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  • Matt Gillespie, M.A., RP, C.C.C.,

Sleep Your Way to Success

Alright, I admit that this was a bit of a misleading headline, so I should clarify that in this blog I will be making recommendations on improving the quality and quantity of sleep that you get, and will not be recommending mixing business with pleasure. In fact, I recommend quite the opposite.

We live in a capitalist society which runs on production of goods and provision of services, which in turn demands that we must constantly work to maintain our productivity. In order to maintain or even improve our productivity, we often blur the lines between work and home. In my personal and professional relationships, I have heard many people describing their methods of keeping up with their workload, which often includes strategies like skipping breaks, coming into the office early, or taking work home. For students, this can include staying up late to cram for a test or pulling an all-nighter to finish an assignment. While these strategies may prove effective in the short-term, prolonged use actually saps away at our productivity to the point where we have to put in longer hours to complete our daily work. One of the worst side effects of blurring our work life/home life boundaries is that even when we move on to other personal tasks or try to relax, our work is in the back of our head, spinning our cognitive wheels, preventing rest and relaxation, and causing feelings of anxiety. We keep this anxious energy with us during times when we should be focusing on other things, like family, social relationships, hobbies, and relaxation. This becomes especially problematic when we are trying to sleep but feeling unable to “turn our brains off” because there is so much running through them.

Sleep is an absolutely crucial component of a healthy lifestyle. During sleep, our brainwaves become calmer, important short-term memories are converted to long-term while the fluff of the day is thrown out, our heart rate and blood pressure lower and give our cardiovascular system a break from the demands of the day, and our bodies take advantage of our relaxed state to complete vital physical and psychological regeneration. In other words, by day our body and mind are at our disposal, but at night, when we are not consciously directing them, they perform their daily maintenance. When we lose out on sleep due to restlessness or staying up to get that extra hour of work done, we are preventing ourselves from refueling, which in the short term can lead to decreased cognitive functioning and learning capacity, decreased energy levels, increased stress and reactivity to stress, irritability, reduced judgment, and increases the probability to accident or injury. In the long term, sleep deprivation can lead to increased susceptibility to illness, cardiovascular disease, insomnia, weight gain, and even early mortality. Whether it is in the short or long run, it is clear that sacrificing sleep to increase productivity has the opposite effect, and can lead to other conditions that further impede our productivity. Here are a few important tips to improve the quantity and quality of sleep you are getting, which in turn will likely lead to an increase in your functional abilities and productivity:

  1. Leave work at work. You aren’t doing yourself or your job any favours by fixating on work while you’re at home. Your work will be waiting for you when it is time to work. If you work from home or are a student, set firm boundaries to avoid overworking yourself.

  2. Avoid TV, computer, and phone screens for an hour before bed. The light from these screens prompts our body to inhibit melatonin secretion, and interferes with the process of drifting off to sleep.

  3. The darker the room, the better. If you’re uncomfortable with a pitch black bedroom, the best thing you can do it open your blinds and allow natural light to enter the room. If you prefer to have a light on, make sure it is a soft light and is not in your direct line of sight.

  4. If you like falling asleep to the TV, try soothing music or white noise instead. Whether you’re aware of it or not, your brain tunes in to what you are listening to, so avoid anything with dialogue and opt for ambient noise that will promote rest and relaxation.

  5. Get enough exercise during the day, but not in the three hour before you go to bed. Getting exercise exhausts our body’s supply of energy, promotes sleep, and increases the body’s ability to access energy stores.

  6. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine as much as possible, especially in the four hours before sleep. These interfere with our body’s chemical make-up and prevent us from falling asleep and staying asleep.

Use these tips to improve the sleep you are getting, which will in turn improve your ability to concentrate and get things done when the time calls for it, and contribute to living a healthy, happy life. Do you have any other tips that you’ve found helpful to induce a good night’s sleep?

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