We all know lack of sleep is harmful to our health -- sleep affects mood, increases risk of psychiatric disorders and depression, cardiovascular disease and lowers immune system health. Yet the stress of running a company and long working hours means entrepreneurs often find themselves functioning on little sleep.
Evanston, Ill.-based sleep expert Dr. Lisa Shives says getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night is a critical component of entrepreneurs' business success. "Sleep affects our executive function; the area of the brain responsible for decision making, creative thinking, memory and reaction time," says Shives.
Follow these seven sleep habits and dream your way to business success:
1. Avoid alcohol before bedtime.
While alcohol may help you fall asleep, it will affect the quality of your slumber. "Sleep is lighter, you have less REM (the deepest stage of sleep)," says Shives. Alcohol can also wake you up in the middle of the night. "Many people wake up after about four hours, because that’s how long it takes to metabolize alcohol, then they have trouble getting back to sleep," says Shives. Although studies have shown a glass of wine at dinner can have positive effects on cardiovascular health, Shives says to avoid drinking any alcohol within three hours before bedtime.
2. Turn off electronics before bedtime.
Shives recommends shutting off gadgets an hour before bedtime. "The light that's emitted [from the screens] slips your neurotransmitters into an awake position," says Shives. Our gadgets also force our brains to stay active when they really need relaxation time to distress before bedtime. Shives recommends using the hour before bed to do something relaxing and enjoyable like reading a book or having a chat with your partner.
3. Write your worries away.
If you find yourself lying in bed stressing about the events of the day, Shives recommends keeping a worry journal to write down the issues that are bothering you. For those who find their heads swimming with to-do-lists, Shives says putting the list on paper rather than thinking about it can help to clear your head and shut off your mind before bedtime.
4. Create the perfect sleep ambience.
The optimal sleep environment is one that's cool, dark and quiet. "Part of becoming drowsy in the evening is that your core body temperature starts to drop," says Shives. Eliminate noise and light distractions by charging smartphones outside the bedroom door to avoid the glow, the ding and the temptation to get up and check on something.
Exercise promotes healthy sleep patterns by releasing serotonin and dopamine. These are the same neurotransmitters that are important for regulating our 24-hour sleep-wake cycle, known as the circadian rhythm.
Related: 3 Bad Sleep Habits You Need to Break
6. Avoid sugary snacks before bedtime.
If you have a hankering for a snack, Shives recommends grabbing a bite containing protein and fat such as yogurt rather than one containing starch or sugar. "[Protein and fat] have very low glycemic levels which means they will give a steady release of energy throughout the night," says Shives. Simple carbs or sugary snacks give you a quick burst of energy, followed by a crash which can disturb the quality of your sleep.
7. Wake up to the light.
The morning is just as important to your sleep habits as the evening. Getting sunlight when you wake up re-sets your body's circadian rhythm, helping to ensure you're more tired at night. Enjoy your morning coffee sitting next to a large window is a great way to start your day right.
Related: Debunking 5 Common Myths About Sleep