For years, Riley Adams, CPA, suffered from poor sleep, leading to lethargy throughout the workday.
That's why, earlier this year, Adams, a senior financial analyst with Google in Mountain View, Calif., adjusted his sleep schedule to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier. Initially, the change was hard, and he got even less sleep than before. However, within a few weeks, things changed.
"I found my energy levels throughout the day to be more balanced and at a higher baseline level," he said. "This resulted in tremendous productivity benefits, while also powering me consistently throughout the day."
Getting good sleep as an adult can be tricky in any career, but accountants often have specific deadlines, and many squeeze in as much work as possible ahead of monthly and quarterly due dates, as well as the all-important April 15. "It seems sort of logical, at first glance, to cut back on sleep hours to get more waking hours in, to get more done. That backfires," said Terry Cralle, a registered nurse and clinical sleep educator based in Washington, D.C. "All of us should be a little more humble about the power of sleep."
Not getting enough sleep often fuels exhaustion that "can result in sloppy mistakes, unforeseen errors, and compressed timelines," leading to increased stress, Adams said. What's more, longer-term sleep deprivation can ultimately affect emotional regulation, reduce metabolism, and slow memory, Cralle said.
Unfortunately, if you're sleep-deprived, you may not even realize it. "Most people think they've gotten used to sleeping less. They've just lost their point of reference and aren't doing well," Cralle said. "Sleep is a biological and a medical necessity."
If you don't wake up refreshed enough to power through your day, try these tips:
Be consistent. As simple as it may seem, quality sleep depends on a sleep rhythm that can be established by a consistent sleep schedule, said Joe Auer, a former CPA who stopped practicing after becoming co-founder and managing partner at digital media company JAKK Media. He's also the founder of Mattress Clarity, a sleep-product review site.
"One critical issue that affects CPAs and their ability to sleep is the inconsistency of their schedules throughout the year," Auer said. Even if you're affected by busy season, he said, "try everything you can to go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time."
Focus on quality. Getting between seven and nine hours of quality sleep is better than 12 hours of sleeping off and on, Cralle said. Begin winding down an hour or so before bed by writing in a journal, using aromatherapy, and/or reading something light, she suggested. In the morning, set the alarm for as late as possible instead of pressing the "snooze" button. "Every minute counts," she pointed out.
Don't try to "catch up" on sleep. "Many people feel they can sleep minimally during the week, but then sleep all day Saturday and Sunday," said Bill Fish, a certified sleep science coach based in Cincinnati. But if you don't get your needed sleep during the week, it's not possible to play catch-up on the weekend. Because the importance of sleep "is on par with diet and exercise," Fish said, emphasize "giving your body the rest it deserves nightly on a consistent basis."
Cralle warned that recent research has shown that extra weekend sleep may not undo the damage incurred by a lack of sleep during the workweek. She also pointed out that excessive catch-up sleep on Saturday and Sunday may leave you rested and wide awake on Sunday night, when you should be tired and ready for bed.
"This 'yo-yo' sleeping pattern can lead to starting the workweek off on the wrong foot," she said.
Tweak your sleeping environment. Take a look at where you're sleeping. "Many of us use our bedroom for folding laundry, packing, and watching TV," Fish said. Instead, he said, turn the area into a sanctuary for sleep. "Clutter makes the mind race, and the focus in the bedroom should be rest and relaxation," he advised.
Invest in a comfortable mattress and find one good pillow, said Jonathan Warren, chief executive of Time4Sleep, a British retailer of bedroom furniture. "The amount and type of pillows that you use can have a direct effect on the quality of sleep that you get," he said.
The pillow should offset differences in your mattress, he said. If you need more than one, it's a sign that your mattress may be too firm.
Make it easier to stay asleep. "People look at their bedroom from the perspective of how easy it is to fall asleep," Fish said. "We should also look at it from the mindset of how easy it is to stay asleep." To do that, consider blackout curtains or a sleep mask so you won't wake with the sunrise and a sound machine to mask noises that might awaken you, Cralle suggested.
Also, don't keep a clock within eyesight, she advised. Waking up during the night is normal, and most people fall right back to sleep. Those with clocks nearby tend to check them and fret about how much sleep time is left before morning. "It's a bad habit to get into," she said.
Wean yourself off the electronics. As he revamped his sleep pattern, Adams also worked to reduce his screen time before bed.
That's a good idea, Warren said. Using smartphones or watching television can act as a stimulant to the brain, actively keeping a person awake for longer instead of putting them to sleep. Smartphones and tablets have been shown to emit blue light, suppressing the release of the hormone melatonin, a chemical that regulates our sleep cycle, he said. "Using a smartphone or watching Netflix before sleep can be detrimental to the quality of sleep you get," he said.
Research from Time4Sleep found that 49% of respondents who watch Netflix or television after getting into bed get less than seven hours of sleep a night, while 22% get five hours or less. When it came to smartphone use, the results came in at 48% and 24%, respectively.
That's why Greg Yeutter, founder of Bedtime Bulb, a company that produces a light bulb that reduces blue light and enhances sleep, suggests dimming computer and phone displays and installing or enabling blue light filter software, such as f.lux, Night Shift for iOS, or Night Mode.
Adams found success by cutting his screen time an hour before bed and by increasing the use of his phone's features to reduce blue-light exposure. Overall, he said, he has "become fascinated by the topic of sleep because it serves such a vital purpose in maintaining your health and longevity."
Dawn Wotapka is a freelance writer based in Atlanta. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.