These sleep habits can make you better at your job

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When you’re working toward a big goal, such as learning a new skill or completing an ambitious project, finding time to keep your life together might be a challenge. Between commuting, working at a full-time job, and maintaining personal relationships, it’s often tough to find enough hours in the day.

Unfortunately, one way that may hard-working, passionate people address this problem is to burn the midnight oil. It’s easy to understand why this is tempting; getting 8 hours of sleep every night can start to look like a luxury when time is limited. With all the increased personal and professional expectations many of us face, it’s easy to see why sleep deprivation has become so commonplace for American adults.

According to the American Sleep Association, roughly 40 percent of adults report getting less than 7 hours of sleep every night. They also report that, among other symptoms, chronic sleep deprivation can result in moodiness, hunger, excessive sleepiness during the daytime, and mistakes due to lack of attention. If your professional success depends on attention to detail and minimal errors (sound familiar, developers?), getting adequate sleep should be a high priority.

Do your sleep habits need a little tune-up? Good news: there are some very simple ways you can make sleeplessness a thing of the past. Here are some things to try:


Be careful with substances

Do you love your cup or two of coffee in the morning? More power to you. For many people, though, caffeine isn’t just for the mornings anymore; it’s fuel for the whole day. While this may feel like a good way to get through the afternoon fog, research shows that after three consecutive nights of inadequate sleep, caffeine loses its effectiveness.

In addition to not being particularly useful at perking you up if you’re chronically sleep-deprived, caffeine in the afternoon is notorious for worsening sleep problems by making it harder to get to sleep at night. If a hot drink in the afternoon has become a ritual for you, consider replacing coffee with herbal tea to get the same cozy feeling without the detrimental effects.

Lest you think alcohol is better for your sleep habits than coffee, think again; just like caffeine, it’s a very fickle friend. While it is true that alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, consuming too much of it is disruptive to your body’s sleep rhythms, and can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night. Your best bet is to limit consumption of both caffeine and alcohol in order to get more consistent and restful sleep.


Take a screen time-out

If you’re like many of us, there have been a few nights where you’ve gotten in bed at a reasonable time, only to spend an hour or more idly scrolling through your social media apps. Odds are good you already know that’s not a particularly helpful habit when it comes to getting a good night of sleep.

For one thing, the content of what you see may evoke an emotional reaction that makes harder for you to fall asleep. But playing a game on your phone isn’t a much better way to calm down for the night. That’s because the blue and white light that comes from most screens is really to blame. This kind of light stops your brain from releasing melatonin, a hormone that tells your body it’s time to go to sleep.

Getting more consistent and restful sleep may require breaking this particular habit. Experts suggest turning off or putting away all screens at least an hour before bedtime for optimal rest. Since one of the best ways to break a habit is to replace it with another one, consider finding a restful thing to do—such as reading a book, playing a musical instrument, or working on a craft— in that hour before bed.


Consistency is key

One good night of sleep will not power you through a whole week. To see the restorative health benefits of sleep, it’s important to adopt new habits and be consistent. That doesn’t just mean cutting back on coffee, booze, and screen time; it also means proactively making choices to prioritize good sleep. One of the most frequently-cited ways to improve sleep hygiene is to go to bed and wake up at about the same time every day.

While this may sound impractical to people with varied and busy schedules, there’s ample science to suggest that it makes a big difference in sleep quality. Keeping roughly the same bedtime signals to your body when it’s time to power down, and when it’s time to be active. After a few weeks of consistent rest, you may find you don’t need as much caffeine in the mornings to keep you mentally and physically alert.


Sleep is worth prioritizing

For people who are passionate about their work or personal projects, setting aside eight hours every night for sleep may feel counterintuitive. It’s easy to understand why that’s the first thing to go when time is limited. However, when your job requires mental acuity and the ability to focus, getting restful, consistent sleep is crucial. By making these few tweaks to your daily habits, you may find that your overall well-being, as well as your job performance, improve significantly.