Getting enough sleep is crucial to overall health as well as clear thinking. Yet chances are you don’t get enough sleep at night. According to Matthew Walker, of UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab, most of us get about four to six hours of actual sleep, which is not the seven to nine hours we need.
What to do? Walker says that most people will lay their heads on the pillow about seven hours or so from when they intend to wake up—giving themselves what he calls a 7-hour “sleep opportunity.” But of course, people don’t go to sleep immediately, and they may wake up one or more times in the dark hours before the alarm rings. Do the math, and you’re lucky to get six hours of actual rest—probably less.
Walker’s recommendation, which he follows himself, is to expand your “sleep opportunity” to at least eight hours. That means turning off the light and laying your head on the pillow eight hours before the alarm will ring—or more. You won’t sleep the full eight hours, but this improves your chances of getting at least seven. And if you’re one of those people who needs eight or nine hours, you need a nine or ten hour sleep opportunity.
Is there a way to cut down on the restless hours when your brain is racing too fast for you to make the most of your sleep opportunity? Experts say that the prerequisite for sleep is a quiet mind. Meditation or simply allowing yourself to imagine a pleasant scenario that might become a dream can help you stop obsessing about the argument at the office or the big task you have to complete tomorrow. If the problem is performance anxiety (I MUST go to sleep now! I must!), then give yourself permission to stay awake for a while, maybe even TRY to stay awake, and get comfortable with the idea of not sleeping. Feel the frustration dynamic shift.
If you can’t simply dismiss your thoughts, get up for a few minutes and write them down, and finish with the words: “It can wait until tomorrow.” If there is something to really worry about, jot down an action plan that might help solve the problem, and then let yourself believe in the solution as you drift into slumber.
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