The Real Reasons You’re Not Sleeping Enough

Poor sleep leaves you with zero capacity to manage stress. And tiredness isn’t the only issue! A sleep-free night leaves you drained, dazed, clumsy, and maybe more emotional than usual (the weepy mess, the irritable crank, etc.)

You likely know what you should do to avoid this—power down the electronics, limit caffeine, keep evenings as calm as you can. But somehow you’re still not getting the sleep you need. That’s because the real problem lies in habits that have nothing to do with shut-eye—like how you typically handle time, your emotions, and your own limits. Here are 3 ways you may be unknowingly shortchanging your own sleep.

1. You let your day get away from you
A lack of structure in your day leaves you vulnerable to distractions and other people’s demands, which means your day rules you instead of you ruling it. Are you toiling away at your laptop or starting projects late at night? These are signs that you’re playing catch up because the day got away from you.

Try this: Set your daily priorities. Before your day begins, set a clear agenda for what you expect to achieve at work and home. It’s best to do this in the early morning (or the prior afternoon) before you’re bombarded with requests and other people’s priorities. It can be as simple as finishing payroll before you clock out and picking up a birthday gift for your spouse. This will help you steer the day in the direction you want, rather than just putting out fires all day.

(Read three ways to use priorities to defuse stress.)

2. You ignore what’s bothering you
If you don’t take a few minutes during daylight hours to solve pesky problems or address difficult emotions, they’ll come creeping out at bedtime and keep you awake. This can lead to anxiety, insomnia, or simply the impulse to tackle problems when you should be settling down.

Try this: Commit to ten minutes of reflection per day. Set aside a small chunk of time each day to ponder anything that’s been wearing on your mind. Not sure what daycare to enroll your kids in? Nervous about your mother-in-law’s impending visit? Write these worries down and one or two things you can do to alleviate them. Do this during one of your normal daily activities, such as sipping your morning coffee or eating lunch.

(Read more on how a short periods of reflection can lower stress.)

3. You think you can function on six hours or less
Many of us are so sleep-deprived that we’ve become numb to how tired we really are. But make no mistake: Whether it’s another cold, extra weight around the middle, or just not feeling as mentally sharp as you could, a sleep deficit will affect you—even if you don’t feel it right away.

Try this: Rediscover eight hours of sleep. As an experiment, turn in an hour or so earlier than you normally would and see what difference, if any, it makes in your day. Do you feel less lethargic in your morning meeting? Do you feel fewer cravings for sweets? Even if they’re subtle, these are signs that your brain and body do better on more sleep. Focus on how good you feel, and use that as motivation to make sleep a more urgent priority.