Canada and the United States are tied as the third most sleep-deprived countries in the world—with almost a third of their populations feeling like they don’t get enough sleep.* You can bet a large proportion of those sleepy people are small business owners!
There is nothing better than waking up well rested after a good night’s sleep. We feel refreshed and ready to take on the challenges of the day. A good night’s sleep is especially important when you run your own business. You’ll be able to keep nimble and alert to take advantage of new opportunities.
We know sleep makes us feel good—but the reason why we need to sleep remains a mystery that scientists have been trying to uncover for years.
Why do we sleep?
According to the American Sleep Association, animal studies confirm that sleep is necessary for survival. It turns out that rats, which usually live up to three years, only survive for about three weeks when they don’t sleep.
When we don’t get enough sleep we feel drowsy and it’s difficult to concentrate—so it seems like sleep is connected to our nervous system. One scientific theory is that when we sleep the neurons we use while we are awake are able to shut down and repair themselves.
Experiments on the effects of sleep deprivation also show that too little sleep can impair memory, increase stress hormone levels, and play havoc with our body’s metabolism. Interestingly, when we don’t get enough sleep we perform hand-eye coordination tasks as badly—or even worse—than if we were intoxicated.**
So how much sleep do we need?
The National Sleep Foundation has set up guidelines to help determine how much sleep you and your family needs each day:
- Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours
- Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
- Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours
- School age children (6-13): 9-11 hours
- Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours
- Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours
- Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours
Babies need to sleep most of the day and night because growth hormones are released in their bodies during deep sleep. That’s also why you slept so much when you were a teenager!
How do you get enough sleep when you are running your own business?
Did you just laugh when you saw that adults should be getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night? When you are running your own business it’s hard to make time for a good night’s sleep. When you’re focusing on reaching out to new customers and making sure you retain the ones you have, sleep often comes in very low on the priority list.
We tend to think of sleep as a time when our body and mind shut down. Possibly even a waste of valuable working time! But the opposite is true. You’re actually very active when you’re sleeping—processing information and restoring and strengthening your body.
A few reasons why sleep is important:
Reduces your stress level – This helps control blood pressure***, and it’s also believed that sleep impacts cholesterol levels, which plays a significant role in preventing heart disease.
Makes you smarter – Research done at Harvard University suggests that sleep helps learning in two ways. It helps you focus your attention and also consolidate memory – leading to the ability to learn more efficiently.
Increases stamina – College football players who tried to sleep at least 10 hours a night in a Stanford University study ended up improving their sprint times and having more stamina. Previous studies found the same results in tennis players and swimmers.
Helps shed those extra pounds – Dieters in a study at the University of Chicago who had good sleep habits lost more fat than those who slept less. Instead of losing fat, the dieters who slept less lost muscle mass. Dieters were also hungrier when they had less sleep.
Convinced you need more sleep—but having trouble falling asleep?
Stick to water before going to bed.
- In the 2013 crime caper Parker, Jennifer Lopez asks thief (with a code of honour) Jason Statham how he sleeps at night. He answers, “I don’t drink coffee after seven.” Actually, make that 2:00 p.m., and include tea and energy drinks, as well as soft drinks and flavoured waters that contain caffeine.
- It’s also good to forgo a nightcap. Alcohol may make you feel drowsy, but it can wake you up throughout the night.
Curb the late-night munchies.
- It may be fun to munch on a bowl of buttery popcorn while late-night TV binge watching, but it’s not going to be so much fun when you try to get to sleep later. Eating a lot in the two to three hours before you go to bed slows down your ability to fall asleep, and feeling full can also lead to a restless night.
- If you’re hungry before you go to bed, Joan Salge Blake, RD and clinical associate professor at Boston University, suggests some cottage cheese with banana, which contains tryptophan, an amino acid that converts to sleep-promoting serotonin in your body, or other combinations of carbs and protein, such as yogurt sprinkled with cereal.
- What you eat can affect your sleep, but sleep can also affect what you eat! If you’re sleep-deprived you may crave more fatty foods and less vegetables. Scientists think this is because having less sleep alters chemical signals connected to your metabolism.
Set the thermostat
- Create the optimum environment for sleeping by setting the right temperature. Research shows that a cool room is best for sleep—around 18 degrees Celsius. Our brain prefers to drift off into sleep when we are cooler, says Natalie Dautovich, Ph.D., an environmental scholar at the National Sleep Foundation.
- Better yet, try to sleep with the window open. Fresh air can have a cooling effect and there are a lot of positive associations between fresh air and relaxation. We also feel tired when we experience a slight drop in body temperature.
Know when to show your mattress the door
- If you wake up tired after a solid eight hours of sleep, it could be time for a new mattress. Most mattresses last about eight years. If it starts to sag in the middle or at the edges, or your position on the bed moves when your partner moves, you definitely need to go mattress shopping.
- Pillows should also be checked for lumps and sags, and should support your head and neck while you sleep.****
Stick to a routine
- If you try to go to bed at the same time each night you can help establish patterns that will become consistent over time. The same bedtime and wake-up times helps regulate your body’s clock.
- It’s also good to follow the same routine before you go to bed—i.e. brush your teeth, put on your pyjamas, and read a few pages of your current book. This routine helps your body and mind get ready for sleep.
Keep away from your phone
- Besides being woken up by a phone call or text, it’s good to stay away from all screens before you go to bed, including televisions, computers, and tablets. A study done at Harvard Medical School found it took longer to get to sleep when people read an eBook before they went to bed. They had reduced levels of melatonin, the hormone that regulates the body’s internal body clock, and were less alert in the morning.
Don’t be afraid to take a nap
- When you run your own business, you need to grab some shut-eye whenever you can. Humans are diurnal, which means our biological clock keeps us awake during the day, so it can be hard to fall asleep when the sun is out—but taking a 20 to 30 minute nap can be good for you. It will cut down on the accumulation of lack of sleep, and keep you sharper at work. Even if you do not fall asleep, just lying down in a dark and silent room can make you feel more rested and relaxed.
- According to the National Sleep Foundation, there have been many famous nappers throughout history, such as Napoleon, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Edison—so you are in good company!
Running your own business is not a typical 9 to 5 job. The days are often not long enough to get everything done, and unfortunately sleep can become low on your priority list. Use these tips to make sure you get the sleep you need so you can power through the day and take advantage of all the opportunities that come your way.
The Canadian Sleep Society, American Sleep Association, and the National Sleep Foundation are the main sources for this article.
Other sources not cited directly in the article:
* 2016 study by the insurance provider Aviva.
** American Psychological Association
***Raymonde Jean, MD, Director of Sleep Medicine – St. Luke’s – Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York City
****Dr. Carl Cricco, physician and surgeon
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