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Often, when talking about the relationship between sleep and productivity, the conversation focuses on the need to get more sleep. The fact is, most people aren’t at their best when they get less than the recommended eight hours per night, and thus advice often focuses on ways to reach that magic number so you feel refreshed and ready to take on whatever comes your way at work.
However, getting adequate rest isn’t just about reaching a certain number of hours of sleep. Your sleep quality also matters. Getting eight hours of fitful sleep, where you don’t reach the most restful stages, isn’t going to benefit you any more than a few hours of deep sleep. In fact, you might even argue that getting a little less sleep of better quality is more beneficial to your overall well-being and performance than forcing yourself to spend more time in bed.
And the fact is, you’re busy. There may be times, such as when you’re on deadline or traveling, that you might struggle to get to bed at a reasonable hour or stay in bed much past sunrise. For that reason, learning to get better quality sleep is important to staying alert and productive, and avoiding many of the issues that can come with inadequate sleep.
How You Can Improve Sleep Quality
One of the first steps to managing your sleep schedule and learning to thrive on less sleep is to understand your own Circadian rhythm. Everyone has an internal clock that regulates their sleep and wake cycles. For most people, that rhythm is dictated by light, meaning that we generally sleep at night and are awake during the day. However, there are fluctuations in that schedule, and you might experience periods of sleepiness throughout the day. For instance, when you feel the “afternoon slump” after lunch, it’s actually a natural fluctuation of your Circadian rhythm.
What’s interesting about Circadian rhythms is that everyone has a natural tendency to be either a morning person or a night person. This means that you have a natural tendency to be more alert at certain times of the day. One of the keys to maintaining productivity, then, is learning your natural cycle and working with it, instead of against it. For some people, this might mean waking up early to enhance productivity. For others, it might mean starting later in the day and working late into the night. Keep in mind, though, that maintaining a consistent sleep/wake cycle is important to ensuring healthy sleep, and most people have the strongest desire to sleep from 2 am to 4 am. In other words, staying up late can help you be more productive, but pulling an all-nighter won’t.
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Once you determine your best sleep schedule, you can enhance your sleep by making changes to improve sleep quality. Some things you can do include:
- Avoid things that keep you awake. Caffeine, alcohol, and exercise right before bed can keep you from falling asleep fast. Instead, enjoy some non-caffeinated herbal tea or a snack that can help you sleep before heading to bed. Work out earlier in the day, so you can focus on unwinding before sleep.
- Make your sleep arrangement comfortable. An uncomfortable mattress or pillow can keep you awake or disrupt your sleep. Invest in a high quality mattress that supports healthy sleep, and create a comfortable sleep environment. Your room should be cool, dark, and quiet. Keep your phone in another room or a drawer so notifications don’t awaken you throughout the night.
- Take a supplement. Although melatonin can help you fall asleep fast, other options, including magnesium, Valerian root, and lavender can also help with relaxation and sleep. Talk to your doctor before starting any supplements, and follow the dosage instructions carefully.
- Be alert to sleep disorders. If you can’t seem to get restful sleep no matter what you do, talk to your doctor about a possible sleep disorder. Treating any underlying conditions can help you fall asleep faster and get more restful sleep, so you can be more productive with less time in bed.