Last night, I began to read an excellent novel right before I went to bed. The plot twists! The engaging dialogue! The cliffhangers! It was a great read. But there was a problem. When I finally went to put the book down two hours later, I was completely wired, and nowhere near sleep. Needless to say, I wasnât too productive the next day.
I always thought it was a good habit to read before bed. Was I wrong?
Kind of. I had failed to take my own advice — to do something mindless before bed — and had instead remained engaged in something that was mentally stimulating, instead of something that helped me wind down. Stress is stress, whether its source is work, or a fictional heroine who wonât leave her unfaithful husband. And that stress is responsible for 33% of adults losing sleep.
But my story shows that external stressors arenât always to blame. Sometimes, our own routines are getting in the way of our productivity, especially when it comes time to settle in for the evening. Itâs not easy, but with a little recognition and behavior modification, your bedtime routine can go from wrecking your work, to enhancing your productivity.
Bottom Line: You’re Not Sleeping Enough
As you may have guessed, we are faced with a sleep deprivation epidemic — 34.8% of U.S. adults sleep less than the recommended minimum of seven hours each night. And itâs getting expensive. In the U.S., the lack of productivity caused by sleep loss costs employers as much as $411 billion a year.
Less than seven hours in one night is what the CDC calls âshort sleep,â which weâll use throughout this post. Among such side effects as high blood pressure and diabetes, short sleep can also lead to âfrequent mental distress.â In other words, it can really mess up our work and life in general.
On top of that, short sleep is linked to a higher probability of obesity, probably due to its correlation with poor eating habits. When youâre sleep deprived, youâre more likely to mindlessly eat or make less-than-healthy food choices. But we also eat poorly when weâre stressed, and when weâre stressed, we donât sleep well. All of these behaviors are linked and, ultimately, are leading to this epidemic of exhaustion.
That network of cause-and-effect does more than illustrate that youâre probably not sleeping enough. It shows the complexity behind why youâre not sleeping enough, which is where your bedtime routine comes in. So letâs explore some of the âwhyâs. Once youâre aware of them, you can fix them.
6 Reasons Why Your Bedtime Routine Is Wrecking Your Work
1) Youâre eating a bunch of crap (and probably too late in the day).
In addition to short sleep causing bad eating habits, the same thing works in reverse — diets high in saturated fat and carbohydrates, for example, have been linked to lower sleep quality. Plus, our tolerance for glucose decreases later in the day, so eating late a night can also throw off our circadian rhythm, the biological sleep-and-wake pattern of humans.
But willpower is hard — and as my colleague Mike Rehahan once wrote, it depletes as the day progresses, so the later it gets, the more tempted we are to indulge in comfort food that we don’t have to cook ourselves. After a long, tired day, it’s a recipe for disaster. You’re not just more likely to indulge. You also risk depriving yourself of quality sleep, creating a vicious cycle of exhaustion.
Hereâs where planning ahead can tremendously help. When the weekend rolls around, all we really want to do is watch Netflix and shop online. But setting aside two hours on Sunday afternoon to cook meals for the week can help preserve your willpower on those late nights. But make sure youâre giving yourself the right kind of sustenance — check out my colleague Lindsay Kolowichâs tips on that.
2) Sleep isnât in your schedule.
When our days are already so overbooked, it seems ridiculous to schedule something like sleeping. But itâs called a routine for a reason — âsetting a pattern of going to bed at the same time each night and rising at the same time each morning,â according to the CDC, is key to sleeping well.
Not too long ago, I wrote about how I use a technique called time blocking and create calendar events for everything — getting dressed, working out, and feeding my dog. But when I realized that I was slipping into the bad habit of being liberal with my bedtime, I knew that I would need to schedule time to turn off my electronics, too.
When I asked my team to share the bedtime habits that mess with their productivity, Managing Editor Emma Brudner replied, âFalling into the rabbit hole of the internet for hours.â Sheâs not alone — I have a bad habit of turning a simple search for a carbonara recipe into an hours-long research session on the culinary arts. And when that happens, my desired bedtime falls to the wayside.
