By Anne L. Fritz
These days, more and more people are sleeping fewer and fewer hours. But we don’t need to tell you that. Keeping up with your kids, household and the rest of your life has likely made you a living, breathing — and exhausted — example of today’s sleep-deprived woman.
But a sleep deficit can be a lot more problematic than just making you feel tired. It can also negatively impact your health. Studies have shown that people who don’t get enough quality sleep are more likely to be overweight, because the body may create less leptin, a hormone that regulates appetite.
Sleep deprivation can also increase levels of C-reactive protein, a substance that puts you at a greater risk for inflammation that leads to heart disease. What’s more, shaving off hours from your rest can leave you feeling extra stressed and make your skin duller and more tired-looking. (Skin goes to work shedding dead cells and repairing itself while you snooze.)
To avoid the pitfalls, most adults need seven or eight hours, says Phyllis Zee, M.D., director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Not hitting the magic number? Here are some innovative ways to squeeze in an extra 30 to 60 minutes of sleep each day.
1. Ban the snooze button
Even if it doesn’t feel like it, you’re actually more awake the first time your eyes open than after a string of 10 snooze naps. “Continuing to fall back asleep after each alarm buzz makes you feel groggier in the end,” says Dr. Zee. So either set your alarm for the time you must wake up or get up on the first buzz and save those snooze minutes for an early-afternoon nap.
2. Become a champion multitasker
You’ve already mastered the art of doing two things at once (sometimes more!), so these ideas should be a breeze. Count the extra minutes you save throughout the day and go to bed that much earlier.
- Drive and talk. Get a hands-free device for your cell phone and catch up with your friends on your way home from work instead of after dinner.
- Email anywhere. Don’t have a BlackBerry or iPhone? Think about getting one. You may cluck at those people constantly glued to their mini-screens, but the occasional check-in while waiting for soccer practice to end, for example, lets you stay on top of your inbox and Facebook account. Doing this means less time getting bleary-eyed at the computer and more time getting shut-eye.
- Have a working lunch. Instead of going out with co-workers, pack a lunch once or twice a week and pay bills or tackle your online to-do list during the noon hour.
- Plot a course. Think about all your errands and ask yourself if there’s a way to spend less time behind the wheel. For example, can you use the grocery store’s pharmacy instead of the one a mile away? Is your current dry cleaner really better than the one next to your son’s school? Make all your stops as convenient and as close as possible.
3. Limit caffeine after 4 p.m.
You need that cup of coffee or tea in the morning, but think twice before making a Starbucks run or downing a Diet Coke in the afternoon. Depending on how much caffeine is in that venti latte, it could take 24 hours for it to flush out of your system. That means you could still feel the perky effects of your pick-me-up at, say, 10 p.m., and instead of winding down, you’d be gearing up to start the next item on your to-do list.
4. Nap the right way
Four to 7 p.m. is the nap danger zone — when you feel most sleepy but also when you should most avoid dozing off. Why? Snoozing in the late afternoon or early evening can keep you awake later at night, says Dr. Zee. If you can, nap only between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. and limit actual sleep time to 15 minutes, she suggests. That’s all you really need to feel invigorated, she says. Nap any longer, and you could feel groggy.
5. Make the most of your evenings
Try to prepare for the next day’s activities on the night before. You’ll be able to sleep in a bit longer and rest easier knowing things are in order and ready to go.
- Prep while you cook. Make tomorrow’s lunches while waiting for the pasta to boil or the casserole to bake, or while cleaning up leftovers. Food and condiments are already out, saving you a few minutes in the end.
- Ditch the blow-dryer. Shower and shampoo hair at night and let it dry while you sleep. Better yet, only wash it every few days. A spritz or sprinkle of dry shampoo soaks up oil and revives your style.
- Set it and forget it. Pick out everything you need for tomorrow’s outfit the night before, including shoes and accessories. Double-check that all your essentials — wallet, keys, letters for the post office — are in your handbag and place it by the door. Also, keep your daily skin care and makeup products out and ready so you don’t waste time rifling through a bag full of stuff you never use.
6. Establish a bedtime
What time must you wake up to get the kids to school on time and yourself to the office? Now work backward seven or eight hours to figure out when you must hit the hay to get a full night’s sleep. About an hour or two before, take a warm shower or bath, then put on socks to keep your feet warm. Warming up and then keeping your feet toasty allows your core body temperature to fall slightly, helping you relax and fall asleep easier, says Dr. Zee. The scheduled downtime also prevents you from losing track of time while reading, watching the evening news or surfing Facebook.
How many hours of sleep do you get each night?