The Science Behind Why Getting Enough Sleep Makes you a Better Person

The Science Behind Why Getting Enough Sleep Makes you a Better Person

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Sleep is the best meditation.

~Dalai Lama XIV


Unfortunately, we live in a world where not getting enough sleep is all too often seen as a badge of honor. In reality, however, most research suggests that adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night, and depriving yourself of these critical hours (even just by a little) can significantly affect your physical and mental health, cognitive functioning, and productivity.

Conversely, getting adequate sleep protects your health, as well as your mental and emotional well being, in a number of key ways:

  • Getting 7-8 hours of sleep ensures consistent mental alertness throughout the day as well as adequate cognitive functioning. While people aren’t necessarily aware of decreased alertness and mental capacity when they don’t get enough sleep, according to energy expert, Tony Schwartz, it still impacts their performance.
  • Sleep is an important period of growth and repair that the body needs in order to maintain good health (Loehr and Schwartz, 2003).
  • Getting enough sleep promotes consolidation of memories and new learning that’s occurred throughout the day.
  • Getting enough sleep positively affects your concentration, analytical ability, and efficiency (Loehr and Schwartz, 2003 and here).
  • Getting sufficient sleep decreases the likelihood that you’ll make mistakes and cause harmful accidents.
  • Getting sufficient sleep can improve your mood and help you to better manage your emotions (Loehr and Schwartz, 2003).

Follow these tips for sleeping well (adapted from the book, The New Alpha) to ensure that you get 7-9 hours of shut-eye each night:

  • Exercise regularly, but avoid heavy exercise right before bed (unless you are my insanely non-circadian mom, who manages to pull this off and then sleep like a baby…).
  • Avoid caffeine 6 hours before your bedtime. (Tragically, this includes chocolate…)
  • Avoid having more than one alcoholic drink (or two drinks if you’re male) within four hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid eating too much before bed and be especially careful with rich, sugary, or spicy foods within 4 hours of your bedtime. Have a light snack if you think you might be too hungry to sleep (I like warm milk with honey :).
  • Make sure that your bedroom temperature is comfortable (usually a few degrees cooler than what you’d prefer in the day—but not freezing!).
  • Don’t use your bed for anything other than sex and sleep.
  • Eliminate as much light as possible. Consider purchasing a face mask (I use this one.) or light blocking or “blackout” curtains like these.
  • Eliminate as much noise as possible. Consider wearing earplugs or try a sound or white noise machine like one of these.
  • Give yourself at least 45 minutes to wind down (no email, no work, etc.) before going to bed. This will help to get your brain prepared for sleep.
  • Write down any urgent or distracting thoughts before you go to bed—once your brain knows that they are captured and won’t be forgotten, it will be easier for your to relax and fall asleep.
  • Consider a pre-sleep ritual each night—like drinking a cup of herbal/decaf tea, reading a book, talking with your partner (or cat…) etc.
  • Force yourself to turn the lights out, stop talking, and go to bed 8 hours before you need to be awake. Set an alarm to remind yourself if necessary!

Sweet dreams!

Fellow New Alphas—please share your other tips for getting a good night’s sleep!

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Danielle Harlan is the Founder and CEO of the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential ( and author of the leadership book, The New Alpha ( She earned her doctorate in political science and M.A. in education from Stanford University, where she was a Jacob K. Javits National Fellow and received a Centennial Teaching Award for excellence in instruction. Prior to launching the Center, she was the Chief of Operations for the Carnegie Foundation, where she worked to harness the power of networks and quality improvement strategies in order to solve important educational problems. Named one of Silicon Valley's "40 Under 40," Danielle has also been a speaker for TEDx and worked as an instructor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and U.C. Berkeley Extension's Corporate and Professional Development Program. In addition, she has given guest lectures at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (the “”) and the Career Development Center at Stanford, and has been featured in leading publications such as Fast Company, Forbes, and Women's Health. Danielle started her career as a Teach For America corps member and later served as a mentor and advisor for Global Leadership Adventures, an international leadership development and service program. In addition to teaching in the U.S., she has taught in Brazil, China, Costa Rica, and South Africa. She is a member of the International Leadership Association, the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, and the National Association for Female Executives.