In a 2010 TED Talk, Arianna Huffington identified sleep deprivation as the culprit for many bad decisions made by world leaders, and urged all of us to create a better world simply by going to sleep on time [1].

She was right.

Flooded with time-demanding tasks throughout the day, many of us are overwhelmed emotionally and cognitively. Often it’s not just difficult to allocate enough time for sleep, it's hard to get good, replenishing sleep in whatever time we have.

In recent years, studies have repeatedly shown that lack of quality sleep causes the same symptoms of alcohol intoxication—slower reaction time, impaired judgment, and reduced intelligence [2]. Simply put: When we don’t sleep well, we are drunk drivers, workers, and parents.

Here are five things you can do today to "sober up" and get the sleep you need.

  1. Relax from head to toe.

    The path to a good night’s sleep begins with winding down the body and mind in the evening. Our bodies are programmed to sleep when they feel released of tension. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) takes about 15 minutes to complete and in extensive testing by researchers worldwide, it's been found to be an effective means of inducing a sense of overall calm and specifically improving quality of sleep [3]. To practice it, one goes through the entire body, from head to toe, repeatedly straining and then releasing various muscles. Several websites offer free audio instructions you can follow to carry out PMR (e.g. [4], [5]).
  2. Dim the lights and screens.

    Researchers at the Harvard Medical School’s Sleep Lab recently showed the adverse effect of lighting on quality of sleep. Blue light in particular has been shown to promote alertness—it can be used to help night-shift workers maintain their productivity [7]. So it's unlikely to help you get to sleep. To get some shut-eye, turn of the lights early, especially backlit electronic screens like TVs, mobile phones, tablets. If you like to use an electronic device for reading in bed, opt for an e-reader [8].
  3. Take your mind elsewhere.

    At the end of a busy day, your brain could be overwhelmed with information that is still being processed and absorbed. Trying to empty your mind may be hard—but it could be easier to fill it in with alternative content. Guided visualizations take you through a detailed description of an imaginary scenario, replacing your existing thoughts and emotions with different scenery and with new situations, slowly bringing you to a state of calm that naturally leads to sleep [6].

  4. Keep it cool.

    A gradual reduction in body temperature signals to our body that it is time to go to sleep [9]. The trick is therefore to get yourself warmed up—maybe with a hot shower—and then cool your bedroom to a level that is slightly cooler than comfortable. The change in temperature will not only help you get to sleep quicker but will help make your rest longer and better.
  5. Write 3 good things.

    “Three Good Things” is a simple and effective exercise developed by Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of the positive psychology movement. In this exercise, one concludes the day by writing down three things that went well, along with an explanation of why those events or occurrences had a positive outcome. People who maintained such a journal for a single week were found to be measurably happier over a period of six months [10]. Taking these notes before bedtime helps bring clarity on the day that has passed, along with a focus on its positive side.

[2] "Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer," A Conversation with Charles A. Czeisler by Bronwyn Fryer, Harvard Business Review, October 2006
[3] Francis et al (2012), “Effectiveness of Progressive Muscle Relaxation Therapy on Quality of Sleep among Patients Admitted in Medical Ward of a Selected Hospital in Mangalore,” International Journal of Nursing Education .Vol. 4 Issue 2, p46-50.
[6] Hoffart and Keene, “Body-mind-spirit: The benefits of visualization,” American Journal of Nursing, December 1998 - Volume 98 - Issue 12
[9] Silberman, Stephanie A. The insomnia workbook: A comprehensive guide to getting the sleep you need. New Harbinger Publications, 2009.
[10] Seligman, Martin EP, et al. "Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions." American psychologist 60.5 (2005): 410.

About the Author

Ran Zilca

Ran Zilca is a research scientist, entrepreneur, and author.

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