The remarkable, cumulative effects of just 15 more minutes of sleep a night

Towards the end of last year I ran a survey asking you guys about the one quality or ‘thing’ you’d love to improve on in 2017. The most popular answers?

  • Patience
  • Self-control
  • Discipline/Focus
  • Organisation/Time-management
  • Confidence

My original intent was to write a blog post for each ‘thing’; sharing tips for boosting its presence in your life. When I started making notes for each ‘thing’, however, one tip kept coming up.


Some surprising stats about sleep

Self-serving research aside, the surprising thing I found when looking for statistics on sleep was this: we’re not as massively sleep-deprived as the average media outlet would have us believe.

Adult humans, for the most part, need 7-9 hours of sleep at night. While most of us are not quite getting the amount we need – we’re not far off either. (As an example: I’m a 7-hour girl who usually gets around 6.5 hours. My husband is a 9-hour guy who generally gets 8 hours.)

Which is good, right?

Those of us who are only missing a small amount of sleep aren’t just ‘getting by’, we’re highly functional.

But, (you knew there was going to be a ‘but’ didn’t you?), there’s a difference between being highly functional, and being the people we aspire to be.

The cumulative effects of sleep debt

That tiny bit of sleep-deprivation on a nightly basis is called sleep debt; the cumulative effects of which can look like this:

  • We find it hard to be patient with our kids in the afternoons.
  • We’re snappy with our partners.
  • We struggle to stay on task after lunch.
  • Our hormones fall out of whack which affects mood, health, resilience and weight control.
  • We make more mistakes.
  • We have less energy for everything, especially the mental gymnastics involved in getting through each day with a smile on our face.
  • We’re less creative which compromises our ability to solve problems.
  • Our emotional resilience is lowered so we don’t deal with challenges as well.

Time to find a new normal

The problem with the very low-level sleep-deprivation we’re all used to, (i.e. think is ‘normal’), is the effects are not obvious.

The night we get two hours of sleep and just can’t cope with life the next day? We can directly correlate that ‘two hours of sleep’ with ‘not our best selves’. Years of slowly accumulating sleep debt? It’s easy to think ‘perpetually fuzzy-headed, impatient and lacking self-control’ is just who we are now.

But we’re not that person.

Everything we want to be more of: patient, disciplined, organised, confident, creative, slimmer, healthier … that all lies on the other side of slightly more sleep than we’re getting now.

So – how do we get ‘slightly more’ sleep?

I know what you’re thinking: *Yawn*, this is the bit where she’s going to tell me to:

  • Go to bed earlier
  • Stop watching Netflix
  • Stop working at night
  • Get off screens an hour before bed

But I’m not going to do that. I understand that many of you are adults:

  • With kids
  • Who are night owls
  • Who are running small businesses

… and your evening hours are where you do all your relaxing, or your best work. I’m not going to take those away from you!

Instead, I’m just going to ask you to make one small mental shift.

Make sleep a priority

‘But I already do!’

Be honest, though. When given a choice between ‘Just one more chapter’, ‘Just one more episode of Suits’ or ‘Just one more row of crochet’ (hi Carls!) … usually ‘Just one more’ wins. And, like I said, because we’re only sacrificing a little bit of sleep for those things, we think it’s ok.

Until we’re doing it every night.

Which we are.

So, how do you make sleep more of a priority? You bring it top of mind. And there’s a very simple exercise that can help you do this.

Each morning, compose an email to yourself and answer these questions:

  1. How many hours of sleep do I need to be my best self?
  2. How many hours of sleep did I get last night?
  3. What time do I need to go to bed tonight to get the sleep I need?

Then press Send.

Extra points if you read the email (extra reinforcement) when it drops into your inbox 🙂

Start doing this every day and here’s what’s going to happen:

You’ll naturally start making tiny adjustments to your nightly routine for the simple reason that ‘getting the right amount of sleep’ is now at the top of your consciousness. You won’t suddenly start going to bed at the ‘right’ time every night, but slowly and surely, you’ll start reducing your nightly sleep debt from 60 minutes to 45 minutes.

From 30 minutes to 15 minutes.

From 15 minutes to zero.

You’ll find your mood improves. Your ability to deal with life’s little challenges will increase. You’ll start laughing quietly to yourself when your partner leaves the wet towel on the dry basket of clothes again, instead of wanting to kill them. (Oh wait, that last one might just be me.)

In the world of habits, sleep is considered a keystone habit, one that starts a chain effect in your life that produces a number of positive outcomes. Once you start making sleep a priority, you’ll be stunned at how quickly other things start to fall in line.