Not gonna lie, as I start this post, the age-old question, “Should I take a nap?”, keeps running through my head. Napping is a pretty regular part of my day, but I try to avoid napping before noon if possible.

Just over four years ago, my life changed seemingly overnight. I was diagnosed with a sleep disorder, narcolepsy with cataplexy. My sleep cycle is irregular and I often get very tired during the day. On occasion, I also have to deal with muscle paralysis (cataplexy) which is triggered by a strong emotion like laughter.

So, why am I telling you all of this?

Because it’s Sleep Awareness Week and the secret to getting better work done in less time is GET MORE SLEEP.

As I’ve learned to deal with narcolepsy, there is currently no cure, just medication to treat the symptoms, I’ve learned just how important sleep is to function properly.

We live in a sleep-deprived culture where getting just a five or six hours of sleep each night is normal, but the toll it’s taking on our bodies is setting us up for failure.

After reading neuroscientist Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, I knew I wanted to share a few key pieces of his work with you.

How much sleep do I need?

The amount of sleep one needs varies from person to person, but we all need seven to nine hours.

Sleeping less than seven hours will start to take a toll on both your brain and body — your immune system is compromised and your brain becomes less efficient, making it difficult to be productive.

Not getting enough sleep also ups your risk for heart attack, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. Driving on little or no sleep can be just as dangerous as driving drunk. After being awake for 19 or 20 hours, you’re as cognitively impaired as someone who is drunk.

When you get enough sleep, your brain and body will be refreshed and ready to work.

How to improve your sleep

I know what you’re thinking, “But Katie, it’s not that easy to just get 8 hours of sleep every night.”

I totally understand and I’ll be the first to admit I don’t get as much sleep as I would like either. But there are things we can do to get a better night’s sleep.

  • Create a short routine that you do every night before bed to let your body know it’s time to sleep. Take a few minutes to unwind before hopping into bed. Try sipping a cup of warm (caffeine-free!) tea, reading a good book or journaling about your day. The more consistent you become, the better your sleep can get!
  • Take your routine one step further and set a sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day—even on the weekends. To help you stick to your schedule, set an alarm to remind you to start your nighttime routine.
  • Create an ideal sleep environment. Keep your room dark and cool. Invest in fun new curtains with blackout panels to keep light out.
  • Keep tech out of the bedroom. We’ve all heard this before, but it is so important to a good night’s sleep.
  • If you wake up during the night, don’t lie awake for more than 20 minutes in bed. Grab a book and head to another room to read. Don’t play on your phone. When you start to get sleepy, head back to bed.
  • The effects of caffeine last longer than the initial jolt. If you have a cup in the late afternoon, it can keep you up hours later.
  • Limit your alcohol intake. Even if you easily fall asleep with a glass of wine or two, your not getting the restful sleep your body desires.

You don’t have to start doing all of these things at once to get a better night’s sleep, instead, start with one that you can easily integrate into your life. Once you have it down and start sleeping better, try to add another new habit.

I’m still working to keep my phone out of the bedroom at night. Since we only have cell phones, I’m always hesitant to put the phone in another room, but I do try to limit mindless scrolling once I’m in bed.

I don’t want you to panic if you’re not getting enough sleep. It’s something to keep in mind when you decide to stay up a little later to finish that blog post or watch one more episode. When you get the sleep your body needs, you are able to function better overall, therefore the quality and quality of your work can increase.

Wishing you sweet dreams!

Want to read more?
Matthew Walker on Fresh Air
A Sleep Expert Explains What Happens to Your Body and Brain if You Don’t Get Sleep, Business Insider
Productive on Six Hours of Sleep? You’re Deluding Yourself, Expert Says, Chicago Tribune

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