Business

To be better worker, get some more sleep

Sunday MBA provides ideas on running a better business, this week from Harvard Business Review and Ron Friedman, founder of the consulting firm ignite80.

How much sleep did you get last night? If the answer is “not enough,” you’re hardly alone.

We often dismiss a morning fatigue as an inconvenience, but here’s the reality. Missing sleep worsens your mood, weakens your memory, harms your decision-making, and makes you more susceptible to anxiety. (Ever wonder why problems seem more overwhelming at 1 a.m. than in the light of day? It’s because our brains amplify fear when we’re tired). We are no more effective working sleep-deprived than we are legally drunk, according to one study.

No amount of caffeine can compensate for lack of sleep. To perform at our best, our bodies require rest — plain and simple. On days we flourish, the seed almost always is planted the night before.

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Since most of us can’t sleep later, the only option is to get to bed earlier. Yet we don’t. Why? First, we’re so busy during the day that the only time we have to ourselves is late in the evening — so we stay up because it’s our downtime. Second, we have less willpower when we’re tired, which makes it tougher to force ourselves into bed.

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So, how do you get to bed earlier?

Start by identifying a time to be in bed. Think about when you need to get up and work backwards. Try to give yourself eight hours. So, if you’d like to be up by 6:45 a.m., aim to be under the covers by 10:45 p.m.

Next, audit how you spend time after work. For one or two evenings, log everything that happens from the moment you arrive home. You might discover that instead of eliminating activities you enjoy (say, watching television between 10:30 and 11), you can start doing them earlier by cutting back on something less enjoyable (like mindlessly scanning Facebook between 8:30 and 9).

Once you’ve established a bedtime goal and eliminated time-sinks, create a pre-sleep ritual that helps you relax and look forward to going to bed. A major impediment: When 11 p.m. rolls around, the prospect of lying in bed is not as appealing as squeezing in a sitcom or scanning tomorrow’s headlines on your smartphone.

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To counteract this preference, create an enjoyable routine that entices you to wind down. This transition from activity to rest is vital. You need to feel relaxed. Here’s some ideas:

Read something that makes you happy. Fiction, poetry, graphic novels. Whatever keeps your attention without much effort and puts you in a good mood. (Warning: Never read anything work-related in bed. It makes it more difficult to associate bed with relaxation.)

Avoid blue light. Exposure to blue light emanating from smartphones and computer screens suppresses the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that makes us feel sleepy.

Handwrite a note. One of the most effective ways of boosting happiness is being grateful. You can experience gratitude while writing a thank-you note or listing a few of your day’s highlights in a diary.

Take a quiet walk. If the weather’s right, an evening stroll can be deeply relaxing.

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Experts recommend taking at least 30 minutes to wind down before attempting to sleep. Keep this time free of negative energy.

Finally, keep a notepad and light-up pen nearby. If you think of something you need to do the next day, or an important thought pops into your head, jot them down. Once you’ve written them, you’ll find it’s a lot easier to let go.

This article was originally published on HBR.org. Reprinted with permission.