How to get better sleep

Everyone’s tired, and it’s costing the economy billions. Luckily, there are some practical ways to get more rest.

Jacqueline Nelson 0
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(Photo: Raina + Wilson)

Early last year, an Air Canada co-pilot on a Boeing 767 overnight flight from Toronto to Zurich awoke from a long nap and mistook the planet Venus for an oncoming aircraft. The first officer quickly pushed the plane into a steep dive to avoid collision before the captain took over control of the 767. The unnecessary dive resulted in injuries to 16 passengers and crew, who were thrown against the cabin fixtures.

A report released in mid-April by the Transportation Safety Board showed the near-disaster was the result of “sleep inertia,” the disoriented and drowsy feeling caused by fatigue and taking naps for too long. Luckily in this case, the injuries were minor.

Sleep deprivation on the job is not just dangerous, it’s costly. An epidemic of weary Canadians—60% of us report often feeling tired—is taking its toll on the economy in lost productivity. Recent research published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found the performance of workers with insomnia or sleep problems lags their well-rested colleagues, and that costs companies between $2,500 and $3,156 annually per sleepy employee.

Fixing the problem is more complicated than putting in a couple of extra hours between the sheets on weekends. We’ve got smartphones beeping at us all night, restaurants that stay open later and later, red-eye flights and longer commutes to work. While it takes only a few hours to throw off your internal clock, it can take days or weeks to reset it. Scientists are working on new drugs and vaccines that can help regulate the proteins that keep our circadian rhythm in check—thus allowing us to feel rested and stay healthy—but these sleeping potions are a long way off.

We need more sleep, now.

One way to get more rest is through napping, but don’t expect to make up for missed nighttime sleep hours. “Naps are definitely a good way to help you feel more rested, but keep them to about 10 to 15 minutes, ideally,” says Henry Olders, a sleep researcher and assistant professor at McGill University. “Any longer than half an hour and you risk sleep inertia, which will hurt your focus.” Some research suggests those short snoozes should take place between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Any later and you may jeopardize the quality of your night sleep.

Still, the modern office makes the afternoon siesta impractical for many workers. Matthew Edlund, an American doctor and author of The Power of Rest, advises a cheater nap called “paradoxical relaxation.” While sitting at your desk, focus on a muscle group that feels especially tight. Think about how it feels, relaxing and letting go of the tension in that spot for 15 seconds; repeat on at least two other muscle groups. This should have a soothing effect and help you feel refreshed, says Edlund. Some yoga breathing techniques and stretches claim to be similarly energizing, so taking a lunchtime class may help.

Before getting to work on your downward dog, be sure to check the basics: curb your coffee or caffeine consumption after 3 p.m., sip cold water to keep alert, and limit alcohol intake that can mess with your deep sleep at night.

“But really, the best thing to do is establish a regular sleep routine that you keep seven days a week,” says Olders. “It’s really hard to do on the weekends, but it keeps your internal clock on track, and you should feel more rested,” he says.

If nothing else, try to position yourself near a window at work to get as much natural sunlight as you can. The sun emits certain “blue rays” of light that tell your body it’s time to be alert. Not only will you feel better for making these changes, your company will thank you, too.

GET MORE REST ON THE ROAD

Zen Bar à Sieste: At this new Parisian “nap bar,” the weary can pay for a short sleep in an antigravity chair. Manicures and massages also are available.

Zeo: Endorsed by Anderson Cooper, the Zeo is a digital sleep coach that uses a sleep-tracking headband to track data like your REM patterns.

Swissotel Berlin’s ‘deep sleep’ package: A 20-minute “mountain air treatment” (with 4% less oxygen) and a herbal drink before bedtime; a 30-minute light-therapy session when you wake.

Lumi: Not your regular airplane sleep mask, the Lumi has an alarm clock and wake light on the inside of the mask to simulate the sunrise.

Grand Resort Bad Ragaz: This Swiss resort will film you as you sleep, delivering an analysis on everything from muscle tension to blood oxygen levels. They will also suggest sleep treatments.

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