Sleep expert Dr. Jessica Payne of the University of Notre Dame and Harvard University says that when we are tired, the following take place:
- Our cortisol levels increase, magnifying our perception of the negative in the environment.
- We have difficulty processing positive attributes in the environment, because the threat network in the brain is on high alert as it tries to help the tired, un-alert brain fend off any danger.
- Lack of sleep—such as five hours or less, four nights in a row—can lead to the same lowered mental acuity as drinking a six-pack of beer.
- When we don’t sleep enough, we lose our mental nimbleness.
- Decision making is impaired.
- Insulin regulation is interrupted, which can lead to blood sugar issues and weight gain.
- Memory becomes faulty and, in chronic cases, memories can be completely erased.
- Write in a sleep journal before bed. Do not, however, turn it into a list of things you have to do tomorrow. Do that to-do list earlier in the evening. Instead, write down one new positive thing you learned during your day, or something for which you are grateful that day. Allow your brain a chance to consolidate that during your sleep.
- Practice winding down before bed instead of being stimulated until the moment you hit the sheets. Go gently into the last hour of your day. Going from email to sleep is a formula for restlessness. Take a bath or shower, listen to music, read “mind candy” magazines or novels—anything that slows down your brain and readies you for sleep.
- Get emails finished one hour earlier in the evening than you are currently doing. Create a hard-and-fast deadline, only to be violated with exceptions.
- Sleep in a completely dark room. Sleep experts suggest that even a little bit of light through the eyelid can make its way to the retina and trigger wakening chemistry instead of the sleep chemistry you need during the night. Also, get an alarm clock with a red display. Blue and white light have been shown to negatively impact mood the next day—blue being the worst.
- Sleep in a silent room. The brain is constantly scanning the environment, even while we are asleep, so try to give it no reason to pull you awake, such as sound or light. Many people report being lulled to sleep by music or white noise, and that’s fine—the sound of a fan or quiet, relaxing music may be an excellent way to induce sleepiness. The trick to staying asleep is to avoid interruptions.