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Want to be more productive at work? Get more sleep: Elaine Chin

Five tips for sleeping smarter

Young man asleep at desk.

(Dougal Waters/Getty)

Kung Hei Fat Choi! Astrologists believe there is leadership associated with the Year of the Horse, and you need to be alert and energetic if you’re going to seize the day. So—just days  into the Chinese New Year—let’s take stock.

How well did you sleep last night? How many hours do you normally sleep?

The thought of my clients tossing and turning or skipping sleep in order to fit more work or workouts in keeps me awake at night, too! Here’s why I believe improving the quantity and quality of the sleep we get should be a Chinese New Year’s resolution for all of us.

1) Lousy sleep habits can lead to your early demise. Have you’ve ever said, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”? Well, if you live by that motto you might just get your wish faster than you would expect. Studies show people who get less than 6 hours of sleep per night of sleep have a 12% probability of dying earlier than others who do sleep long and well (7 to 8 hours is recommended).

2) Poor and insufficient sleep impairs brain function. Losing even one hour of sleep can affect your ability to think properly and respond quickly. To be highly productive and to keep performing at your peak, restorative rest is a must. Your judgment, coordination and how fast you react: all of those abilities are compromised if you don’t get enough sleep. Quality sleep is also restorative in other ways—it helps in cell repair and growth.

3) Sleep quality is important for memory and mental processing. If you’re dreaming, you’re in the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep cycle. REM sleep consolidates and processes the information you’ve learned during the day and forms neural connections that strengthen memory.

4) Your body craves regularity. Poor sleep—not getting your REM sleep or not enough sleep time—can also mess with your hormones, which are important for ensuring the regularity your body needs. Consider the hormone melatonin. It’s secreted by the pineal gland, which is stimulated by exposure to the dark (so keep light emitting devices out of the bedroom!). Melatonin controls sleep and wake cycles, and levels of this hormone peak at night and go down during the day. So it’s a double-edged sword: poor sleep can affect melatonin production, and poor melatonin production can affect your sleep. It gets worse. Melatonin suppression can have serious health consequences.  This brings me to my biggest worry as a physician dedicated to disease prevention.

5) Poor sleep can contribute to chronic disease. Study after study has shown links between skimping on sleep and potentially life-threatening diabetes, obesity and heart disease. One study found that healthy college students going without sleep in excess of 48 hours developed distinct symptoms of diabetes—not just temporary impairment, such as lack of concentration.

How can you ensure you get the best Zs?

  1. Give yourself some wind-down time—one hour would be good. Relax by playing soft music or reading (but not from a light emitting device like a tablet!) before sleeping.
  2. Create an environment conducive for sleeping—a dark and quiet room is ideal.
  3. Remember how your body likes regularity? Going to bed at about the same time each night (even on weekends) can help get you into a good sleep mode.
  4. Pass on alcohol before bed. You may think it knocks you out, but it will actually keep you from leaving the light-sleep stage.
  5. Don’t eat large or heavy meals close to bedtime—choose a light snack instead.

Starting tonight, sleep tight. You’ll thank me in the morning.

Elaine Chin, MD, MBA
Founder, Executive Health Centre