11/10/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Get Sleep, Get Smart, Get Sane

It's hard not to comment on the financial doom surrounding us this week like a darkening tunnel, but I want to point something out that's very positive and that can potentially help you to navigate these uncertain times. It's the value sleep can have on your smarts. Yes, you read that right: sleep can make you smarter. And saner.

Unlike a stock that you buy and declines in value (with your sanity), if you buy yourself more sleep you could add value to just about everything that makes you, well, you. And perhaps one of the best payoffs to more sleep is getting smarter. Simple as that. A sharper, wittier mind can make better decisions, manage stress more easily, put things into perspective, and generally make sense of a world that oftentimes seems so crazy and out of balance.

An article I read online yesterday reminds us just how critical sleep is in our ability to maintain our wits. It's no joke that sleep increases our judgment, creativity, and memory. Our bodies may be resting up and repairing before the next day at battle, but our minds are hard at work in the night--performing all the actions that need to get done behind the scenes for us to be able to learn new things, complete difficult tasks, solve challenging problems, and capture profound memories the next day so they don't just dissipate. In fact, memories can have emotions attached to them, which help us keep track of what's safe or not, what brings us joy or pain. Those memories could be critical to our survival, and sleep is what allows us to keep them.

I say all this knowing, though, that sleep is so hard to come by, especially given our current economic climate. You may be watching the news like a hawk and having nightmares about your retirement fund. You could be worried about your job and ability to pay the bills next month. None of this bodes well for a good night's sleep.

This week, I have a 3-piece recipe for you to try; get our your daily agenda or calendar out and mark these down as reminders:

  1. Within EIGHT HOURS of bed (between 2:00 and 3:00 PM for most people): quiet the caffeine and sugar. Stop consuming highly-caffeinated and sugared beverages. What I'm really getting at here is halting coffees and sodas. We tend to drink them mindlessly, then wonder why we're wired and tired, and having a hard time sleeping later on. All that sugar and caffeine will feed your worries and distort your perspective. 
  2. Within THREE HOURS of bed:  quiet your mind by eliminating all sources of stress and anxiety. This means avoiding certain conversations, work, media (including the Internet), and anything that will bring stressful topics to your eyes and conscious.
  3. Within ONE HOUR of bed:  quiet your body by engaging in an activity that is soothing, relaxing, and pleasurable. It could be a warm bath, light reading, light stretching, or even sex. Have a cup of herbal tea if you like.

Keeping the mind nourished and nurtured is much easier that you think. The mind is a terrible thing to waste in sleep deprivation. Remember, get sleep to get smart! It also helps to remember this: stocks are NOT necessary for survival, but sleep is. The more refreshing sleep you get, the saner life seems to become.

This sleep article is cross-posted on Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.