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The Real Reason You’re Skimping On Sleep

Job dissatisfaction could be keeping you up at night, but not in the way you think.

The Real Reason You’re Skimping On Sleep
[Photo: Elena Elisseeva via Shutterstock]

When people feel sleep-deprived, they point fingers at many things: long hours and work stress; young kids; travel. All of these may play a role, but if you keep track of your time for a week, and you may discover a hidden culprit: how much me time you have (or lack).

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I recently saw a log from a public sector lawyer with two elementary school-aged kids. When she kept a time log for me in 2014, she found that she averaged just over seven hours of sleep per day, but only because she slept for nine hours on Saturday. Most days she logged less than seven hours. It didn’t feel like enough, and led to some serious snooze-button issues in the morning. “The log pointed out more clearly what I already knew,” she told me. “I have been trading sleep for TV and computer time at night.”

After her early-rising husband and kids went to bed, she would stay up for hours. Often, she did the laundry first, then finally she’d start playing Sudoku or doing other me-time activities. She liked this quiet time she had to herself, but then she paid for it the next morning.

This pattern is common. For her book The Fringe Hours: Making Time For You, Jessica Turner surveyed more than 2,000 women, and found that 88% of those who had kids went to bed after their children, and close to 80% of respondents reported doing “me time” activities at night.

Net result? Forty percent were going to bed after 11 p.m. As Turner notes, what happens is that after people get their kids to bed, they do chores or work first (see “The Post-Bedtime Ritual Of Successful Working Parents“). “After these tasks are complete, then they spend time on themselves, which leads to not getting enough sleep,” she says.

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There are a few solutions to this problem. The first is to acknowledge that all human beings want autonomous, fun time. One very efficient way to get it? Do work that satisfies that desire. People who work long hours at jobs they don’t like often have the worst late-night me-time habits. If that’s you, you can cling to this sleeplessness-enabled sliver of enjoyable time, or you can make some big changes. In the long run, I’d vote for the latter.

Even if you like your job, though (as the lawyer who kept a log for me does), you can still feel pressed between work and family commitments. If you’re in this camp, try starting your me-time earlier. Maybe the laundry could wait, or be outsourced. While working after the kids go to bed is a good way to log the long hours your job may requite while preserving family time, you could opt out of a second work shift occasionally. “Do this, even just one night a week and take that time for yourself and go to bed at a reasonable hour,” Turner suggests. “You will wake up refreshed and able to tend to your other responsibilities more efficiently.”

The third solution is to find ways to squeeze me-time into the nooks and crannies of open space we all have in our lives. If you like to read, read a book instead of checking email while waiting in line. Take real breaks at work. Go sit in a coffee shop and do crossword puzzles over lunch instead of powering through at your desk. The more me-time you seize during the day, the less you’ll need to seize late at night–and the more time you’ll get to sleep.

About the author

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time (Portfolio, June 9, 2015), What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2013), and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She blogs at www.lauravanderkam.com.

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