It’s tempting to sacrifice sleep to give you more time. But when you’re tired you start to make bad decisions. Insufficient sleep leads to impaired logical reasoning, poor decision making, memory loss, poor attention, and slower reaction times. You lose the ability to distinguish important work from unimportant work; your workload increases, so you work even longer, and sleep even less. Sacrificing sleep to get more done is therefore a fallacy.


The vast majority of us perform best after seven to nine hours of sleep. Some of us maintain we need less sleep, simply because we tend to be unaware of the degree to which our performance suffers.

“I need my sleep. I need about eight hours a day, and about ten at night.” Bill Hicks, American stand-up comedian

To improve your sleep, understand that sleeping isn’t a skill you need to learn, and it’s certainly not the case that the harder you try the easier it gets. Sleeping well is simply the result of creating the right environmental, physiological, and mental, conditions. This offers three ways to improve your sleep:

  1. Environmental conditions
    Increase your exposure to daylight during the day. Go for a walk at lunch, and this will expose you to the necessary blue light to set a healthy sleep / wake rhythm.
    Significantly reduce your exposure to light at night, to help send a message to your brain it’s time to sleep.
    Stop using artificially lit screens (TV, laptop, tablet, phone) at least an hour before sleep.
    Download F.lux (free software that removes blue light from your computer monitor as it gets dark).

  2. Physiological conditions
    Practise progressive relaxation, meditation or mindfulness before bed.
    Set your room temperature to around 18 degrees. Your body temperature cools when you sleep, so set the conditions to facilitate this if you can.
    Try having a hot bath two hours before bed (as you get out it can cause a rapid downward spike in your temperature). Avoid exercising or eating a large meal close to bedtime (this will raise your core temperature).
    Avoid caffeine and alcohol if you can’t sleep. Alcohol may help you fall asleep but disrupts the quality of your sleep.

  3. Mental conditions
    Do regular ‘brain dumps’ to empty your mind of unattended tasks.
    Stop working at least an hour or two before bed.
    Don’t check your emails or other news feeds in the hour or two before bed (especially email!)
    If you still struggle, condition yourself: establish a set time to go to bed and wake up, and create a bedtime ritual.


For more tips on sleeping better, improving your brain fitness, and working smarter, check out The Brain Book.

It’s packed full of tips and techniques helping you get more from your brain every day.