This is Your Brain on Sleep Debt: Join my May 31-Day Sleep Challenge

New! Revolutionary therapy offers: improved mood, increased productivity, higher level performance, and better judgment. I call it Sleep Therapy (and I should probably trademark it). The process: create a routine that supports sleeping well and adequately on a regular schedule. Side effects: um, generally none?

Sleep deficit, just by skipping less than an hour of needed sleep per night over time or one sleepless night leads to decreases in all of the attributes above. As does significant changes in sleep schedule. Sleepy drivers cause one million crashes in the US every year, according to a  report by Harvard, which also concludes that sleep deprived medical professionals, police, and other important jobs put other lives at risk. To make matters worse, sleep deficit causes the kind of bad judgment that makes people think they’re just fine to drive.

Even if I didn’t care about endangering the rest of humanity, I know that I am a better version of myself when I get my eight hours. Therefore I am promising myself to make a serious commitment to getting enough quality sleep. Starting tonight.

Simple, in the abstract, sure. For some people, situation (new baby?) and medical conditions prevent adequate sleep, and (after consulting a doctor), perhaps your solution is to give yourself the best sleep conditions possible, including a regular schedule, and you may need to supplement with short daytime naps.

For my part, even without good reason, on any given night I might feel like I could just spend one more hour… writing, for instance. But like all humans I am subject to two inescapable laws: 1. The need for adequate sleep in order to be effective in any kind of work requiring thought and 2. The law of diminishing returns. We become less and less effective by pounding away at the same task for too long, especially when the task eats into sleep time needed to do the task well. So instead of 18 (or more) miserably unproductive hours a day, I am opting to strive for up to 16 good hours. And why not spend less time on tasks AND do a better job, no?

Thus, I’m laying down the gauntlet: I challenge YOU to join me in a 31-day sleep challenge: Create a routine and habits to help you achieve adequate, quality sleep on a regular schedule for 31 days. Starting tonight.

  1. The first step is to determine how much sleep you personally need. (Hint: 7-9 hours for the average adult. Outside this range on either end has been found to be unhealthy.) Recall times when you felt well-rested to help determine your ideal sleep time. If you can’t remember the last time you felt well rested, well, then, thank goodness you’re about to start this challenge! And I recommend you shoot for 7.5 to 8 hours.
  2. Second, make time in your schedule and cut yourself off from whatever you’re doing before the time you’ve assigned as bedtime. It’s better for your body and easier to stick to good sleep habits if you make a consistent schedule. Determine your ideal sleep schedule by counting backwards from the time you need or want to wake in the morning to come up with your bedtime. Note: it doesn’t count as making your bedtime if you are in bed watching tv or checking Facebook or email etc (not good ideas for quality sleep anyway, but more on this in a later post). Drop everything with enough time to spare so that you can be in your bed with the lights out by your scheduled bedtime tonight. For me, my happy schedule is approximately 9:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. Yeah, that’s just me. I like being up before most of the world; it’s like I get a bonus hour in my day. I’m done with my workout by the time the rest of my time zone is reaching zombie-like for coffee. (Hey, don’t hate me because I’m a morning person.)  Not to worry; you don’t have to wake up early.

Over the month I’ll share more sleep science and tips as well as my own journey. Write about yours in the comments!

For now, I leave you with a few more thoughts (possible journal prompts) to get you started:

  1. What would you do with your day if you had more energy and better mood?
  2. How much sleep are you actually getting? Why?
  3. What habits or situations are interfering with your sleep?
  4. What simple change could you make today to reduce sleep interruptions or to get to bed on time?
  5. Why are animals and babies so cute when they’re asleep?




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