We’ve all been there, lying in bed trying to convince ourselves we’re asleep while swatting away unwanted work-related thoughts buzzing around our heads.
It’s 2 a.m., and you have a big day coming up tomorrow. You can’t afford a bad night’s sleep, but here it is, and it’s driving you crazy.
We all need sleep.
Not only that, it’s got to be good quality uninterrupted sleep that’s long enough to allow you to wake up feeling refreshed, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
Our need for sleep is a physiological necessity, not a nice to have, and I find it incredibly frustrating when I hear people claiming they have trained themselves to need less sleep.
It’s not possible.
They are merely deluding themselves that they have found a clever way to stop wasting time sleeping when there are other more important things you could be doing.
Wrong, wrong and wrong again.
Insufficient sleep is a self-inflicted way of ensuring poor future health in the form of heart disease, type two diabetes and mental illness, along with reduced testicular volume (yes, gentlemen, this is true) weight gain, and not getting enough sleep makes you feel awful the next day.
And your grumpiness will make you unpleasant to be around.
Brain fog anyone?
Sleep deprivation is a lifestyle issue.
What you do during the day will greatly impact how well you sleep at night.
While, how well you sleep at night will greatly impact how well you function during the day.
Pulling an all-nighter is never a good idea. It’s been shown to reduce academic performance.
But the other big issue keeping too many souls tossing in bed at night is dealing with high levels of chronic stress.
If you’re consistently falling into bed exhausted from yet another big day and your brain is then waking you at 2 a.m. on the dot because it thinks it’s party time, it’s time to ask, “What is making my brain behave that way?”
Busy brain syndrome is the term I coined a few years ago for what happens when you’re operating in a constant state of high alert. You’ve got too much on your plate, you’re feeling overwhelmed by it all, can’t see a way forward and find yourself procrastinating endlessly about what to do next.
Your brain sees a way to help by getting you to process all that stuff during the night. Unfortunately, this only serves to set you up for a habit of poor sleep.
The key to getting a better night’s sleep starts with making it a priority.
Investing in your sleep means setting the intention to:
- Pay attention to how much sleep you need vs. how much you’re actually getting. The general rule is you need one hour of sleep for every two hours you are awake.
- Stay accountable to a consistent going to bed and waking up time. Sleeping in on the weekend doesn’t work because you can’t pay back your sleep debt and confusticates your circadian rhythm even more.
- Avoid using technology for relaxation. Little brother, are you listening? My little brother deems himself an insomniac. He is also a worrier. He uses video games to unwind in the evenings but plays after the rest of the household has gone to bed, losing all awareness of the passage of time in the process. Coffee is then his go-to to wake up in the morning. Technology itself is not the problem it’s how we are using it. A 60-minute curfew before going to bed can help.
- Turn down the lights in the evening. Are you one of those households with enough lights on at night to make the football lights at the local pitch look dim? That means your brain still thinks it’s daytime and it uses darkness as one of the drivers to help us go to sleep. Dimmer switches are ideal or turn some of the lights off.
- Look at better ways to manage your stress. Sorry, this doesn’t include an extra glass of wine or smoking more, both of which are sleep poisons leading to more fragmented sleep. Just saying.
What you choose is up to you. It could be listening to soothing music, reading a real book (unrelated to work), conversing with your partner or a friend, meditating, spending time outside, soaking in a warm bath, or anything that makes you feel happy and relaxed.
As Matthew Walker, neuroscientist, sleep specialist and author of “Why We Sleep” explains, sleep is your superpower.
Don’t waste it.
You can watch his TED talk here.
If you’re involved in workplace health and wellbeing, or you know that your sleep pattern needs an overhaul, what have you found helpful to get a better night’s sleep?
Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, trainer, coach, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her latest book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is available here.