One Small Thing

Resist chocolate! Boost your willpower by doing this one basic thing

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There are only three more episodes of this season’s “Orange is the New Black” left. You shouldn’t stay up until 3 a.m., but the ladies of Litchfield await.

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It's so hard to say 'no' to chocolate.

Chocolate? You never say no to chocolate! Especially as a midnight snack!

Like many smart people with good intentions, you’re not really nailing this whole willpower thing. Your self-control waivers. Too often, you give in.

But there may be a way to bolster that willpower — and it starts with a good night’s sleep.

“Sleep is one of the major ways we reset our resources for our self-control,” says June Pilcher, Alumni Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Clemson University and author of a new review article on the subject in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Pilcher looked at the existing research on self-control and sleep habits, and while there aren’t many studies on the relationship, she did see evidence that people who sleep well enjoy better self-control.

Researchers know that people only have a finite reserve of willpower and it could be that getting the proper amounts of sleep keeps the reserve supplied.

Often, it comes down to what time of day — or, really, night — we are faced with temptation, Pilcher says.

Just think of a typical workday. As you go through the day morning not snapping at coworkers and then spend all afternoon not eating an entire bag of potato chips, you’re using up more and more of your self-control stores. Exercising such restraint earlier in the day means you have less of it later in the day when you’re exhausted.

It’s pretty simple, really. “Don’t make the big choices late at night,” Pilcher says.

By that point in our day, she says, “We’re overreacting to everything.”

While Pilcher thinks that sleep and self-control share a relationship, she says more research needs to be conducted to fully understand how it works.

Pilcher suggests that people who experience poor willpower keep a regular sleep schedule—going to bed and waking at the same time daily.

She also advises against making big decisions when we’re tired.

A regular sleep schedule is crucial for anyone’s health, and sleep deprivation too often leads to trouble.

“The importance of good sleep is impacting so many things that people just don’t think about,” she says. “When you are sleep deprived, be careful about what kind of choices you are making and what kind of people you are interacting with.”

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