That said, too much screen time before has other impacts on sleep quality that weâll discuss later. But scheduling a time to unplug can prevent those evening hours from wasting away. Depending on your bedtime, try programming a recurring calendar event to shut down two hours before you actually want to get to sleep for Monday through Wednesday. As it becomes habitual, start adding additional nights.
3) Youâre planning your next work day at home.
Iâm a big believer in the separation of home and office. Even when I work from my modest apartment, I have a special space set aside to attend to my tasks — every other area is an off-limits, no-work zone.
That accomplishes two things. First, it helps to keep certain distractions out of sight while Iâm working. And when Iâm not, having a something like a designated âweekend chairâ keeps me from checking work email when I should be recharging — as 50% of us are wont to do.
Thatâs why I also believe that all work-related tasks, including planning for the next day, should be limited to designated work spaces only. Thinking about that seemingly endless schedule can cause some anxiety, which you donât want to bring into a place thatâs designated for personal time — especially at a time of day when youâre supposed to be winding down.
It might mean staying at the office a bit later, but planning your next day at a designated workspace can help maintain your home and sleeping areas as a stress-free sanctuary. Try it tonight — chances are, youâll be glad you left your work at work.
4) Youâre putting off morning stuff until the morning.
We know — when else would you do morning things?
But my colleague, Sophia Bernazzani, stresses the value of getting certain morning tasks done in advance, and she suggests taking â15 minutes to lay out your outfit, pack your lunch, and prep your coffeeâ the night before.
If youâre not a morning person, she explains, âdecision making abilities are limited — so you should save them for work.â So completing these items ahead of time not only gives you the peace of mind of having them done — but also, it frees up a bit of time in the morning to sleep more, work out, or meditate, which is shown to lower stress levels by 31% and increase energy throughout the day by 28%.
5) Youâre ignoring your tension.
We have instincts for a reason — weâre built to instinctively seek out the things that will help us survive. Those are represented in Maslowâs hierarchy of needs, which includes sleep at its baseline.
When we ignore our instincts, things start to go haywire because weâre essentially fighting biology. And when we ignore our instinct to sleep — by reading “just one more” chapter, or watching “just one more” episode — it can lead to even more tension over the fact that weâre losing sleep.
Itâs very meta, but stressing over a loss of sleep will only make you less likely to fall asleep, since — say it with me — stress causes sleep loss.
But when you can’t get that stress off your mind, write them down. It makes sense that journaling before bed has shown to improve sleep quality — it gives your troublesome thoughts somewhere else to âlive,â rather than being mentally recycled when youâre trying to quiet your mind.
6) Youâre looking at screens.
Weâre starting to feel a bit like a bunch of broken records with this one — yes, we harp away about ditching the screens before bed. And yet, nearly half of us continue to use our smartphones before bed.
But if youâre getting as sick of reading about it as we are of nagging about it, hereâs a quick rundown, courtesy of Harvard:
- Blue light is the kind emitted from most electronics.
- Itâs often cited as the culprit for sleep loss, because it sends a signal to your brain that daylight is present.
- That — like so many of the behaviors weâve listed here — causes disorder to your circadian rhythm. When your brain thinks thereâs daylight, it also thinks itâs time to wake up, not go to bed.
Seriously. Put the screens away before bed.
Give It a Rest
Our cultural sleep deprivation might make things look a bit bleak. Itâs causing us to be grossly underproductive, which is causing our collective employers to lose a lot of money. Not only that, but itâs making us sick.
But we hope this post emphasizes that it doesnât have to be that way, and that our bad bedtime habits can be modified. Donât try to tackle all of these things at once — start with the one thatâs easiest for you to change, and once you master it, slowly work your way through the list.
Consider the fact that people who sleep six hours or less each night lose about six days worth of productivity each year. When you feel tempted to stay up late, ask yourself, âWhat could I do with six extra days?â Let yourself dream — itâll be worth it.
What does your bedtime routine look like? Let us know in the comments.