“I’ll sleep when I’m dead” might be one of the more damaging sayings in our contemporary productivity lexicon. Indeed, we know that sleep deprivation reduces productivity. In fact, you could even argue that because being well-rested makes you more productive and efficient, sleep doesn’t take time, it makes time.
And yet, we’re a tired nation. One Gallup poll found that people estimated their average sleep at 6.8 hours per night, with 43% saying they should get more sleep. But according to the American Time Use Survey, which has collected the daily data of thousands of people, the average person sleeps 8.84 hours per day. Even working parents with kids under age six average 8.32 hours per day.
There’s much to be said about why time estimates don’t match time use surveys. For one thing, we are living in exhausting times. Even before the pandemic, people were struggling with fatigue, often thanks to over-scheduled lives, poor diet, lack of exercise, and other culprits. These days, an overactive news cycle, our dramatically restructured lives, and the ongoing stress of living through uncertain times can all contribute to a bone-deep sense of exhaustion. We tell ourselves to breathe and drink water and sleep, and then we do those things — so why isn’t that enough, even when we get a full night’s sleep?
Here’s what we do know, and can actually control: People can feel tired despite averaging eight-plus hours of sleep daily because of how that sleep is structured. That means that by restructuring a schedule, it should be possible to feel more rested without actually needing to find new hours anywhere. Smart sleep scheduling can even create more high quality free time.
Here’s a guide to doing just that.
Track your time
First you have to know when and how you sleep. Time logs show that people don’t just sleep in their beds from lights out to the alarm blaring. They crash on the couch while watching TV, or hit snooze (neither of which produces good sleep). They might sleep 6.8 hours some night during the workweek, which then becomes “typical” in a mental model, but average 8.84 hours per day when weekends, holidays, naps, and…