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Want to Finish Your Dissertation? Go to Bed! | 
Issue 275

Summary: Sleep deprivation is a danger to your health and your dissertation. Learn why—and how to start getting the rest your body craves.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes that will motivate you to give your mind and body needed sleep.


©2021 Gayle Scroggs, Ph.D., P.C.C. 
Editor & Positive Psychology Coach 

Do you go to bed when you want to—but get up when you have to? 

Then you are like most everyone I know, especially these days. 

Beware, however. Shorting yourself on sleep will likely lengthen the time you need to finish your dissertation. 


The reason? Sleep deprivation. 

Over the last generation, cultural factors have provoked a major shift in sleep patterns. Nearly everyone fails to get enough sleep (and the pandemic is not helping). The average adult gets about six hours of sleep instead of the seven to nine hours needed for optimal functioning. 


Some people claim not to need much sleep, but most of them "are just used to being sleep deprived," says Professor Steven Shaw at McGill University. "Cognitive inefficiency is normal for them." They don't know what they are missing, he adds. 

"There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep." ~ Homer  |  Tweet this


Sleeplessness: Path to Death, Destruction, and Delays

Sleep scientists have been sounding the alarm. For example, investigators concluded that sleep deprivation played a significant role in the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, in the Exxon Valdez oil tanker grounding, and in the space shuttle Challenger explosion. 

Furthermore, over one million injuries and between 50,000 and 100,000 deaths each year result from preventable medical errors-many caused by interns whose schedules prevent adequate sleep. 

Drowsy drivers cause approximately 1 million crashes, 500,000 injuries, and 8,000 deaths each year in the U.S., making driving while sleepless as dangerous as drunk driving. 

If you don't finish your dissertation on time, no one will die and nothing will explode—but you will be jeopardizing your own health and future. The evidence is clear: Performance deteriorates if you short yourself on sleep. 

Insufficient sleep also leads to weight gain, lethargy, high blood pressure, poor response to stress, and uneven blood sugar regulation. Professor Shaw states it bluntly: "Sleep deprivation is bad." 

"Sleep is the best meditation." ~ Dalai Lama | Tweet this


7 Signs You Need More Sleep

With inadequate sleep, cognitive performance and self-management worsen. Being mildly but chronically sleep deprived makes you more susceptible to stress, cravings, and temptation, writes Gallup strengths expert Tom Rath.

How many of these symptoms of sleep deprivation have you experienced lately? 

1. Poor attention 


2. Diminished ability to think effectively 

3. Impaired working memory and short-term memory 

4. Easily distracted by irrelevant stimuli 

5. Procrastination 

6. Weak resistance against temptations 

7. Greater difficulty in regulating your moods


Conclusion: Don't expect to do your best work when you are tired. You will be challenged to do even "good enough" work. 

"Sleep less, achieve less." ~ Tom Rath Tweet this



How To Get the Zzz's Your Body Craves

Now that you understand the importance of getting those seven-plus hours of sleep, how can you make it a habit? 


1. Consider your sleep time sacred. 

Don't cut into it when you find yourself getting busy. Eliminate or shorten something else—say, television or social media. I'm surprised by how many doctoral students tell me they switch on the TV to relax after a long day—but admit that it only makes them groggy. You'd be better off skipping TV and getting to bed on time if you really want to re-energize yourself. 


2. Figure out your bedtime.

What time do you need to hit the hay in order to get up on time? And then plan backward from your designated bedtime to create your unique bedtime routine. Allow yourself an hour or more to wind down. Avoid digital devices and televisions during this time—except to set an alarm to remind you to start getting ready for bed. 


3. Create a personal bedtime routine that promotes sleepiness.

Some things you may want to do to promote sleep: taking a warm bath or shower, meditating or quiet reading, turning down the heat, darkening the room. Some things to avoid: eating, exercising, TVs, digital devices. 


Enable your phone's screen darkening feature or download an app, e.g., Twilight for evening use. Then turn off all devices at least an hour before bedtime. Tip: yellow (but not blue) lights stimulate wakefulness. 


4. Avoid caffeine. Did you know that caffeine has a half-life of six to nine hours and interferes with sensors that detect sleep need? Enjoy your morning joe and then abstain. Alternatives: Warm milk, which contains tryptophan, a sleep-inducing amino acid, and specially formulated herbal teas, e.g., Celestial Seasoning's Sleepytime Extra, or my personal favorite, Yogi BedtimeTea. 


Note: If you wake up in the middle of the night, resist any temptation to turn to your phone, PC, or TV. Instead, repeat your bedtime routine and get back in bed. This will train your brain to go to sleep. 


5. Keep your bed and bedroom just for sleeping.

Never use your bed for studying, scrolling, or watching television. Only then will your bedroom and bed become conditioned stimuli that trigger sleepiness. 

Listen to a guided relaxation or nighttime meditation if desired, but not for anything else. Avoid falling asleep on the sofa—get yourself into that bed. 


6. Allow yourself to wake up naturally.

Hitting the snooze button is tempting but highly counterproductive. As Rath notes, any further sleep is of poor quality at best. One complete sleep cycle is about 90 minutes—and interrupting it with an alarm leads to prolonged grogginess. Keep moving your bedtime back until you can walk up naturally, ready for your day. Then stick to those times as two bookends to your sleep module. 


7. Consider what you are saying "yes" to instead of sleep.

Ask yourself if these activities are worth the cost of delaying your dissertation. Then identify ways to cut back on whatever is keeping you up. Eliminate these or move them to another time slot in your day. 


How much do you want that doctorate? Taking your sleep seriously is part of taking your health and success seriously. Now go to bed—and wake up and be awesome! 

"When I wake up, I am reborn." ~ Mahatma Gandhi | Tweet this


P.S. Need help and accountability in creating healthy sleep or other habits? Our coaches can help. Talk to one free here


Kitten photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA



An accomplished coach, workshop leader, keynote speaker, and educator, Gayle earned her doctorate in social psychology from the University of New Hampshire. Her deep expertise in positive psychology allows her to help clients build their personal strengths, positive habits, and confidence to overcome procrastination, self-doubts and other blocks in order to reach vital academic and personal goals. In addition to editing the ABD Survival Guide, she contributed two chapters to the positive psychology anthology, Women's Paths to Happiness. Contact her at for coaching, presentations, and workshops on thriving in graduate school and beyond, and find free resources

BEN DEAN, Publisher, ABDSG
Ben holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. He began writing the ABDSG in 1997. Over the years, the ABDSG has published hundreds of articles and provided thousands of hours of pro bono coaching and teleworkshops to ABDs all over the world. Ben is also the founder of MentorCoach (, a virtual university focused on training accomplished professionals to become part-time or full-time coaches. You may wish to subscribe to the Coaching Toward Happiness eNewsletter! It's on applying the science of Positive Psychology to your work and life (131,000 readers). Ben lives in suburban Maryland with his wife, Janice, their two children, and Dusty, their Norwegian dwarf bunny.



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