One of my favourite topics is sleep. It all started 7 years ago (tomorrow!) when my son was born. He was a horrible sleeper and for the first 6 months of his life rarely slept more than 2 hours at a time. So I was sleep deprived to put it mildly. And I saw the impact – my moods were all over the place, my anxiety which is generally higher than most was in overdrive, I couldn’t think clearly and I didn’t trust myself to drive. I obsessed about getting a good night sleep. In fact there were many times where I thought back to all those late nights or all nighters and berated myself younger self for not sleeping when I had the chance.
So it probably comes as no surprise that this last article of The Success Series is the one I’ve been really looking forward to writing! I’ve seen the negative impact lack of sleep had on my ability to do mundane tasks never mind perform optimally in my career.
This is the last of 4 articles in the Success Series based on Dr. Rangan Chatterjee’s Four Pillar Plan (How to Make Disease Disappear in North America). His purpose was to introduce Four Pillars to help people get their health back. Me? I’m using the Pillars to show how we can use them to get our careers back.
In my first article, I explored the pillar “Relax”. I showed how taking your lunch break, working less hours and unplugging from our phones can increase our productivity and creativity.
Next I explored “Move” and how introducing more movement and exercise can give you more energy, improve your confidence and increase your happiness.
The “Eat” pillar showed us how eating real food and introducing more cooking would lead to optimized brain functioning, better mood and increased ability to think clearly and creatively.
Now the last pillar, Sleep. Who doesn't love the thought that you can sleep your way into better performance?!
Not Sleeping Like a Baby
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that as adults we should be sleeping 7-9 hours each night with at least 20% of that in deep sleep which is the restorative state where the brain and body are working to restore and repair.
But most of us are either not getting enough hours or enough deep sleep.
A 2017 report by Stats Canada gave us some pretty scary stats about our sleep health.
About one third of adults do not sleep the recommended 7-9 hours, 55% of women and 43% of men experience insomnia and trouble staying asleep, almost half of Canadians say that they don’t wake up feeling refreshed (probably from a lack of deep sleep).
One thing that I found interesting is that Canadians get about 1 hour less sleep per night now than they did in 2005. Interesting because it was about 10 years ago that we saw the increase in work and commuting hours. But more than that, we have gone from 10% of employees to 50+% checking work emails outside of office hours with many individuals checking it right before bed.
Those increased hours working and being plugged in don’t help. But it also doesn’t help that there is a subset of people who try and persuade others that this whole “sleep thing” is blown out of proportion and that we probably don’t need more. And many famous politicians, celebrities and self-help “gurus” stating that they only get 5ish hours of sleep. But science does not back that up. And maybe they are functioning okay on that little sleep but they aren’t optimizing their performance.
But how, what is the negative impact sleep has on our careers and how can we sleep our way to success?
Sleep = More Presence
If you don’t sleep those 7-9 hours at night you risk a lot including actually being at your job. A lack of sleep greatly reduces your immune system functioning increasing the likelihood that you’ll catch that virus that is going around. I know for me personally that this rings true. If an illness is making its rounds and I’m well rested then I almost never get it. But if my sleep is not at its best then I’m going to catch that cold.
But sleeping well also means your presence at your job will be more felt. Getting the recommended amount of sleep means your productivity and performance will be greatly improved.
With social media so addictive and so many distractions in our day to day life, it can be hard to refocus on the task we were in the middle of. But sleep makes it easier to regain our focus and concentration allowing us to be much more effective in our roles.
If reducing your hours spent at the office or working is a goal then sleeping well will make it easier as each hour spent will be spent more efficiently.
Sleep = Better Team Player
A lack of sleep has been shown to have long lasting detrimental effects, especially once we are reaching chronic levels.
Working and communicating with others play a large role in our careers and our success is tied to how well we do that. When we are tired, we are moody and grumpy, our feelings of stress, anxiety and frustration get heightened and our patience is at an all time low! That makes it pretty hard to work well within a team especially on a time-sensitive manner when the stakes are raised.
