We Americans are a sleep-deprived bunch. We don’t get enough sleep, relying instead on stimulants like caffeine — why do you think coffee is so popular? — to give us an energy boost, and we don’t perform as well as we probably should as a result.
One thing that I’ve found immensely helpful is taking a quick 20- to 30-minute nap in the middle of the day. During hockey season, this was especially crucial, since napping would restore my energy after a long day at school, so I felt fresh and energized when it came time to hit the ice.
As I experimented, I realized that the nap boosted my performance so much that I had to make it a habit. There was really no comparison: with the nap right before practice, I felt at least twice as good in practice, and the benefits of increased energy and alertness carried on for the rest of the day. They didn’t just make me better at hockey; they made me better and more efficient at getting writing and my homework done.
Telling to sleep more seems really obvious, but taking a nap and making a concerted effort to get more sleep has made my performance improve more than just about anything else.
The reason why we are so okay with not getting enough sleep is because we can’t really see the effects while we’re in a sleep-deprived state. Not getting enough sleep on one night, in isolation, won’t do much to hurt our performance, but not getting enough sleep for 3 or 4 consecutive nights will (and your body will let you know). However, most people try to be tough and continue with an overloaded schedule — witness college students, for example — because their body eventually adapts to getting less sleep. Once they’re in that adapted state, they can’t really tell that their performance is being hurt because they’re so tired, so they continue to deny their bodies the sleep that it needs, which further locks them into that adapted state of perpetual sleep deprivation.
In addition, it’s hard to break out of a schedule that demands that you’re awake for 18-20 hours a day; it’s much easier to make commitments than it is to give some up. Most people who don’t get enough sleep actually have very good reasons for doing so: they take on too many commitments and sacrifice sleep in order to meet them all.
The problem is this: we don’t value sleep enough. We don’t get enough sleep because we figure that we can stay up an hour later watching TV and we won’t feel any worse for it. We don’t get enough sleep because we value every possible commitment that we could possibly take up more than we value sleep. We value “doing” over rest and recovery, and that paradigm has to be shifted.
Rest Is Just As Important As Action
The truth is, in order to perform well, you can’t be performing all the time. Endless practice without ample time for rest and recovery is terrible for athletes, so why do we think that we’re any different?
Our bodies operate best in cycles of rest and recovery. That’s why it’s best for us to work in intervals — work for an hour and a half, take a 15- to 30-minute break — and that’s why we live in intervals as well. Ideally, we should be awake for 16 hours, then asleep for 8, and carry on that cycle every day.
Sometimes, the 8 hours of sleep isn’t the best. For, grabbing 7 hours of sleep at night coupled with a 30-minute nap in the middle of the day, works just as well, if not better, than getting 8 hours of continuous sleep at night.
If you want to discover the value of sleep, I’d do a simple sleep experiment to determine how much you’ve been missing out on. It’s very simple:
First, write down how you feel at certain times in the day — 10:00 AM, 2:00 PM, 6:00 PM, for starters — with your current sleep cycle. Detail how focused/distracted you are, how good you feel, how energetic/aware you feel, and how “fresh” you feel. Please do this without the aid of stimulants, like caffeine, especially if you use them all the time.
Second, make sure to get 8 hours of sleep for 4 straight nights. Do whatever you can to make this happen, even if you have to drop some “important” things. This will make sure that you “recover” from your previous sleep-deprived state (if you have a bad sleep cycle, that is).
Third, on the day after your 4th night of getting 8 hours’ sleep, detail your feelings like you did in the first step for your old sleep cycle. Compare your notes to see just how important sleep is. Most people will see quite the jump in their awareness and performance — proof that sleep is incredibly valuable. Even if you have to cut back on some things in order to make a good night’s sleep a regular occurrence, it’s worth it.
Readers – I’m curious to see what you’ll do with this experiment. If you’re living a life of fatigue and low performance, I think getting something as simple as sleep handled may be the thing that brings you back to life. You shouldn’t be living a life where you’re constantly tired of work; you can and should be able to go to work feeling energized, focused, and alive.
How much do you value feeling on top of the world? If you want that feeling, go to sleep.
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