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The One Thing You Can Do Tonight To Set Yourself Up For A Successful Tomorrow

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Mature woman in bed sleeping peacefully
Mature woman in bed sleeping peacefully

Sleep and I have always had a love-hate relationship: I love getting a good night's rest, but I hate going to bed. I'd fall into the continuous cycle of going to bed late, waking up exhausted, and then telling myself that no matter what, tonight was the night I'd go to bed early. Unfortunately, by the time "tonight" would roll around, I'd have forgotten how awful I had felt that morning. The temptation to watch just one more episode on Netflix would draw me in with its super judgey, 'Are you still watching this?' prompt, and the night owl ruled again.

I used to be able to get away with late nights. In my early 30s I would go out salsa dancing on weeknights until the wee hours and have no problem working a full day the next day! But in the past couple of years I really noticed the impact lack of sleep has had on my life. Upon reaching my 40s, I inexplicably started waking up earlier and was lucky if I got seven hours of quality time in bed.

Experts estimate that at least one third of our population is significantly sleep-deprived; many of us have resigned ourselves to walking around in a tired, grumpy semi-fog without realizing that life could feel very different. I'd assumed my flagging energy was due largely to aging, but because of discussions with my own clients about the difference that more sleep made to their lives (I'm great at helping others improve health habits -- myself, well, I'm working on that), I started paying closer attention to myself.

I noticed that the earlier I made the herculean effort to unglue myself from the couch and get into bed, the more easily I would fall asleep. I was able to sleep in longer, too. I noted how I felt when I woke up on days after getting at least eight hours sleep, compared to seven hours or less. The difference was remarkable. No headache, no groaning while getting out of bed ... and that was just the first minute! For a couple of months now I've made huge progress in getting more sleep.

The secret to my success? Focusing aggressively on how much better life is when I get enough sleep.

Here are some key benefits of being well-rested that motivate me, and may help to motivate you:

1) Better mood, less stress

I've never been a morning person, but the zest with which I look forward to the day ahead is dramatically enhanced by sleep. If I don't get enough sleep, I wake feeling grumpy, irritable and overwhelmed by the day's tasks. Alternatively, if I've had a good night's rest I look forward to those tasks and feel capable of getting through them; I'm also more likely to skip joyfully through my day rather than wanting to stay under the covers and avoid everyone else. I've even noticed that I laugh more.

2) Looking younger and more attractive

Has anyone else noticed that as you get older, your face starkly reflects how much you slept the night before? A couple of years ago I had to get up at an ungodly hour for a television appearance. Between nerves and time zone changes I probably got in only four hours of sleep. The makeup artist complained that my eye bags were so big even she couldn't conceal them. I used to believe that eye bags were just part of turning 40, but they shrank significantly when I started sleeping more. Not only that, but the whites of my eyes look brighter, my skin is healthier and my color more rosy. As I always say, vanity is a great motivator. Use it to push yourself to sleep more!

3) Better food and lifestyle choices

Sleep-deprived people produce more of a hormone called ghrelin, which stimulates us to crave and eat high-carbohydrate, high-fat junk food. Your impulse control is also weakened if you haven't slept, so you're more likely to make bad choices all around. If I've slept well, I'll eat well -- and make other positive choices that make me feel good versus feeling mired in regret (and more likely to drown those sorrows in chocolate cake).

4) A clear, sharp mind

Lack of sleep dramatically affects your cognitive performance to the point of danger. Sleep deprivation increases your risk of having a car accident, not to mention making lots of other little (and big) mistakes. When I get enough rest my memory is better, my mind is faster, and I am infinitely more productive.

5) More energy

When I'm fatigued, I fall into a downward spiral of sluggishness. I wake feeling tired and drag myself through the day. I'm less likely to work out or go for a long, brisk walk. I procrastinate with work, which increases my stress and makes it harder to unwind at night. On days when I'm well rested I get so much more done. Having the energy to exercise increases my overall energy and allows me to rest more deeply at night.

The upward spiral of energy, fueled by good sleep, is so much better than the downward spiral of exhaustion. But perhaps that goes without saying!

There's no question that the amount I sleep on a given day makes the difference between thriving or barely surviving. There are still some tweaks I need to make more consistently to really maximize sleep quality (such as turning off screens earlier), but I am so proud of myself for successfully making a sustained change to my sleep behavior. If this night owl can do it, surely you can, too!

Insufficient sleep can seriously harm your health, and disrupt your life. Just like diet and exercise, sleep -- and more importantly, quality sleep -- is essential for optimal mental and physical performance. Sleep Number® beds with SleepIQ® technology track your sleep and allow you to make adjustments, so you can get the quality sleep you need.