I remember how I used to hate sleep when I was little. I never wanted to go to bed early. In fact, my favorite thing in all the world was a cheap red flashlight that let me keep playing with my toys after my parents turned off the lights.
On the weekends, I’d get up earlier than everyone else and mastered the art of hitting the mute button before the screen would even show the picture. In the afternoons, my mom would make me nap, claiming it would help me grow. To trick her, I would spit on my pillow and roll the left side of my face in it so that in a few minutes, I’d have proof that I slept so hard that I drooled! This would usually earn me the right to go back outside until the street lights came on. I don’t know if my mom was actually falling for this or if she admired my creativity enough to let me out of my cell.
Now that I’m a grown-up, my relationship with what I believed was the fun interrupter has changed.
They say we all need around eight hours of sleep. It’s not a modest time investment given that we only have twenty-four hours to work with each day. Our days may no longer be filled with mischief and adventure but they’re full nonetheless. And when the fullness becomes too difficult to fit within the remaining sixteen hours, we we steal from the eight normally reserved for sleep.
But by stealing from the time needed for sleep, ultimately we’re stealing from the very thing that helps us accomplish more throughout the day.
How is sleep deprivation one of the meanest things you can do to yourself?
- It fogs up your brain. Have you ever nodded off in a meeting, forgot whatever the hell it was you were doing, or had a tough time making a decision? I know I have, especially when I didn’t sleep well the night before. As leaders, we’re always solving a problem or keeping ourselves focused on the most important projects so it’s not smart to sacrifice the thing that makes all of that easier to do.
Extra fun fact: Did you know that your brain goes through a cleaning process while you’re asleep? It actually does this throughout the day but it ramps up to 10x the effectiveness while you’re sleeping. The brain cells even shrink down to allow the waste in and around the itself to drain out… much like a sewer system! Pretty cool. Oh and if you mess with this natural process too many times, it can lead to diseases like Alzheimer’s. Yikes!
- It makes you irritable. Not getting enough sleep not only sucks for you but it can suck for other people too. We become less resilient to stressful situations and generally less fun to be around. Combine this with being hungry right before lunch or dinner and… ooh… recipe for disaster!
- It makes you vulnerable to sickness… from the common cold to cancer. No matter how good you are at eating well, working out, or showing up on time for your flu shot appointment, if you’re not smart with sleep, kiss your attendance award good bye.
So how can we optimize our sleep every night?
- Get out of bed. Staying in bed gives you an “out” for having gone to bed later than you were supposed to the night before. If you know you’re going to honor your alarm clock, you’re more likely to get in bed on time.
- Exercise for a half hour or more. The workout will give you more energy and alertness throughout the day and it’ll also put you in a deeper sleep at night.
- Bathe in sunlight. Some of you may not have the luxury to have office windows (I don’t either). Still, find a way to get sunlight throughout the day like sitting next to the window while eating lunch. If all else fails, get a light therapy lamp from Amazon. This is important because it triggers the melatonin production cycle to happen at night.
- Take a short nap. I used to weasel out of naps when I was younger and now I wish I could take them. Funny how it works out that way, huh? Naps are best when they’re 10-20 minutes in length and between 6 to 7 hours after you wake up.
- No caffeine 6 hours before bed. About half of the caffeine will be out of your system after 3-5 hours but can linger for up to 8-14. If you must have caffeine during the day, minimize its negative effects on sleep by avoiding it altogether after lunch.
- Plan the next day. Some of us are worriers. Our brains won’t shut up about the things we need to do, even after we get in bed. I’ve found that by writing down what I need to do the next day the night before, it calms down my energetic monkey brain.
- Eat a high protein, low carb snack. Having a heavy dinner right before bed might make you groggy but will result your blood sugar to plummet while you’re asleep. Not only can that wake you up but it can also prevent you from falling back asleep.
- Set a bedtime alarm. We set an alarm to get up… why not bookend our sleep by setting one for when we need to start getting ready for bed?
- Take a warm shower. This will get you feeling fresh and relaxed.
- Avoid devices 2 hrs before bed. The blue light emitted from your phone, tv, and computer tricks your brain into thinking that it’s still sunny outside which in turn blocks the production of the sleepy hormone, melatonin. You can also download apps like f.lux for macs or get blue-blocking glasses.
- Drink nighttime tea, not alcohol. Funny how alcohol before bed is called a “night cap.” Technically, it does help you fall asleep faster but it wrecks the REM cycle and your body’s ability to slip into a deeper levels of sleep.
- Take magnesium. A deficiency in magnesium can show up as high blood pressure, anxiety, insomnia, and migraines. Just don’t take too much. Trust me, I know. Instead of helping me sleep better/faster, it sent me to the toilet.
- Set the temperature to around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Back in college, I heard of frat houses who left their windows open during cold nights because it helped students sleep better. I never bought into it and instead joked that it was necessary to get the smell out of the room where 12 guys slept. The truth is that the body’s core temperature drops to help us fall asleep. When the room is too hot, then it naturally has trouble doing so.
- Kill the lights. I’ve gone as far as putting black electrical tape on the little green light on my smoke detector. We’re wired to follow a natural circadian rhythm that’s triggered by light (or the lack thereof). So when we sense light, our receptors send signals to our brain that tell us it’s not yet time for bed.
- Meditate. It’s another way to clear your mind. The most basic yet effective method I’ve found is by focusing on the sensation of my breath. Before I know it, I’m knocked out.
- Take deep breaths. This is my favorite shortcut for calming down. Inhale for five seconds, hold it for two, and exhale for five seconds. Do this ten times and your body has no choice but to become more relaxed.
- Read a good (story) book. I love books—especially how-to’s. The bad thing is that how-to’s get my mind too excited. Since then, I’ve switched over to biographies or fiction books. Right now I’m reading Zorba the Greek and loving it.
- Have a big “O” 😉 Having an orgasm floods your system with happy, relaxing, hormones and endorphins. I know a lot of you are smart and are already thinking that you can use this line next time your partner “isn’t in the mood.” haha. Go for it! Ever wonder why people are more cheery the morning after? Well, maybe it’s because they got… better sleep!
- Warm your feet. My wife loves to wedge her cold feet under my legs. I’ve begged for her to just put socks on but she says that wearing socks to bed hurts her teeth… I don’t get how that is. haha. If you’re like her, find a pair or warm legs to tuck them under or be nice to your cuddle buddy and put some gosh darn socks on.
- Turn on white noise. This creates a new baseline for the noise level in your room so that if there’s a sudden loud bang or boom, you’re less likely to wake up.
- End the day with gratitude. This is another mood enhancer. Even after a shitty day, we all have things to be thankful for.
- Indulge in a better bed. My first big purchase after college was a proper bed and a Tempurpedic pillow. Being comfortable keeps me from tossing around.
- Sleep at the same time every day. Our bodies are geared for routines so the more often we go to sleep at the same time, the easier it gets to fall asleep right away at that time.
- Share this list! If you have a friend that could use it or more importantly a partner that shares your bed with you, share this article. Better yet, click on the image below to get a summarized one-pager in your inbox right now!
Well, that’s it. Ciao for now!
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