Everywhere I’ve gone today, I’ve noticed that people have been exceptionally cheery, patient, and courteous.
When I dropped the Big Girl off at school, I noticed that many more parents than usual were already there when the door opened to let the children inside—instead of making a mad rush to get there on time.
Why? I think I know.
Everyone in New York City, everyone, had an extra hour of sleep before starting their week this morning. And it shows. People are feeling better. And no wonder — an estimated 63% of American adults fail to get eight hours of sleep a night. Eight hours sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? But that’s the recommended amount.
I’ve certainly realized that for myself, getting enough sleep is a critical element of happiness.
At first, I thought sleep just mattered for my comfort: not having to drag myself out of bed, not losing steam in the middle of the afternoon.
But now I see that getting enough sleep, or not, has far greater consequences.
First, if I don’t get enough sleep, I try to stay in bed a little longer in the morning. If I get up at 6:45 a.m., we all have a calm, relaxed morning; if I get up at 6:55 a.m., we all have a frantic, chaotic morning. And a bad morning sets a course for a bad day.
If I don’t get enough sleep, I’m more likely to lose my temper, to be snappish. That’s unpleasant for everyone. Plus, I feel guilty for behaving that way, which makes me all the more ill-tempered. So I behave even worse.
Another bad effect of being sleepy is that it makes me feel less like exercising. As studies have demonstrated over and over, exercise is extraordinarily important to happiness. So I don’t want to do anything that keeps me from going to the gym.
And even though you’d think that sitting in front of a laptop, typing, isn’t a very ennervating way to spend your day, it takes a suprising amount of energy. When I don’t get enough sleep, I find myself putting my head down on my desk like a little kid in grade school.
The problem is that it takes a lot of discipline not to stay up too late. Those last hours of the day are precious to all of us. TV addicts use TiVO to squeeze in one more show. Work-a-holics want to finish just a few more emails. Parents relish the peace and quiet after the kids are asleep. Foodies grab a late-night snack. Readers want to finish just one more chapter.
I’ve finally figured out some ways to help myself go to sleep earlier.
First, I try to get ready for bed (brush my teeth, take out my contact lenses, wash my face) before I’m actually ready to turn out the light. I realized that, paradoxically, I was often staying up too late because I was too tired to get ready for bed. Also, putting on my glasses has an effect like putting the cover on the parrot’s cage. It cues me to go to sleep.
I also try to be smart about what I’m doing before bedtime. I can’t do anything that actively engages my brain.
I can’t work on email. I can’t read happiness research, which requires me to think analytically. I can’t read anything that’s too engaging. Last week it took me hours to get to sleep for two nights in a row. When I tried to “identify the problem,” I figured out the culprit: my book. I was so intensely engaged by the dozens of fascinating arguments in Judith Rich Harris’s The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do that I couldn’t turn my brain off, even after I put the book down.
One thing that does put me in a soporific mood is to walk around the apartment, tidying up. Putting things in order is very calming; having myself organized for the next day helps clear my mind; and doing something physical makes me aware of being tired. I look forward to lying down and stretching out. If I’ve been reading or watching TV in bed for an hour before turning out the light, I don’t get the same feeling of luxurious comfort.
Sleep is important to general health, which is very important to happiness. Getting enough sleep also helps keep the immune system active and even might be, some studies suggest, a critical aspect of weight control.
I’m determined not to squander that extra hour, but instead, to keep getting to bed on time every night. Maybe I’ll even be an hour ahead by the time “spring forward” comes in six months.
Like getting enough sleep, I’ve learned that clearing clutter gives a big happiness boost.
This month, Atlantic Monthly’s “Word Fugitives” column published people’s suggestions for a term for dedicated clutter-clearers like me, a term to stand as the opposite of “pack rat.” I thought they were hilarious: a wouldchuck, yield mouse, let-gopher, heave-homemaker.