As I continue to age and leave behind my youthful energy and resilience, it has become evermore important for me to structure my days in a sustainable, productive, and efficient way. In previous years, particularly in high school and university, I thought myself to be firmly in the night owl camp — sleeping at 2 or even 3 AM was not uncommon, and this would in turn shift the productive hours of my day towards the afternoon and evening. When you are a student with no time or personal obligations, it is possible and even enjoyable to live such a lifestyle. However, being a 9-5er with goals outside of my professional life, the game of time management is one I am starting to appreciate, and enjoy. It seems to me that having less ‘free time’ actually leads to more productivity and ‘true free time’, because it forces one to address the mandatory tasks and blocked off hours of the day before scheduling the remaining personal time with tasks of priority. Like anyone else, I have my highly productive days and practically useless days, however one thing that has been a consistent and critical variable in the productivity of my days has been the quality and quantity of sleep. The benefits of sleep are well documented, and I will not attempt to rehash them here. However, one must approach sleep in a personalized and disciplined way in order to get the most out of their days. Below are a few of the most important factors in mastering sleep and maximizing the potential of the day:
This is the starting point of mastering sleep. Some need less, some need more, but in general, assuming your are subscribing to the typical monophasic sleep schedule, anything less than 6 hours of sleep will result in cognitive payoffs and fatigue later in the day. Personally, I have found that 8 hours of sleep is the optimal amount of time I need to be fully charged for the day. Of course, I go through slight periods of fatigue throughout the day (often around 2-5pm), however if I am in not in a sleep deficit this is nothing that can’t be conquered. Caffeine helps get through these portions of the day, and timing caffeine consumption, I find, can help reduce burnout over the course of the day. I have recently stopped drinking coffee first thing in the morning, and instead drink one cup around lunch time. This helps me get through the second half of the work day. I hope in the future to try a caffeine detox, however I genuinely enjoy the taste and culture of coffee drinking, so I doubt that will be happening any time soon. Worth noting that drinking caffeine later in the day is a dangerous game to play, as it can keep one up later than ideal if consumed too late.
It may seem like something for children, but having a bed time, or a general period where one winds down before bed, is critical in building a sustainable sleep schedule. I pity those who’s work requires them to switch between day and night shifts, as this would throw off any consistent rhythm building. Having a set bed time allows one’s body to adjust to a regular schedule, subsequently taking a lot of physiological strain off the body and mind.
The quality of sleep is equally as important to the quantity of sleep. Sleep quality is diminished when one drinks alcohol, even in small amounts, and I find even when drinking minimally my sleep is not as rewarding as when I have gone to sleep completely sober. Having a comfortable sleeping set up, which is quiet, dark, and free of blue light from screens is helpful in not only falling asleep but maximizing the quality of that sleep. Turning off all devices 1 hour before I hit the hay, I usually read a book before bed to help detach my mind from the grip of screens, social media, and technology in general. This ritual has helped me maintain a consistent and high quality sleep schedule.
I have previously written about my journaling practice before, and it is another component of my sleep routine that I find beneficial in preparing me for a good night’s sleep. It allows me to declutter my mind, assess the wins and loses of the day, and set new goals for the next day and week. It can be difficult to fall asleep when one’s mind is running through untangled thoughts lingering on from earlier in the day, and journaling allows you to address any mental concerns and think about solutions and next actions. It couples well with bed time routine for this reason, and is a great habit in general to have.
A consistent and adequate sleep schedule is a launching point for a productive day, week, and year. Prioritize sleep and watch yourself win, or neglect it suffer.