You may need to concentrate on fixing what’s wrong with your life during the day rather than what appears wrong at night.
Yawning at work because you didn’t get enough sleep? Waking at night worrying about work? Generally feeling under par after crazy-long work hours?
You’re not alone. Surveys find at least half of American adults report insufficient sleep, and most of them realize it affects their work performance — not to mention their relationships.
Several friends were talking recently about the 3:30 a.m. witching hour, the time when they often wake and can’t shut down their minds, often rehashing problems, attempting to solve problems or preparing for the next day at work.
Sleep experts say the do-more-with-less, 24/7, “flexible hours” workplace is siphoning away good sleep practices. The result is workers showing up with less mental acuity, slower reaction times, less motivation and general testiness.
Consider some startling findings from sleep researchers about not getting enough sleep:
—A 90-minute reduction in your usual sleep pattern can hurt your daytime alertness by a third.
—If you stay awake longer than 18 consecutive hours, your memory, reaction time and cognitive capacities are likely to decline.
—Many nights in a row of only five or six hours of sleep can increase those negative effects.
—Most people need at least one day off a week, and preferably two in a row, to avoid a sleep deficit.
—And all of these problems get worse with age, when sleep naturally becomes more fragmented.
We all know people who get by with remarkably less sleep than others. People are wired differently. But in general, health experts say a cornucopia of sleep disorders are interrupting the body’s recovery time.
One article I read on WebMD went so far as to suggest that extended “reduced sleep time is a greater mortality risk than smoking, high blood pressure and heart disease.” Remember, sleep deprivation is a form of torture.
Many industries and workplaces have rules to limit consecutive work hours or impose mandatory rest periods between shifts. A few organizations even provide nap rooms when the urge to snooze hits. But adults mostly have to be their own sleep police — and hitting the snooze button for 15 more minutes doesn’t help.
Best practices include “downtime” before trying to fall asleep. Low lighting helps set the mood. And when it’s time for lights out, make the room completely dark. One suggestion is hiding your clock so you can’t obsess by watching the hours tick by.
Other suggestions advise against heavy meals and exercise right before bed. Limit your caffeine intake. Keep your room cool but your feet warm. Experts say it works.
Assuming you don’t have a true sleep problem, like apnea, you may need to concentrate on fixing what’s wrong with your life during the day rather than what appears wrong at night. Just one more thing to worry about when you wake up.
Diane Stafford is the workplace and careers columnist at The Kansas City Star. Email her at email@example.com.