We are more likely to let the negativity take over our lives and have a mindset that is detrimental to our happiness, our relationships and our success.
So sleep more. That way you can change your attitude, relate better and handle the ups and downs of normal career life better!
But how. How do we not only increase the numbers of hours we sleep but also improve the quality of sleep.
Everyday Tips for Everyday Sleep
1.Bed Time Routine
Anyone who has kids probably learned about the importance of a bed time routine for getting them to sleep. Well the same holds true for adults. Creating a routine that you consistently follow sets your body up for a Pavlovian reaction but instead of a dog salivating for food at the ring of a bell, your body will be set up and ready to go to sleep.
A hot bath, reading, a cup of non-caffeinated tea, quiet music are some ideas. Mine is simple, I get ready for bed at the same time as my kids (wash my face, take contacts out, get in pj’s – a trick learned from Gretchen Rubin) so all I have to do is brush my teeth. I climb into bed with just my night side lamp on and read for 20-30 minutes. I then turn off my light and most nights fall asleep within minutes.
2.Limit Screen Time
Blue screens are really bad for our sleep. The light tricks our brain into thinking it is daytime which means that all those great sleep hormones are not released. So checking our phones right before bed or worse in the middle of the night if we wake up sends signals to our brains that it isn’t time to sleep. It is recommended that you don’t touch your phone for 30 minutes before bedtime.
As part of my goals for “Relax Your Way to Success”, I decided to not touch my phone after 8pm every night. And most of the time I don’t. My sleep has been great this past month too.
3.No Afternoon Coffee
We all know that caffeine affects our sleep. Or at least have heard that. I know many people who say that coffee doesn’t impact their ability to fall asleep. But caffeine does more than just that. You may fall asleep fine but it is very disruptive to the quality of your sleep.
Caffeine has a half life of 5-6 hours, meaning that if you have a cup of coffee at 3pm for your afternoon pick me up then at 9pm you still have 50% of that caffeine in your system. At bedtime? You’ll still have more than 25%! Experts suggest that once noon hits that your caffeine intake stops for the day.
A long time ago I realized that afternoon coffee was bad for me, it definitely impacted my ability to fall and stay asleep. So now, I have 2 cups of coffee – 1 first thing and 1 mid morning and that’s it.
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekend! Honestly, before I had kids I always heard this and laughed it off. But now that I have kids I find it super easy! I still go to bed around 10pm most weekend nights and get up by 7am.
There is a psychological and physiological element to sleep. Psychologically, your brain is really good at making associations. So if your room becomes associated with TV or exercise or work then it becomes harder for your brain to ease into sleep as it is confused. So keeping your bedroom to really just sleep is key.
Physiologically a cool room (they say around 65-67 degrees is ideal), with very little light and sound is the perfect environment for quality sleep.
Throughout my Success Series I talked a lot about how the things we can do to improve our health and well-being can also have a positive impact on our careers and our ability to succeed in them.
Like Dr. Chatterjee, I think that trying to do all 4 Pillars at once is too much. His suggestion is to just pick one pillar. Focus only on that. And then expand to others. Starting small is the perfect way to have a lasting impact, you won’t get as overwhelmed and give up. Everyday won’t be perfect, I know for the goals I’ve set I haven’t been perfect. But each day is a new day and a new opportunity to keep at it.
The pillar I’m really focusing on is the Relax Pillar. I’ve really enjoyed cutting down the phone, but I still need to make sure I’m taking more time during the work day.
What Pillar are you going to explore first? What tips and tricks are you going to try?
You want to be successful. You want to leave a lasting impression. But you also don’t want to work all the hours and give up all the things just to get there. The message we constantly hear from society is that it isn’t possible. But I don’t believe that. In fact, I believe that by taking care of our health will actually be better for our careers!
