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Getting Enough Sleep Is Smart, Not Selfish

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It's getting late, yet there are still things you need and want to do. So you keep going until exhaustion takes over, never adjusting the alarm clock that will clang for you to get an early start on all the things you have to do the next morning.

Sound familiar?

Far too often, we see sleep as an enemy, robbing us of time that could be spent getting things done. Truth is, getting a decent night's sleep not only makes you more productive -- for women, it can be a step toward a longer, healthier life.

A new study from researchers at the University of California-San Francisco shows that women who reported sleeping less than six hours per night had far more inflammation than men who slept that amount. This doesn't prove the lack of sleep caused increased inflammation, but it raises the question. And while we don't know that inflammation causes heart attacks or strokes, some researchers think it may be an important link to these serious problems.

The bottom line: Women should not take any chances, especially since heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States, claiming more lives every year than all forms of cancer combined.

This new information is powerful because it is simply about something a woman can control: the number of hours she sleeps. Just to be clear, we don't know that sleeping more is a cure. But it is a step in the right direction, in several ways.

We all know that a good night of sleep can be refreshing. And now, in addition to that short-term benefit, as we drift off into the arms of Morpheus, we can think about being one of those women with good heart health, too. Put that way, those final few items on the to-do list seem far less important, don't they?

How many hours you carve out for sleep is a decision that should be on par with others that determine your wellbeing. As easy as this sounds, I know how difficult it can be. There are plenty of excuses, and I've used most of them myself.

The problem, of course, is that there aren't enough hours in a day to accomplish everything I want/need to do professionally and personally. Since I can't control the clock, I must keep better tabs on how I spend my time.

So I have to make choices. And when I get enough sleep, I know I'm more focused and effective the next day.

The big choice is in your overall approach. It's about embracing a lifestyle that will make you happier and healthier in the short-term, with the bonus of knowing it might just also extend your life.

Really, this comes down to prioritizing your health -- and your happiness. Aiming for more than six hours of sleep every night is the kind of small change that can make a big difference.

The same goes for eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Sometimes the recommendations and the reality don't match up. That's OK. Do the best you can today. Then, tomorrow, try to do a little better. Something is always better than nothing.

The core message is that healthy choices should become a way of life, as much of a ritual as brushing your teeth or checking your email.

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg writes about our ability to reshape our routines and, thus, our lives. So, if you've long been burning the midnight oil, extinguishing that flame might be easier than you think.

Duhigg writes about the cycle of a cue leading to a routine that is justified by a reward. In this case, the need to get things done is the cue that leads to the routine of staying up late and/or waking up early, with the reward being the satisfaction of checking something else off the to-do list. But, at what cost?

The new study hints at potential long-term dangers. And, again, everyone knows the short-term benefits.

Another conundrum women face -- especially working women -- is the need to pack more hours into a day to care for others. Some women even feel they're being selfish if they don't satisfy everyone else's needs before their own.

Well, as we've all learned the hard way, you can't take care of anyone if your health is compromised. Your wellbeing, or the lack of it, trickles down to all those whom you help care for, personally and professionally.

It's time to start thinking of getting enough sleep (and eating right, and exercising regularly) as being smart, not selfish. Consider it your way of making sure you are around to be able to care for others.

You can do it. You just need to try. So here's a challenge, from me to you: Get more than six hours of sleep per night for a full week. While you're at it, see if you can trim a few things off that to-do list.

My guess is you will be more productive, as in having fewer things left on that to-do list at day's end. You will discover there really is time for more sleep and more exercise. And maybe more time to prepare a healthier meal.

If nothing else, you'll have given your body and your brain a week of wellbeing. My hope, however, is that such a lifestyle becomes your habit.

For more by Nancy Brown, click here.

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