Tag Archives: naps and productivity

Tips For Adulthood: Five New Facts About Sleep

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Like many middle-aged adults I know, I’m fairly obsessed with sleep. I’ve always been a bad sleeper, and have tried numerous remedies to help myself sleep better over the years.

I’m know that I’m not the only one with this issue. According to an article in The New York Times, in 2008, 56 million sleeping-pill prescriptions were written, up 54 percent from 2004. Doctors say they are dealing with more than 80 separate sleep disorders.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Arianna Huffington famously exhorted all women to “sleep their way to the top” in 2010 (meaning, ahem, to get more rest…). And as blogger Gretchen Rubin is fond of pointing out, once you hit the middle years, sleep is the new sex.

In light of my ongoing sleep-related issues, I’m always interested to read up on the latest research on sleep. Here are five new facts about sleep culled from studies over the past year:

1. Some people don’t need all that much sleep. I was fascinated to learn – courtesy of The Wall Street Journal – that for a small group of people—perhaps just 1% to 3% of the population—sleep isn’t all that necessary. These so-called short sleepers only need about fix or six hours of sleep a night. They also tend to be energetic, outgoing, optimistic and ambitious – and do so without the aide of extra caffeine. (Think Bill Clinton.) Oh yes, and many of them tend to be bloggers and active on social media. (Oh! To be one of them!)

2. You need less sleep as you age. More good news, at least for some of us. Recent research in the U.K. confirms what had long been suspected: that older people need less sleep. While the average person in their 20s needs about 7.3 hours of sleep per night, the average person between ages 66 and 83 needs only 6.51 hours. The amount of time spent in deep sleep, measured as “slow-wave sleep,” was also less in the older groups.

3. Sleep deprivation blurs the line between being awake and asleep. So much for the good news. Even if you do need less sleep as you age (and especially if you’re not in that magical 3% of people who only need 4-5 hours), getting too little sleep can really interfere with your body’s normal functioning. According to a paper published this month in the journal Nature, when people are really low on rest, parts of their brains can actually go to sleep without their knowledge. So while they might look normal and might even be carrying on with everyday life – e.g., cooking/working/driving (eek!) – parts of their bodies have actually gone into a deep sleep. (As both a control freak and someone who is perennially sleep-deprived, I find this study really troubling.)

4. Getting too much or too little sleep in middle age can impair cognitive functioning. New research out of the University College London Medical school finds that middle-aged people who sleep more than eight hours or less than six score lower on virtually every test of cognitive function. The magnitude of the effect is equivalent to four to seven years of aging. (Yikes! I think I just turned 52!)

5. Naps are really good for you. Naps improve perceptual skills, motor skills, reaction time and alertness. According to a study out of Harvard University, people who took a 60 to 90 minute nap dramatically outperformed those who didn’t. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley suspect that the reason naps are so conducive to productivity is that they clear the short-term memory, making room for new information.

So what are you waiting for? Go take a nap. But please, don’t sleep too long…


Image: sleeping by spentYouth via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: Five "Comfort Activities" When You're Sick

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I spent most of last week in bed, shaking off a flu.

I really fight against being ill. On some fundamental level, I don’t want to accept that my defenses are down and that I can’t accomplish what I normally do in a day. So I spend a lot of time feeling frustrated when I’m sick, which is, of course, not only pointless but counter-productive.

But then I read this great post over on Daily Plate of Crazy about how Big Little Wolf woke up one day feeling really lousy and decided that even though it meant tossing out her “interminable checklist,” she accepted that she was ill and had a really nice day in, reading magazines and watching chick flicks.

And that made me realize that if you re-frame it, being sick can actually be a nice excuse to relax and engage “comfort activities” that you might not allow yourself during your normal routine. And I vowed that the next time I’m ill, I’m going to approach it with a whole new outlook. Here are five things to do when you’re sick:

1. Play Board Games. I’m a huge fan of board games. And, once again this year, I have used Hanukkah as an excuse to replenish our supply. (This year’s additions include Backgammon, Risk and Battleship.) The drawback (and advantage) of board games like these is that they can take several hours to play. And so you really need to clear an entire afternoon or evening, which can be tough to manage during “normal times.” But when you’re sick, you’ve got nothing better to do. So assuming you can actually sit up, playing a board game is an excellent way to spend a sick day.

2. Watch Old Movies. I’m not sure why, exactly, but watching old movies is another great comfort activity when you’re not feeling your best. In theory, any film should do, right? But there’s something particularly soothing about old movies. My daughter’s school is performing Oliver! for the Christmas play this year so we happened to have a copy of the film lying around last weekend. And so all four of us snuggled up in our bed and watched Oliver! as a family. Lovely.

3. Drink Tea. I don’t drink much tea these days. I’m more of an espresso-brewing gal. But when I’m sick, I take a hiatus from coffee and drink only tea. And I *always* enjoy that. There’s nothing that screams relaxation quite as much as a large mug of tea. Preferably with sugar and milk. Yum.

4.Take a nap. This has got to be the classic comfort activity that I routinely deny myself during my “normal life.” Despite all the research showing that taking a 30 minute nap every afternoon is really conducive to productivity, I never, ever nap unless I’m feeling ill. But when I’m sick, I allow myself this luxury and boy, is it worth it every time.

5. Read a guilty pleasure. This will vary from person to person. I don’t read women’s magazines so that’s never going to be a comfort activity for me. But I did find my eye straying to the pile of “to be read” books by my bedside table – you know, the ones that you really want to read but always feel you *should* be reading something else? So after, like, I don’t know…8 years?, I finally picked up Michael Lewis’ Liar’s Poker and plunged in. Just like that. So glad I did.

OK, so you know where I’m going with this, right? If these things are all so fantastic, then why don’t I incorporate them into my regular routine?

I’m working on it, folks. Really I am.


For those who are interested, here’s my latest piece in Politics Daily on the woman in Iran sentenced to death by stoning.

Image: Nightime tea pot by racineur via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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