27/10/2012 18:18 BST | Updated 27/12/2012 05:12 GMT

How to Sleep Your Way to the Top - Literally

The moment I knew I needed more sleep was four years ago, when I learned the value of sleep -- the hard way. I'd just returned home after a week of taking my daughter on a tour of colleges, and the ground rule was no BlackBerry during the day, so I stayed up very late to catch up on work. Next thing I knew, I was lying on the floor, bloodied. I had passed out from exhaustion and banged my head on the way down. The result was a broken cheekbone and five stitches under my eyebrow. And it was also a wake-up call, leading me to renew my estranged relationship with sleep.

So many of us fail to make use of such a simple and valuable tool; in fact, we deliberately do just the opposite and make a fetish of not getting enough sleep, in the mistaken -- and costly -- belief that success results from the amount of time we put in, instead of the kind of time we put in. I once had dinner with a man who bragged to me that he'd only gotten four hours of sleep the previous night. It was not easy to resist the temptation to tell him that he might have been a lot more interesting if he'd gotten five.

Indeed, there's practically no element of success that's not improved by sleep and, accordingly, diminished by lack of sleep. Creativity, ingenuity, confidence, leadership, decision making -- all of these can be enhanced simply by sleeping more. "Sleep deprivation negatively impacts our mood, our ability to focus, and our ability to access higher-level cognitive functions," say Dr. Stuart Quan and Dr. Russell Sanna, from Harvard Medical School's Division of Sleep Medicine. "The combination of these factors is what we generally refer to as mental performance." They also point out that lack of sleep was a "significant factor" in the Exxon Valdez wreck, the explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle, and the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

As the Great British Sleep Survey found, poor sleepers are seven times more likely to feel helpless and five times more likely to feel alone - consequences that can impact everything from our relationships to our ability to focus. Even if we're not getting the seven or eight hours a night we should be, researchers have found that even short naps can help us course-correct. According to David Randall, author of "Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep," even a short nap, "primes our brains to function at a higher level, letting us come up with better ideas, find solutions to puzzles more quickly, identify patterns faster and recall information more accurately."

But of course, getting more sleep is easier said than done -- believe me, I know! This is especially true in a culture that's wired and connected 24/7. And more and more science is proving the truth that screens and sleep are natural enemies. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recently published a study that showed that the light from computer screens obstructs the body's production of melatonin, which helps govern our internal body clock and regulates our sleep cycle. Technology allows us to be so connected with the outside world that we lose connection to our inside world.

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