In my success series, I’m looking at how taking care of ourselves can actually make us better at our jobs. I was inspired by Dr. Rangan Chatterjee’s The Four Pillar Plan and have been exploring how each pillar can help us get our careers back and lead us to more success.
So far I have talked about how working less and relaxing more and how moving a little bit more each day improves your performance and making you more successful.
Today let’s talk food. In the past two articles I started out with some scary stats, this time I’m not going to go as heavy on those stats as I think most of us knows about the health consequences of diet. But I do want to talk about a few things. The decline of cooking and the rise of process food.
I love Michael Pollan, he is a voice that I look to for his thoughts and opinions and when it comes to food, his opinion is one that I respect the most. I’ve read his books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, Food Rules and Cooked and have applied most of what he talks about to mine and my family’s eating.
In Cooked he talks about the decline of cooking, how less and less people cook at home (around 70%) and how those that do spend about 40 minutes less time cooking that our grandparents did. Plus he states that the definition of cooking is different, it used to be you grabbed ingredients and cooked a meal from that. Now cooking is from combining or assembling meals using “edible food like substances” meaning not a whole food.
And it makes sense. If you think back to the first part of this series, Relax Your Way to success, I talk about the increase in hours worked and commuting. So if you are spending half of your day either working or going to work then obviously that means you have less time and energy to cook. So assembling a meal sounds pretty enticing!
If you took that article seriously by realizing that actually reducing the hours you work that you will be more successful in your job and career then hopefully that did free up an hour. And maybe some of that hour could be used to cook whole food dinners (and lunches). And if you are able to do that, I’m sure you will see an improvement on your work performance and productivity.
Whole Food Diet = More Success
An eye opening study completed by the International Labour Organization showed that poor diet led to a 20% reduction in work productivity of employees! It impacts morale, safety and performance of workers and leads to increased time off work as well. Kind of hard to reach for the stars when you are holding yourself back huh?
In our busy lives it seems so much easier to take shortcuts or to find ways to boost our energy to get us through the work day. Which means that if we want to do this, eat our way to success, then we need to find the biggest bang for our “time” bucks. After spending hours trying to make sense of it all, I’ve narrowed it down to 2 things:
1. Eat for Your Brain
A processed diet is not a diet that nourishes our brains properly which means that they do not function as well as they could. But if we focus on the foods that optimize our brain functioning then we can reap the rewards of more energy, our moods will be stabilized (meaning we can handle the roller coaster of life just a little bit easier!), we are able to think more clearly, our memory will be better and we will be more creative.
If you google “what to eat for brain health” there are endless lists of things to eat! But the most common ones are:
2. Drink Your Water
Speaking of water, there was a pretty scary study done that showed that 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. Drinking water during the day can be really hard, we get so busy and we forget. Plus with working too many hours, and not sleeping well we are all so very tired which means we probably drink too much coffee!
If we drink our water (or other non-caffeinated or non-alcoholic drinks) throughout the day we not only hydrate ourselves and our brain but we also improve our time management abilities, our ability to plan and increase our energy levels. Our brains need a lot of water, so when we drink our water we make sure our mind is clear, our memory is improved and our moods aren’t all over the place.
EVERYDAY TIPS FOR EVERYDAY SUCCESS
So before I jump into this section I want to say I won’t be prescribing any specific diet (ie Vegan, Paleo, Keto) as I truly believe that there exists a different diet out there for each of us. Also, I’m not a health expert! I am just as confused as most people out there about all the conflicting advice that exists. But one thing I do know is that when you get down to the basics of most “diets”, you see a pattern:
Eat whole foods that you cook yourself.
So that is what I want to focus on, finding tips and tricks to make that just a little bit easier and more realistic to achieve in our hectic lives.
1. Cut Out Processed Food.
So I’m not saying to do this all in one host. Though if you want to, 100 Days of Real Food is an amazing resource!
