"We worship at the alter of productivity, and as a result, our sleep suffers," says Carolyn Schur, president of Alert@Work Human Resource Services in Saskatoon. Without a good night's sleep, Schur says, we're starting each day with an empty energy tank.
It's a challenge to be engaged at work if you're tired and lacking mental focus. Not only does poor sleep make us less equipped to deal with stress, Schur says, we also increase our chances of having health problems.
Schur recommends seven to eight hours of sleep each night, and says six hours is the absolute minimum. But, even for those that turn off the lights for eight hours every night, achieving restful sleep can be a struggle.
Here are four tips for getting a better quality sleep:
1. Take one hour to unwind
"Turn off before you turn in," Schur says. This means taking an hour before bedtime to settle your mind and body. For instance, you could do some light stretches, go for a short walk, listen to music, meditate, or find another activity that promotes relaxation.
If you're stressed out, with a racing mind, it can be nearly impossible to doze off. Stress raises cortisol levels, and when those cortisol levels are high, Schur says, we experience a decrease in melatonin, the hormone that signals to our body that it's time to sleep. You want to prioritize relaxation to prepare your body for sleep.
2. Create a "technological black-out"
We're tied to our technology and constantly checking for emails and text messages. It's no longer unusual to receive messages from friends, family, colleagues and clients at 8pm, 10pm, or even the middle of the night, Schur says. "People feel a responsibility to respond, but this affects both the quantity and quality of your sleep."
Even if you turn the volume down on your phone, the blue light that emanates from electronics can diminish the quality of your sleep. "That kind of light is a signal to the body to be alert," Schur says. To avoid interrupting your sleep cycle, Schur recommends declaring a "technological black-out" for the number of hours you need to rest.
3. Recognize your "sleep type"
The terms "night owl" and "early bird" are laymen terms for describing our circadian type, Schur says. "These are genetically pre-determined physiological characteristics," she adds. You're either born a "night owl," an "early bird" or fall somewhere in the middle.
Unfortunately, modern society considers waking early as a sign of productivity. "The people that really suffer are the ‘night owls,'" Schur says, "because when they get up at six o'clock in the morning they're missing a large part of their best sleep time."
If you have some control over your office hours, choose a later start to your workday so that you can take advantage of your natural sleep and waking rhythms. "If [employers] let the ‘night owls' work later in the day, they would be more productive," Schur adds.
4. Investigate sleep disorders
Sleep disorders like sleep apnea (interrupted breathing while sleeping), and restless leg syndrome (uncomfortable sensations in the legs) can prevent restful sleep, no matter how long you lie in bed each night. If you wake up each morning unrefreshed, Schur says, consult your doctor for a diagnosis.