This Year, Resolve To Get More Sleep

Make a sleep resolution and stick to it. Here’s how.

Dec 17, 2018
Management

SMITH BRAIN TRUST  Does getting more sleep top your 2019 resolution list? If you aren’t already getting seven to eight hours a night, it should.

Sleep is critical – you can’t function without it – and it’s good for your overall health and mental sharpness. That can help you be more productive during the day and help your career. But to successfully get on the path to more shut-eye, you need a plan, says Gilad Chen, a management professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

“Just to say ‘I have a resolution to sleep better’ is not going to work unless you have a clear plan that you’re committed to sticking with,” Chen says. “It’s all about planning.”

Key to setting effective goals and achieving them is making sure they are meaningful to you and will help you achieve higher level objectives. “So if it’s sleep, that shouldn’t be the ultimate goal – it’s a means to the end,” he says. “Why do you want to sleep more? Because you’ll have a healthier life. You’ll be more effective in work and in life and lead to better outcomes.”

Here’s how to plan to get more sleep:

Be specific. Set specific goals about how much you want to sleep, on average, says Chen. Focus on getting quality sleep, which research shows is better for your mental health.

Create a sleep ritual. Give yourself a bedtime and stick to it. Avoid caffeine late in the day and pay attention to what you eat and drink. Research shows that TV and use of electronic devices interfere with sleep, so power down before bedtime. Don’t check your work email right before you nod off – that can keep you awake even longer.

Rethink your days. Set a schedule that allows you, in the long run, to have more sleep. Ensuring that you’re asleep by your target time means juggling your work and life tasks accordingly, says Chen. “This may mean shifting your schedule. If you have choices throughout your day, make the ones that support your goal,” says Chen. Consider moving your family dinner up to 6 p.m. instead of 7 p.m., if you can. Or try to do your workout first thing in the morning, rather than at night, which can make it more difficult to fall asleep anyway.

Plan ahead. As somebody who says he has never pulled an all-nighter, Chen says staying up until the wee hours of the morning to get things done is akin to cramming for a test: not very effective. “Try to plan ahead rather than putting off everything until the last minute. That would help avoid staying up too late,” he says. “It’s really about how you regulate your tasks at work in the long run.” Examine how you pace your work, allocate your time, and manage and plan for deadlines. You may be able to anticipate the stressful periods and prepare better for them. If you do have too much work to do and the stress is keeping you up at night, talk to your supervisor about your workload or consider delegating when possible.

Use technology. With the help of technology – Apple Watch, FitBit, and other health trackers and apps – you can measure your sleep and use the results to improve your habits. A study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found the Sleepio app was effective for promoting a better sleep regimen.

Focus on the outcomes. “Setting a sleeping goal leads to more important outcomes, like better overall health and better overall effectiveness in your life and career,” Chen says. “To stay motivated, remember your ultimate goal is sleeping better so you can better manage your work and your life, and the balance between them.”

Don’t worry if you don’t ring in the new year with a full eight hours of shut-eye. Chen, who admits he never makes new year’s resolutions, acknowledges that though the start of the year is a natural time to want to make changes, the timing doesn’t make you more or less effective.

“People make resolutions because the start of the new year is a natural event that makes people feel renewed, similar to the start of the new school year,” he says. “But that doesn’t make keeping them more effective than having some other reason in your life to make changes.”

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About the Expert(s)

ChenGilad

Dr. Gilad Chen is the Robert H. Smith Chair in Organization Behavior, at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. He received his bachelor degree in Psychology from the Pennsylvania State University in 1996, and his doctoral degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from George Mason University in 2001. Prior to joining the Smith School, Dr. Chen was on the faculty at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Texas A&M University, and a visiting scholar at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Technion, and Tel-Aviv University.

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