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How I Get Enough Sleep to Maintain a Healthy, Productive Life

Sleep is the wonder drug for the feeling of well-being. The CDC reports that insufficient sleep has been linked to the development of chronic diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression. Fatigue from lack of sleep has been compared to being drunk.
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I am an ophthalmologist, not a professional sleep expert, but sleep has always been very important to me and I've thought about it a great deal.

Sleep is the wonder drug for the feeling of well-being. The CDC reports that insufficient sleep has been linked to the development of chronic diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression. Fatigue from lack of sleep has been compared to being drunk.

It is well accepted that parents sleep-train children. But it is equally important and possible to sleep-train oneself. Actually, almost all the eye surgeons I know are very focused (almost obsessed) about sleeping well the night before surgery. They are compulsive about getting a good night sleep without distraction.

My background: I grew up sharing a bedroom with my brother who was four years older. Sharing a room with an older brother helped me become a very good sleeper. I went to bed early; he came home late. I slept; he turned on the lights and did homework at his desk. Learning to sleep among distractions helped me develop strong sleep habits. In college I lived in a rowdy frat house with two roommates. During the summers I worked as a hotel resort waiter and slept in a noisy staff barracks with 11 other waiters.

My goal has always been the same: eight hours of sleep every night. As a pre-med student in college, while classmates pulled all-nighters, I always went to sleep eight hours before I had to get up, especially before exams. I did the same in medical school.

My medical internship and residency proved a bigger challenge. Often being awakened in the middle of the night, I found a new way to get my eight hours in. When on call, I would go to sleep at 08:00 pm in the hospital on-call room and grab a few hours of sleep before being awakened. Many nights I could reach my eight hour goal after caring for my patients.

I always try to go to sleep eight hours before I have to get up. Although many experts encourage sticking to a set schedule, this means I retire earlier the night before surgery days than before clinic days. On weekends I get up at the same time as clinic days to exercise, which keeps me more on schedule.

My challenge is to stick to my plan and turn off the TV, stop checking email or reading when I need to retire early. I need to avoid procrastinating and shut off the lights eight hours before the alarm clock is set to go off.

After a long day in the office, I often take a short 10-20 minute afternoon nap. On those days when I need to get to bed early, I skip this nap to avoid trouble falling to sleep at night.

When I travel, I try to sleep 1/3 of any additional time added to the day. For example, if three hours are added to a day going from the east coast to California, I try to sleep an hour on the plane or when arriving during the day on the west coast. Going from west to east coast, I avoid sleeping on the plane and get to bed at 11:00 pm eastern time.

Exercise is my go-to remedy for jet lag fatigue. Morning aerobic exercise -- running or swimming in the morning after arrival -- is my best way to start the day on either coast or overseas. It helps me feel good and less fatigued.

I think sleep should be a priority along with exercise and good nutrition. Lack of sleep leads some people to binge eat, often the wrong foods like carbohydrates and refined sugars, for energy. Lack of sleep makes a regular schedule of exercise more difficult as you might want to sleep in instead of going out for a morning run.

With a good night's sleep people are more efficient, more productive, less error-prone, more pleasant to others, happier and may even live longer.

Thanks to Arianna for highlighting the importance of sleep to her readers. A well rested world would be better for all of us.