Taking stock of your sleep needs is a little like managing your money, says William C. Dement, MD, author of The Promise of Sleep (Delacorte, 1999) and director of the Stanford University of Sleep Research Center. To figure cut how much sleep your body requires, audit your sleeping habits daily with a sleep diary, he suggests.
Record what time you go to bed, fall asleep, and wake up. Jot down any naps you take during the day and any nighttime awakenings you can remember. Then figure out your total sleep time for each day. Also, talk to your partner about how you sleep. Are you snoring? If so, you may want to consider a snoring mouthpiece, or some kind of device.
Next, make a note of how you feel the following day. Are you wide awake and energetic? Or do you have a midday slump?
If you’re not alert all day long, go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night, suggests James B. Maas, PhD, author of Power Sleep (HarperCollins, 1999) and professor of psychology at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. The goal? To reach the point where you feel energetic all day and don’t experience that midday drag in energy. “As a rule of thumb, almost everybody has to add at least I more hour of sleep until they feel alert and full of energy the following day,” says Dr. Maas.
The Brain Drain
Your workaholic boss. The mess on your desk. An unresolved argument from last month–or even last year. These daily aggravations can be mentally exhausting, says Diane L. Wetzig, PhD, chief of psychology for University Hospitals Health Systems/Laurelwood in Cleveland. Learn how to cope with these “brain drainers” so that you have more time–and energy–for the things you like to do.
1. Difficult people. Whether it’s your rebellious teen or your least-favorite in-law, spending time with a difficult person can be emotionally draining, says Dr. Wetzig. Limit your exposure to difficult people, and use assertive language and posture to “let that person know that this is as far as they can go,” she suggests, It could be as simple as standing up when someone approaches you, especially if she remains standing while talking with you. Plus, standing up gives you a chance to walk away–for a glass of water, to make an “important” phone call–when you’ve had enough. If it’s your child, boss, or someone else you must spend time with, make it a point to take short but frequent breaks from their company.
2. Negative people. Negativity is contagious, says Dr. Wetzig, but so is a more positive outlook. Whenever you can, surround yourself with positive people–you need friends who are not only good to you but are good for you. When negative people are unavoidable, acknowlege their negativity and then mentally deflect it. “You need to create a boundary and remind yourself that this is a destructive and energy-sapping perspective and that you can choose otherwise,” she says.
3. Relationships. What if that difficult person is your spouse? Have fewer feuds by “picking your battles,” suggests Dr. Wetzig. Avoid squabbling over the small stuff. Instead, take a few moments to look at the conflict and ask each other, “What can we solve here?” If hashing it out won’t get you anywhere, agree to let it go. In long-term relationships, it’s important to learn to negotiate solutions, she says. Give each other space to “cool off,” and set a time to talk calmly and productively. If you do, you’ll be less likely to have a mentally draining duel and thus have more energy left to spend on the things you enjoy together.
4. Disorganization. Let’s face it: Some people seem to thrive on chaos. But for most of us, disorganization is not only exhausting, it’s time-consuming as well. When you can’t find the scissors because they’re under some pile of papers in who-knows-what room, it’s time to stop and get organized, says Dr. Wetzig. Make a to-do list and stick with it. Ask your family for help. And call in professional organizers if you can’t do it by yourself.
5. Decision making. Some people thrive on calling the shots, while others find decision making difficult and draining Perfectionists and indecisive types tend to fall into the latter category. No matter what they choose to do, self-blame and doubt are sure to follow. “If you have to make a difficult decision, then commit to only a short period of self-condemning talk. Set a timer for 15 minutes and be done with it,” advises Dr. Wetzig.
6. Unresolved emotional issues. Perhaps you’ve got some emotional baggage that you’ve been dragging around for years. Well, it’s time to unpack those bags and move on, says Dr. Wetzig. “People tend to avoid pain because it seems so scary. But it takes so much energy to keep those thoughts out of your awareness.” What can you do? Allow yourself to experience a small dose of distress, then move away from it, she says.