THE BLOG
01/13/2014 04:46 pm ET Updated Mar 15, 2014

Beloved Sleep: Are You Getting Enough?

In response to the tragic Metro-North railroad derailment in New York City earlier this month, I wanted to talk about the importance of getting enough Zzzs.

The Harvard Business Review highlights how sleep deprivation has a negative effect on cognitive performance:

Stay awake longer than 18 consecutive hours and your reaction speed, short-term and long-term memory, ability to focus, decision-making capacity, math processing, cognitive speed, and spatial orientation all start to suffer.

In addition to reduced cognitive function, lack of sleep is also recognized as a key contributor to many physical conditions, including high blood pressure and obesity.

While it's true that some people really only do need a few hours per night, an article published by The Wall Street Journal called "The Sleepless Elite" reported that researchers concur that number is only around 1-3 percent of the population, a big gap against the 33 percent of U.S. adults who experience regular sleep deprivation.

Nevertheless, many of the corporate cultures I work with still run off the fumes of a sleepless determination. An ambitious manager logs 80-hour work weeks, surviving on just a few hours of sleep a night; this is the formula for getting burnt out. And given the numbers of sleep deprived adults in the U.S., clearly it's not just corporate folks who struggle to cop some solid Zzzs every night. So, how can you be sure to get enough beauty rest? As a self-confessed over-achiever ever in search of a better night's sleep, I've found the following to make a difference:

Commit to a nightly routine. Going to bed at the same time each night regulates your body while also keeping your stress levels low. Try to tuck yourself in Monday through Friday at 11 p.m. for a 7 a.m. wake-up call to get in that essential eight hours of shuteye.

Wind down before bed. Unplug from your laptop, smartphone and television screens at least one hour before bedtime. Walking away from technology will help the mind disconnect and settle into a calming, sheep-counting mentality.

Tick tock goes the clock. Many of us are using digital devices as an alarm clock. The danger of this is should you wake up in the middle of the night, the temptation to check for messages will jump start your adrenal cycles and circumvent natural circadian rhythms.

Practice deep breathing techniques. Taking a few deep breaths into your diaphragm before sleep can help release tension and relax you. Try placing a hand on your lower abdomen, then taking a short inhale followed by a longer exhale to really rid of all the stored negative energy from your day. Be sure to feel your belly move with each inhale and exhale. Repeat 20 times.

Use sleep aids. Dr. Oz says drinking chamomile tea is known to have the same effects as a mild tranquilizer. According to Health.com, lavender is also a helpful calming aid, as it reduces anxiety, a common cause of sleepless nights. Or try my favorite nighttime ritual: meditation. Meditating before bed helps let go of your busy day, so you can quiet the mind and drift off into relaxation.

There are plenty of sources of information suggesting foods, alcohol and even the intervals in which you consume meals or drink any liquid may impede sleep. A quick Google search yields countless insights, but your best source of information is your own body. Try varying your patterns by allowing more time between consumption and when you bed down. Then keep a log of what you eat or drink, when you eat or drink it and include how long you sleep and how refreshed you find yourself when you wake up. Looking at this data can tell you exactly what modifications you need to make to give yourself the break you really need.