The beauty of sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is fundamental to good health. It took me years to realize this, but I’m a convert today.

The beauty of sleep by Nancy Knowlton

When people think of their health and a healthy lifestyle, sleep doesn’t top most lists, but perhaps it should. The more I learn, the more value I place on sleep. Along with nutrition and exercise, it is one of the three most important elements of my healthy lifestyle. It’s not just the regenerative sleep at night that I appreciate – I love a good, short nap as well.

Sleep deficit

For too many years I shortchanged myself on the sleep front, racking up long hours of awake time almost as a badge of honor. I worked late into the evening and arose early for work. With the advent of the laptop and the availability of full network services from home and on the road, my workday extended unreasonably. E-mail called out to me relentlessly and I responded. Quiet time on a flight allowed me to push projects along that required some deep thinking.

I rationalized my behavior, of course. I was young, and I didn’t need a lot of sleep. When I wasn’t young anymore, I was used to working on 4 or 5 hours of sleep – I had adapted. I had a responsible job that carried a heavy work and travel schedule. I reasoned that I could average out my sleep over a week or two and still be in good shape.

Filling the reservoir daily

Now I realize that there really is no acceptable justification. If I slept for a year now, I could not undo the ill effects of too little sleep over a long period of time. Sleep is a daily requirement that needs to be fulfilled. There isn’t a sleep reservoir that gets filled up and that can be drawn against again and again. It’s a reservoir that needs to be refilled daily.

A feel-good experience

A single good night’s sleep makes me feel good. Multiple days of great sleep make me feel absolutely fantastic. It’s an overall feel-good condition – it’s so much more than not feeling tired. Mentally, I feel sharp and not distracted. I am focused and on top of things. I have energy galore for physical pursuits like golfing and biking and whatever else might arise.

Beyond the positive feelings, a lot of good things happen when we sleep. Our bodies repair from the day’s exertions. Our immune system gets to ramp up. Our minds catalog the things that happened during the day. And, it turns out, a good night’s sleep helps to regulate our appetites and therefore our weight.

Sleep fundamentals

Some of the things that I focus on to assist with my sleep

  • Using great bedding and pillows – my top priority
  • Sleeping in a dark room
  • Targeting 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night
  • Limiting my computer use after dinner
  • Avoiding caffeine after noon
  • Limiting my fluid intake in the afternoon and evening
  • Focusing on going back to sleep if I wake during the night

This may sound regimented and boring, but I don’t find it that way. I break my no-caffeine rule for chocolate. I stay up late for parties. I do these things and more, mindful of my overall need for sleep.

Oh, and as for beauty sleep, it can’t hurt.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.