By Bill Hellkamp
Lately I’ve been beat! Between long hours working on a few big projects, an unusual travel schedule and family health worries, my waking and sleeping patterns have been a mess. While my normal response would be to “soldier on” through these challenges, I’ve found that difficult to do. And the admonition, “You can sleep when you’re dead!” doesn’t bring me too much comfort, especially as I get older. As this pattern has gone on, it seems that my thoughts haven’t been as clear and it is harder for me to concentrate (long meetings are killers). Because my value to my company and my clients is my ability to identify and solve problems, being mentally sharp is important. So I thought I would research the power of a well-rested mind. Here is what I found:
You are less effective when you don’t get enough sleep – In 2011 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studied survey data from a broad selection of U.S. adults. They concluded that those who regularly got less than 7 hours of sleep were much more likely to have diminished capabilities when concentrating, remembering, working and driving. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night and that shorter and longer durations have been associated with increased morbidity and mortality. STUDY
Lack of sleep affects you emotionally – According to the Great British Sleep Study of 2012, poor sleepers are:
- 7 times more likely to feel helpless
- 5 times more likely to feel alone
- Twice as likely to have relationship problems
- Twice as likely to suffer from low mood
There was very little variance in the results between men and women who participated in this study. Survey Results
Poor sleep quality can hurt you physically – A 2008 study by Edward C. Suarez, PhD found that “symptoms of poor sleep have been linked to increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), Type 2 diabetes, and hypertension”. Further the study states that “overall poor sleep quality, more frequent problems falling asleep (>2 nights/week) and longer periods to fall asleep (>30 min) were associated with greater psychosocial distress, higher fasting insulin, fibrinogen and inflammatory biomarkers, but only for women”. STUDY
How to be better rested
Keep to a regular sleep schedule – Your body likes habits and when you break those habits it can rebel against you. While there may be times when you need to stay up later than normal or get up earlier, try to keep these to a minimum. Do your best to get to bed and get up at a regular time each day, and don’t let weekends get you too far off the program.
Regulate the environment – The Great British Sleep Study 2012 identifies 5 physical factors that contributed to poor sleep: bodily discomfort, noise, partner, room temperature and light levels. Get a comfortable bed and pillows and do what you can to regulate the other factors. Work with your partner in these areas so that you can both be comfortable and sleep better. A little give and take can mean a better night sleep for all people involved.
Clear your mind – For many people it is difficult to turn off their minds and go to sleep. It seems as if those things that are troubling us get magnified when the lights are out and all is quiet. And once we get gnawing on a problem, it is hard to let it go. I find that if something is bothering me I need to write a note to myself so I don’t obsess about it. The act of writing it down seems to make it a task I can work on tomorrow and relieves some of the worry. Other suggestions are to concentrate on relaxed breathing, think more positive thoughts or turn to prayer.
Control your late night eating – When I was in my 20’s I could eat or drink anything I wanted, as late as I wanted, then sleep through the night. But time brings changes and I have found that there are a few things that don’t sit well with a good night’s sleep. Caffeine after 5 PM is out as is anything spicy later in the evening, and of course, limiting liquids has been a good idea as well. So listen to your body. If you have an unusually hard time getting to or staying asleep on a given night, think about your eating habits during the past evening. Is there something that you should start to avoid?
Finally, if you didn’t sleep well the night before, then this could be the right time to take a 30 to 40 minute nap. Many successful people have believed in the power of an afternoon nap. Winston Churchill was a late night worker who took a two-hour nap every afternoon and John F. Kennedy liked to exercise at mid-day and then slept for over an hour before resuming his meetings. Researchers from the Saarland University in Germany have found that a short nap can improve learning and memory fivefold! ARTICLE
So, to be at your best, get enough sleep. You will have less stress and function at a higher level.