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Change This One Habit to Get Ahead at Work

This switch up could help you be more focused, less stressed and on top of your game.

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What’s this major behavior change that can help you get ahead at work? Getting enough sleep. Because not getting enough sleep can affect more than our moods. It can affect everything from our health (conditions like heart disease and diabetes can be linked to poor sleep) to our careers.

As a night owl, I know the struggle. You just want to do one more thing at the end of the day — or take care of one more person (shout-out to the parents and caregivers out there) — and, before you know it, you’ve shorted yourself on the recommended seven to nine hours of shut-eye. Or you push yourself to get up early, even when you’re exhausted, to meet deadlines. And if you’re multitasking, caregiving or just being an all-around superwoman, you may keep this sleep-stealing up to gain “extra” time during the day. (You’ve seen those memes noting we have the exact same 24 hours as Beyoncé. Le sigh.)

But African Americans are more likely than Caucasians to have sleep apnea, poor sleep quality and daytime sleepiness, reports the National Sleep Foundation. And this lack of sleep, or ongoing poor sleep, isn’t good for us. Changing this habit, however, is an excellent idea.

In addition to the potential health benefits, getting enough shut-eye can be crucial for making better business decisions. In fact, “sleep plays an especially important role in not only identifying a good business idea, but in evaluating it and believing it is viable,” according to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Business Venturing, which surveyed more than 700 entrepreneurs worldwide.

Other studies also have found a connection between sleep and work. For instance, minor sleep loss (we’re talking minutes) can interfere with job performance, finds a 2019 study in Sleep Health: Journal of the National Sleep Foundation, with researchers reporting workers who shorted their sleep routines and had worse quality sleep reported more cognitive issues the next day and higher stress levels.

The bottom line: Getting more sleep could help you think clearer at work, identify good ideas, not feel as stressed and possibly more. How’s that for getting ahead? So I did some research and talked to Jay-Sheree Allen, a board-certified family medicine physician in central Minnesota, for tips that hold up, whether you’re holding down a job or work for yourself.

Check your habits. Remember, adults need an average of about seven to nine hours of sleep per night, though some need less and some need more. And sleep quality is as important as quantity, the Mayo Clinic reports. Your sleep patterns may change as you age; you may sleep more lightly or for shorter time spans, for instance. But even older adults need the same amount of sleep as younger adults, the Mayo Clinic confirms.

Set a nighttime routine and a bedtime. Your soothing ritual could include a luxurious bath. “Set a bedtime and the time you wake up, and [then] stick to that,” says Allen.

Turn off the TV and your devices. Devices that emit blue light can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin and reset your internal clock to a later schedule, the National Sleep Foundation reports. (I confess, turning off the TV is hard when there’s acliff-hanger. But that’s what DVR is for. And your email will be there in the morning.) Also consider not having a TV in your bedroom at all. That room should be reserved for sleeping and sex, as Allen reminds us.

Nix the long naps. Grogginess can be a sign you need more sleep. So instead of taking long siestas (anything over 30 minutes isn’t recommended, Allen notes), try to stick to that bedtime we mentioned.

Avoid excessive caffeine. And limit consumption after 3 p.m., Allen advises.

Talk to your health care provider. If you’ve tried these tips and still have trouble, or have other concerns, talk to a professional. That’s partly because insomnia can be linked to other health conditions like depression or even gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), Allen notes. Sleep issues also can be related to certain medications or supplements. “It’s really important to speak to your doctor to make sure this lack of sleep isn’t a sign of something else,” Allen explains.

So, in general, when it comes to being our best at work and beyond, let’s control what we can. More sleep — and career hotshot status — coming right up.