do you struggle to get enough sleep each night? I'd love to hear your thoughts on sleep and how you feel when you get enough sleep vs. when you're sleep deprived.

4 Comments

  1. Holley Perry
    November 6, 2013

    I struggle with sleep. Even when I go to bed at a decent time, I wake up . . . usually from bad dreams. And then I have to take a nap in the middle of the day, which throws me off more. I like sleep. Why doesn’t it like me? 😉

  2. Sheree Martin
    November 7, 2013

    Hey Holley–I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, as well. A lot of the sleep experts say that certain late evening activities can interfere with sleep waves, so even if we go to bed with the intent to sleep something we did earlier in the day will mess that up.

    Maybe keep a diary of what you’re eating and drinking after 4 p.m. and make notes the next morning about how well you sleep. That can help to pinpoint the cause of sleep interruptions.

    Dreaming is actually good, even the bad ones, because it means you’re getting into the dream stage. I’m most tired after nights when I never get to that point if I wake up with something stressful on my mind.

    Working on a computer, smart phone iPad or watching TV near bedtime, especially if you have a TV in your bedroom, even also impacts sleep. The light-waves emitted by those screens mess with our brain waves and make it harder to fall asleep. I think I’ve read that florescent light bulbs do the same (although it maybe just the old florescent bulbs, not the newer ones). The Kindle devices don’t have the same impact, because of the screen.

    Can’t help with the bad dreams, as much. I occasionally have them too. I’ve had a recurring dream theme over the past 20 years that crops up every once in a while, usually when I’m stressed about something. It’s so vivid and scary that I started to write about it in my journal. As a result, it’s now less frightening and more intriguing when it appears in a similar-but-new form because it tells my subconscious brain is working on something for me.

    Hope this helps!

  3. javacia of writeousbabe.com
    November 7, 2013

    My motto is “I’ll sleep when I die.” I know that attitude means I’ll probably die a lot sooner (I’ve come to terms with that). I am aware of all the benefits of sleep, but that knowledge doesn’t shorten my to-do. (Though getting more sleep would probably help me tackle that to-do list more efficiently) On top of all that, I have a hard time staying asleep. My body wakes up after four hours, like clockwork, and I can’t go back to sleep. I’ve been to doctors about this problem, but they could only offer temporary fixes. I wish I could be one of those people that get 8 hours a sleep at night. I envy them so much!

  4. Sheree Martin
    November 10, 2013

    Hi Javacia–It’s hard to know what wakes us up, or keeps us awake. For me, it’s usually stress. I often wake up in the middle of the night. Most of the time, though, I am able to go back to sleep–unless I’m stressed about things. My best line of attack is to try to empty my mind, rather than obsessing over it.

    I’m not always successful, but I have discovered (through experience) that I get more done when I sleep than when I try to finish my to-do list before going to bed. The end result is that the same amount of work is completed, and the added benefit is that I’m not hurting my health in the process.

    Here’s hoping you can find a way to make that happen in your life. 🙂 Thanks for your comment.

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