Your First (and Most Difficult) Task

by Michael on March 19, 2009 · 0 comments

Of all the things you can do to improve your life, this may be the most important, and the hardest:

Get more sleep.

Not considered "restful" by the CDC. (Flickr image by agoode)

Not considered "restful" by the CDC. (Flickr image by agoode)

Sleep helps you in every aspect of your life. It will help you to think better, work better, eat, exercise and socialize better. The health problems caused by lack of sleep are many, as WebMD will tell you. With adequate sleep, your head will be clearer, you will get sick less often, you will age less quickly…this is bedrock stuff. (No pun intended. Well, maybe a little.)

And how do I know how difficult this is? I hate to go to bed. It’s not insomnia – in fact, I’ve been teased by past girlfriends as Mr.-Out-Like-A-Light. No, the problem is that I can always find always something more to do. I look at the clock and it’s 11 pm. I say to myself, “alright, I can get to bed by 11:30 and grab an easy 8-9 hours.” But the next time I look up it’s 1 am. It’s partly a function of my past lifestyle, in which I could afford to go to bed late and still catch at least a solid 8.

I’ve been working on that, and I’m asking you to do the same.

Be consistent. You should already have an idea of how much rest your body needs to feel rested. If not, this weekend, go to bed at a normal time, and sleep without an alarm clock until you feel like you’re done. You may need to do this several nights to get a true sense of your needs. Then plan to get that much sleep every night. Set an alarm to remind you it’s bedtime if you need to. Plan your day based on the time you need to get up. Studies have shown that younger people usually need more sleep than older people – the opposite of what usually happens.

Make your bed comfortable. Not too hot, not too cold. Soft enough, but not too soft. Your back should not ache in the morning. Mattress too firm? Get a featherbed or mattress topper to add softness.

Make your sleeping space restful. If possible, don’t work in the bedroom – your to-do piles shouldn’t be the first thing you see when you open your eyes. De-clutter. Make sure it’s dark and quiet enough to let you sleep soundly. Air quality may be an issue as well, especially if you have pets. Get an air purifier if you need one.

Prepare your body and mind. You know not to eat a big meal or have caffeine late, but did you know that alcohol and nicotine before bed can also interfere with your sleep? I usually have a small protein drink before I begin my bedtime routine, no carbs or fat to mess with my system.

Mentally, if you have unresolved issues, write them down as a to-do list for the next day so you can get them off your mind. If you have a lot of thoughts kicking around in your head, start a journal and make your updates each night.

Exercise and eat right. Your body chemistry and fitness affect your sleep. Get on a regular workout plan, but work out at least 3-4 hours before bedtime. Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet, and take a multivitamin.

Here’s one I didn’t know: if you find it hard to sleep at night, avoid napping. Instead, get your body used to a regular sleep time. Of course, if you’re forced to get to bed later or rise earlier than usual, and have no trouble sleeping otherwise, naps are go.

If after all this you still toss and turn much of the night, or regularly wake up after what should have been a full night’s rest feeling nasty, you might want to consult a medical professional. Problems like sleep apnea are serious and a sleep study will reveal them.

In the end, a regular good night’s rest will make everything else in life easier. As Dr. Steve Brule would say, “For your health!”

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