How to maximize sleep to enhance your performance

Many adults state the importance of sleep for daily performance, affirming that sufficient sleep is necessary for effectiveness. However, when responding to actually getting the recommended amount of sleep themselves, or when commenting on the sleep status of the majority of individuals, a lesser degree of importance is implied.

Does this ring true in your own life? Do you find yourself consistently below the recommended daily amount? Whether you do or not, this new article from our leadership series provides insight on ways to optimize the amount of sleep you ARE getting, to thereby enhance your performance.

By Jacqueline D. Lee, Ph.D.

Numerous reasons arise for not actually hitting optimal sleep numbers. Yet, the truth still stands: sleep is linked to higher performance, as well as the health and recovery of your body and brain. Some of the various benefits linked to getting restful, deep sleep, versus being sleep deprived include

  • Reduced stress
  • More regulated appetite
  • Cravings for high carb, high fat foods being more regulated
  • The building up of immunity
  • Burning calories. In fact, you burn more calories sleeping than you do reading in bed or tossing and turning
  • Decreased risk (as pertaining to sleep) of being overweight
  • Decreased risk (as pertaining to sleep) of cancer
  • More complete muscle restoration
  • Increased cognitive function
  • Increased focus
  • Improved problem solving
  • A boost in creative thinking
  • Enhanced memory organization and mental refocus

The list goes on! When I was first learning about sleep – the benefits of sleep as a recovery form as well as the long-term (and short term) detriments of sleep deprivation – and prioritizing the whole “eight hours a night”, I recall sharing my excitement with a friend because of how rejuvenated I felt in the mornings! While I’m sure he shared in my moment, the part I remember most was, “Jacqueline, I’m just not going to sleep 1/3rd of my day away!” (He’s a go-getter.) Well, in breaking it down like that, it was definitely eye-opening to think about that much time being spent sleeping!

Whether sharing his take on sleep, or life’s obligations only affording you six or fewer hours of sleep per day, I have good news – and I’m not going to stress the eight hours!

Quality, alongside quantity, is a co-role player in optimizing sleep.

How, then, can you optimize the hours of sleep you are getting?

  1. Ban blue light! Power down your electronics about two hours before bedtime. Blue light suppresses melatonin production. Melatonin signals our brain and body that it’s nighttime and time to go to sleep.
  2. Lower the temperature of your room. Setting your thermostat between 65-72 degrees, alongside taking a warm shower just beforehand, is shown to help you fall asleep quicker.
  3. Blackout. Get your bedroom as dark as possible since light interferes with the depth of sleep you get into. Eye masks or blackout curtains are a couple options.
  4. Keep a journal. Having a journal on your nightstand makes it easy to jot down thoughts that come to mind in your initial minutes of sleep. Getting those thoughts secured on paper eases your mind by knowing that you have them there for the morning, and helps keep you from ruminating on them through the night.
  5. Mind your breathing! Utilize several repetitions of a 6-4-10 breathing tempo (i.e., breathe in for a count of six, hold for a count to four, breathe out for a count of ten) to help get into a relaxed state.


With sleep being one of the best forms of recovery, both for recovery below the neck (i.e., your body) as well as recovery above the neck (i.e., your brain), in this phase of my life – though also a “go-getter” – I’ve resolved to make the most of my “2/3rds” of a day! I am prioritizing, as much as I can, eight hours of recovery…understanding the occasional project-spillover that may demand some of that time!

If sleep quantity seems to be lacking for you right now, focus on securing your sleep quality. Perhaps you want to try my Three-Week Sleep Optimization Challenge: Implement strategies from the above list into your sleep regimen, and note how you feel upon waking. Track this for three straight weeks.

Feel free to share about your own sleep, what works for you, or ways you’ve managed to optimize this recovery form. In addition, if you try this three-week challenge, comment on how it went!

Dr. Jacqueline D. Lee works for EXOS, a global pioneer in human performance. She is the Performance Coach for IBM, driving education and solutions around proactive health and wellness in the areas of mindset, nutrition, movement, and recovery. Partnering with the IBM Global Health Promotions Department of Integrated Health Services, as well as the IBM Leadership Development Team, Dr. Lee touches a wide range of employees – from new hires to executives – working towards restoring and upgrading lives. Prior to working for EXOS, Dr. Lee spent time in the professional sports industry, taught as an Associate Instructor at a Big Ten University, and has done research in the areas of comprehensive wellness, sport management and psychology.

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9 thoughts

  1. Henry, happy to hear that this blog was helpful to you and that you’ll be checking in often! My next blog will be published in the next couple weeks or so; but until then, feel free to read others I’ve written on hydration and movement. (If you just type in “hydration” or “movement” in the search toolbar, you will see them).

  2. Steve, thank you for your comment! I appreciate the 10,3,2,1,0 strategy you added!

  3. Jasmine, great to hear from you! Thank you for your comment. I’m happy to hear about you implementing some of the strategies which will, in effect, upgrade your performance both at work and at home. See which ones work best for you.
    Regarding sleep quantity, our lives are full, and oftentimes sleep tends to drop on the priority list. Don’t feel bad, or try to make drastic changes all at once. If you can, try getting to bed 5-10 minutes earlier than you normally would for awhile, see how that works for you, and continue increasing that amount of time until you’re within the 7-8 hour range.

  4. Hello Jasmine, we are happy to see how you have benefited from the blogs. Do stay tuned as we share more tips from Dr Lee and our other authors in subsequent editions.

  5. I have found that the 10,3,2,1,0 suggestions for better sleep also work well.
    10 hours before bed – stop drinking caffeine
    3 hours before bed – stop eating and/or consuming alcohol
    2 hours before bed – No more work (I know we are all good IBMers but there has to be an end point)
    1 hour before bed – Turn off all electric gadgets and go read a book or meditate (and yes, that DOES mean your phone)
    0 – Amount of times you hit snooze in the morning

    Have a peaceful night, everyone 🙂

  6. Wow! Another great article by Dr. Lee. It is hard for me at his stage in my life to get that full eight hours a sleep per night. I often think that I can make up for my sleep deprivation on the weekend, but of course that most of the time falls through as well. I am going to try to implement a few of your sleep strategies, Dr. Lee, to try and get that sleep quality and hopefully it will blossom into the preferred sleep quantity. Thank you, Dr. Lee, and keep em coming!

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