For my family it has been a slow and long journey that will continue on for the rest of our lives. We took baby steps. The first thing we did was try to cut out foods with more than 5 ingredients (as recommended by 100 Days of Real Food). This meant we only bought Triscuits for crackers. It meant that most sauces and prepared foods were out.
Over the last decade we cut out more and more processed foods. So now we buy very little. And it seemed easy because we took those baby steps!
2. Cook More
How many nights do you cook a meal from scratch each week? How many meals are made out of whole foods (and not cooked for you by a restaurant!). Maybe try to cook just 1 more meal this week. And maybe double or triple that recipe so that you have food for leftovers (another dinner or maybe lunch?). Try that for a month or two. Once that has become easy, add on another meal. Keep at it and eventually almost all of your meals will be cooked from scratch using real food!
3. Eat Your Fruits and Veggies
Last year I read an amazing book, “How Not To Die”. I talk about it all the time (the title always makes people laugh!). It really had an impact on how we eat. It is a massive book collecting and reviewing years and years of research so obviously I’m not going to get into all of it.
But there was some information on fruit that was really eye opening for me. The most important dietary risk is not getting enough fruit in our daily diet, something that is responsible for an estimated 4.9 million deaths a year around the world. Nothing else even comes close to that. FRUIT! Who doesn’t love fruit – a crisp apple, a sweet berry or refreshing watermelon. Talk about an easy way to improve our health.
Take a look at that list of brain foods, notice the emphasis on greens (like spinach and kale), cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli and cabbage), antioxidant rich fruits and veggies (like berries and peppers). Eating more fruits and vegetables increases our brain functions and they are loaded with water so they also help keep us hydrated! Win. Win. Win.
4. Take Your Lunch Break
This is the 3rd time I’ve had this on my list! But when we skip our lunch we are more likely to grab fast food or heat up a frozen dinner to eat quickly while we work at our desk. If you leave your desk and take a proper break with a proper meal (and maybe that walk!) then you are less likely to go through that afternoon slump. I know I always notice my energy and performance when I have had a healthy lunch.
5. Do Some Meal Planning and Prep
As someone who loves structure it probably comes as no surprise that I do a lot of meal planning. In fact this summer I created a 12 week meal plan for the fall (I love not having to come up with a plan every week!). Having any sort of plan though (even if it is planning just 1 day ahead) means that when it is dinner time you aren’t having to come up with something when you are tired and worn out. It means you are more likely to stick to the plan of cooking your dinner from whole foods. If you want my meal plan for ideas, let me know I’ll be happy to share it!
Meal Prep has been game changing for me as I know it has for millions of people. Each week I devote at least 1 hour to doing some prep and it makes week night dinners and lunches so much easier. Most of the time it is just cutting up all the veggies so that it is easy and ready to go once it is cooking time. That way we can have as many servings of veggies as possible (we always have 1 cooked and 1 raw (either veggies or salad)) with dinners. Sometimes it is pre-making some parts of dinner or making a bunch of lunches. It all depends on the weekend.
6. Drink Your Water
Well this one is pretty obvious! Try and aim for 8, 8 oz glasses of water a day. Get a water bottle with a goal of drinking it by a pre-specified time, find an app that will help remind you.
Don’t like water? Try adding fruits, vegetables or herbs to it to add flavour. Find a sparkling water (like La Croix, PC Blue Menu) that only adds natural flavour, no added sweeteners or sugars.
I don’t know about you but I want to do everything within my power to set myself up for success. And if taking a little bit more time in the kitchen will do it, then I’m game. I love putting on some great music or an interesting podcast (or even getting lost in a story in my head, classic INFJ) while I cook. It took some time to get here but I now look forward to that time every day. And from my personal experience, when I’m eating right, I’m working better and smarter. And when my husband is eating right, he is sharper and more productive. So for us, cooking whole foods and reducing our dependence on process foods as really allowed us to eat our way to success.
Sara Curto, Career Management Specialist. Working with you towards Career and Job Search Success.
Dream Career Planner
Click HERE to download