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This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to help improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Register your company now at

How many hours of quality sleep do you typically get each night? If you are getting much less than six hours you could be putting yourself at undo risk, and leaving yourself unable to get the most out of your day at work and at home.

One study in the United States showed that drowsy drivers were responsible for an average of 1,500 deaths a year and at least 100,000 car accidents.

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Sleep plays a critical role in promoting physical and mental health. A recent study found that one in three adults are not getting enough sleep, based on the recommended minimum average of seven hours per night.

This micro skill focuses on how you can improve your sleep, if that happens to be a challenge for you, so you can be happier and more productive in your job and your personal life.

WebMD reports that the benefits for getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night include: improved health; less pain if you suffer from chronic pain; lower risk for injury; better mood; easier weight control; improved sex life; clearer thinking; stronger immune system and enhanced memory.

On the other end of the continuum is too much sleep. Scientists have found that people who have developed the habit of sleeping longer than is required (such as 10 to 12 hours) typically feel less well than a person who sleeps well for seven to eight hours.

If you're having difficulty getting enough sleep, there are a few simple things you can do. Don't expect improvement the first night, but within one to two weeks most people report some improvement in the quality of their sleep.

Examine sleep detractors and remove them.

If you are struggling to sleep well, the first step is to take a look at what may be sleep detractors and remove them. Taking long naps during the day, ingesting too much caffeine, or eating, drinking, watching TV, reading social media, and surfing the Internet before going to bed all can create stimulation. Removing detractors creates an opportunity for you to get a better sleep.

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Create a sleep zone.

This is a space where you will sleep. Things that influence your ability to sleep include noise, light, temperature, the comfort of you bed, pillows, covers and your psychological comfort when sleeping with another person (if you have a partner). When designing a sleep zone, the goal is to create a dark, quiet and comfortable space – not too hot and not too cold.

Design a sleep game plan.

Develop your sleep hygiene pattern, which is the daily practice and structure around your bedtime routine. Write it out and follow it. For example:

  • Commit to a defined bedtime through the week and if possible stick to it on weekends, too (such as 11:00 p.m.).
  • Turn off the TV 30 minutes before bed. This is a period to reflect and start to wind down to get ready for sleep, get washed and changed for bed.
  • Check your wakeup time and alarm, make any notes for the next day to free your mind from worrying. This period is not for checking e-mails or doing tasks. It’s only to set up the next day.
  • Prepare the room temperature, window blinds, bedding and pillow.
  • Get into bed around the same time every night.
  • Once the lights are off and you’re lying down, say to yourself at least one grateful thing. Focus on these positive thoughts, close your eyes and drift off for the night.

Monitor daily sleep duration and quality.

Keep a sleep journal to monitor your sleep duration and the number of disturbances that occur during the night. That can include the number of times you wake up; number of trips to the bathroom; the time it takes you to fall asleep; the quality of your sleep; whether you woke feeling rested and how long you actually slept.

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You can add value to your sleep journal with a sleep tracking such as a Fitbit or other device can help shape and build your discipline around sleep. This practice can also uncover risks that may be due to a sleep issue like sleep apnea, or an unrelated issue such as diabetes or depression. Low blood sugar at night can disturb your sleep. If your sleep routine is not getting you to sleep, there may be a reason that is worth investigating. Take your sleep log and evidence to your doctor; your journal will help your doctor help you.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto. He is also the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S.

This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series at this link:

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