Of all the little things you can do to make life easier, my favorite one is sleeping enough. If it’s not already painfully obvious on days when you didn’t sleep well and joyously obvious on days when you did, sleeping is important: sleep science says so.
In a funny and informative TED talk titled Why do we sleep?, Russell Foster explains not only why we sleep, but also how you’ll benefit from getting a good night’s sleep, as opposed to being chronically tired. If you sleep well, you’ll be more creative, Foster explains—this I think many people know. But it surprised me to learn that you’ll also have better impulse control, which makes it easier to achieve difficult goals such as maintaining a healthy weight or keeping calm when things don’t go your way.
Aside from the measurable benefits, I love the less tangible but equally important benefit that life simply seems easier when you get enough sleep. Let’s say I need to shave today and that I’m annoyed because I cut my skin and it’s bleeding. I wasn’t careful enough with the razor blade, and it’s frustrating—why do I need to shave? Can’t I just let my beard grow out? Why are there gaps in my beard when I let it grow out? Life seems frustrating and unfair. In a moment like that, it makes a world of difference to me to remember that on many days, shaving is a pleasant experience. The act of shaving isn’t intrinsically frustrating; it just happens to be frustrating today. What’s the difference with the other days?
Most of the time, the difference is that shaving is a breeze when I’m well-rested. In fact, everything is easier when I’m well-rested. Not only is this realization important because it means I should always try to get enough sleep, it also shows that how difficult life seems to be is mostly decided in my head. Moving a razor blade across my face isn’t more difficult today than it is any other day; it just seems that way because I didn’t sleep well, meaning my fine motor skills are not as good as they could be and my patience is thin.
Nowadays, when I’m frustrated, I like to ask myself: could it be that this task is difficult mostly because I am tired? Might my frustration go away if I weren’t so sleepy? Try it next time you’re frustrated. Is the answer “yes”? If so, stop trying to change whatever it is that you wanted to be different and instead spend your energy making sure you get a really good night’s sleep tonight. It’ll make life easier.
P.s.: check out the National Sleep Foundation’s latest sleep guidelines.