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?
Sara Curto helps people find a career they love by teaching them a new way to job search.
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