Recently, a report on the airline industry that was kept “secret” for many years has surfaced and it’s not pretty.
To bottom line it: air traffic controllers (you know, the men and women who are responsible
for making sure that planes don’t crash into one another!) are dealing with crazy schedules and extreme sleep deprivation, and it is undeniably impacting their performance at work.
According to the study, many controllers get only 3.1 hours of sleep (on average) before starting a midnight shift and just 5.4 hours before an early morning shift.
No wonder this info was suppressed from public attention, right? It’s terrifying!
But air traffic controllers aren’t the only people who are scrambling to perform well at work despite chronic sleep deprivation. Medical professionals are definitely at risk. And millions of Americans are in a similar situation.
Americans currently average 6.8 hours of sleep at night. Sleep experts typically recommend 8 hours for optimum health and alertness.
So, let’s say that you’re currently getting 6 hours a night when your body really needs 8. That’s a “sleep deficit” of 14 hours per week.
The big question on your mind might be, “How can I possibly catch up? I’m already so busy. Where am I going to find an extra 14 hours to sleep more?”
As a physician, business owner, and mom, I get it. Time is precious and there never seems to be quite enough! But when it comes to getting enough sleep, we really can’t afford to be haphazard. We’ve got to get serious about this. Our lives are, quite literally, at risk.
The best thing is to plan your bedtime with 7-8 hours of shut-eye in mind. Have a wind-down ritual at night and a morning routine that gets you going for an energetic day. If you are still coming up short, here’s my guide to getting your “Bonus 14” hour of shut-eye every week…
1. Stop watching TV just 3 nights per week. [Bonus sleep: 6 hours]
If you typically binge-watch a couple Netflix or Hulu episodes before bedtime, that’s adding up to quite a lot of time throughout the week.
It’s amazing how quickly just “1 episode” can turn into 2, 3 or more.
Choose to skip TV just 3 nights a week and hit the pillow earlier instead. (Your dreams will be far more interesting that the latest episode of The Real Housewives of Fargo and you will awaken feeling refreshed! Promise.)
2. Stop multitasking at work just 1 day per week. [Bonus sleep: 4 hours]
“Multitasking,” aka, flipping from one task to another, keeping your email inbox open at all times, or having a dozen tabs open on your web browser, results in us wasting 20-40% of our workday.
Instead of working productively, all of that wasted time gets spent just trying “get focused” and find a steady groove. Projects that could get finished quickly take up to 40% longer than they need to. Countless studies confirm: multi-tasking is the worst!
Imagine saying “No!” to multi-tasking. Imagine turning your phone to “silent,” putting a “do not disturb” sign on your door, or working offsite somewhere private for one day or afternoon. You could finish your work faster, wrap up the day sooner, and get to bed earlier.
If you typically work 8-10 hours a day, making an effort to stop multi-tasking could buy you a nice chunk of bonus time for sleep.
3. Take a short nap 4 times per week. [Bonus sleep: 2 hours]
Napping isn’t exactly “the same” as getting a full night’s sleep in your bed, but it can combat the negative effects of sleep deprivation and give you a serious boost.
(Just one example: a study from NASA shows that getting a quick nap boosted pilot’s alertness by 34%.)
Schedule a 30-minute nap into your calendar 4 times per week and honor that time just like any other important appointment. If you are an overachiever, you can use Dr. Sara Mednick’s “Nap Wheel” tool to find the optimum time for your “nappointment.”
4. Declare Tuesday to be a “social media free” day. [Bonus sleep: 2 hours]
On average, Americans spend just shy of 2 hours per day using social media, clicking through photos, sharing updates, commenting, and scrolling through other people’s feeds. That’s a ton of time!
Choose one day per week -Tuesday, or any day that you like, and log off completely. You really won’t miss much of anything, and you’ll have so much extra time to rest and snooze.
5. Want to improve your sleep quality?
There are so many steps you can take, including removing electronics from your bedroom (they can keep you awake even when you’re tired), upgrading your bed linens to something more cozy and luxurious (it really helps!), lowering the temperature in your bedroom, adding a fan to circulate the cool air, cultivating a calming evening journaling practice, and consulting with a physician who specializes in sleep medicine if you feel like something else is disrupting your sleep (like snoring or sleep apnea).
No matter what you choose to do: make a few small changes, or big changes, or a total lifestyle reinvention, try to remain gentle and patient with yourself as you put new, healthier habits in place.
The last thing you want to do is beat yourself up for not being “good enough” at getting enough sleep and then wind up staring at your bedroom ceiling, wide awake and distressed, instead of drifting off to dreamland.
Plan your day wisely. Be kind to yourself. Have patience. Focus on making positive upgrades where you can. And remember, sleep is good for your skin too!
Sweet dreams & sleep well…
~ Dr. Sue