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Why is sleep one of the first things we’re willing to sacrifice as the demands in our lives increase?

Out of our fundamental physical needs — food, sleep and exercise — sleep is the most important. If you nearly starved yourself for one week, you would feel weak and lose weight, yet overall you would be fine. If you did not exercise for one week, you may feel lethargic, yet you would also be fine. However, your body would not be able to sustain severe sleep deprivation for one week. You would not be able to think clearly or function properly.

Yet, we continue to live by a remarkable myth: sleeping one hour less each night will give us one more hour of productivity each day. In reality, research suggests that even small amounts of sleep deprivation takes a significant toll on our mood, our productivity, our cognitive capacity and our health.

Most people need at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Staying awake longer than 18 consecutive hours reduces your reaction time, short-term and long-term memory, ability to focus, decision-making capacity, cognitive speed and spatial orientation. Accumulated sleep deficit — by only getting five or six hours of sleep a night for several days in a row — magnifies these negative effects.

Harvard Business Review Author Tony Schwartz has gathered much research about the importance of sleep. He also cites several famous studies on sleep including Anders Ericcson’s study of violinists.

Tony Schwartz provides the following tips for making sleep a higher priority in your life:

1. Go to bed earlier, and at a set time.
2. Start winding down 45 minutes before you turn off the light.
3. Write down what is on your mind – especially unfinished to-do’s and unresolved issues – just before you go to bed.

For more tips on sleep and other forms of renewal, visit The Energy Project website.

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