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Work Smart

How To Figure Out Your Most Productive Time Of Day Based On Your Sleep Habits

Do you know how long it takes you to get into your best frame of mind to focus?

[Photo: Kite_rin via Shutterstock]

While you probably know how long it takes you to get ready in the morning and how long it takes you to get to work, do you know how long it takes you to get into your best frame of mind to focus? Figuring out what time you should wake up is important, not only to optimize performance, but also to maintain good work-life balance, says sleep expert Teofilo Lee-Chiong, professor of medicine at National Jewish Health in Denver and the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

"We all suffer from a certain degree of sleep inertia—that feeling that makes you want to continuously hit snooze in the morning," he says. "Someone with pronounced inertia has a strong desire to return to sleep, and morning sleep inertia and its impairments to mental alertness and physical functioning can last anywhere from two to four hours."

For adults, the optimal amount of sleep for energy and wellness is seven to eight hours each night, according to the study published in the medical journal Sleep. To ensure that you’re alert and ready to take on the day when you arrive at work, it’s important to make adjustments to your wake time, and the best time depends on many factors, says Lee-Chiong.

  • What is your circadian preference: Are you a night owl or a morning person?
  • What are your home responsibilities? For example, do you have a dog to walk or children to get to school?
  • What are your life choices? For example, do you enjoy meditating or reading in the morning?
  • What type of work do you do? Do you need to be at an optimum focus right away, or can you ease into your day?

Determine if you take two, three, or four hours to come out of sleep inertia by keeping a log, such as this free template from the National Sleep Foundation. For two weeks, write down what time you go to sleep, what time you wake up, and what time you feel the greatest sense of focus. Night owls who have a preference for late bedtimes and equally later waking times, for example, should plan activities that require concentration to coincide with periods of greatest alertness, which might be late morning, says Lee-Chiong.

In the recent study "Sleep: A Global Perspective" by Philips Respironics, a sleep apnea product manufacturer, 96% of respondents said sleep is important to them, but nearly two-thirds admit they haven’t done anything to improve it.

"Sleep was ranked first among the different factors influencing overall health and well-being, higher than financial security and emotional relationship with a significant other," says Lee-Chiong, who serves as Philips Respironics’ chief medical liaison.

Better mornings start with better bedtimes, but excessively busy schedules often extend bedtimes past a recommended time, says Lee-Chiong. To improve your sleep, acknowledge that an insufficient amount is a problem. Then identify the various factors that might be contributing to the problem, such as an unhealthy work life or an undiagnosed sleep disorder. Create opportunities to sleep longer by going to bed earlier. And help design work policies that promote a healthier amount of sleep, such as initiating flexible start times.

"Optimal sleep requires proper duration, quality, consolidation, and timing," says Lee-Chiong. "Disruption to any of these four essential elements of sleep causes a person to wake up feeling unrefreshed."

If you want to be more productive at work and lead a more fulfilling life, Lee-Chiong says you must make sleep a priority. "Optimal performance requires adequate sleep, and inadequate sleep impairs performance," he says.

Related: Your Perfect Productive Day

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