Go to bed: Enough sleep is crucial for success

Even though you know you need eight hours of sleep a night, you probably sleep much less than that. Me, too.

After a recent all-nighter baking for my son’s birthday party, I told myself I would never stay up late to work again. But then I worried that I was lying. So in an effort to really reform myself, I’ve compiled a list of things to remember next time I see the clock strike 10pm.

1. Sleep deprivation makes you act drunk. Occupational and Environmental Medicine reported that if you stay up for 18-20 hours in a row, your mental capacities are the same as those of people with a blood alcohol level of 0.1 percent, which exceeds the legal driving limit.

2. You’re smarter if you sleep enough. Scientists at the University of Luebeck found that when you sleep eight hours, you solve problems that you cannot solve when you haven’t slept enough. So pulling an all-nighter seems fine– if you don't have to be smart the next day. But sooner or later, it won't matter if you have the capacity, somewhere, to be brilliant. If you don't ever exhibit it because you never sleep, then for all intents and purposes, you’re a slow thinker.

3. Creativity happens after a good sleep. Maybe manic folks can succeed with no sleep, but for typical workers, sleep allows the brain to synthesize in ways that precede a great idea. Dmitri Mendeleev came up with the periodic table of the elements by dreaming it.

4. People who don't sleep are in denial. I’ve heard so many people say, "I don't need eight hours." Okay. Fine. You need seven. But unless you're over 65, you need at least seven hours. You lie to yourself when you say you don't need the sleep, and the person hurt by the lie is you, because you never allow yourself to be your best self during the day. You never get to see what you can really do.

(4a. I, by the way am not one of those people who say I don't need sleep. I always want more sleep. But I'm still in denial. I’m in denial all day, leading up to the sleep deprivation. I have opportunities to get the most important stuff done, but instead I do easy, unimportant things like answer random emails. I keep saying to myself, "I have time, I have time." But I don't have time. Not if I'm going to get eight hours sleep.)

5. The just-before-sleep part is magic. One of my favorite sensations is lying down to sleep but not falling asleep right away. My mind clears up, and I see all kinds of things that the tumult of the day obscured. Lying on the pillow with nothing to do is a luxurious feeling. But if I'm not getting enough sleep, that time is gone; I fall asleep the second I’m horizontal. 

Like all addicts, I am telling myself, as I do this sleep deprivation thing tonight, that I'll never do it again. But really, I think getting enough sleep takes a huge commitment. You need to reorganize your life so that when it's time to go to bed, you've finished all the essentials. And you need to make getting enough sleep essential.

I say "you" because I'm not quite sure that I'm there yet. But now at least I have a list of reminders for the next time I see my bedtime slipping by.
Penelope Trunk has worked for many businesses and even started a few, and now she's too busy to write her column, so this advice is reprinted from an earlier edition of the Hook.

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