The important role sleep plays in being your most productive self

‘Everything you do, you’ll do better with a good nights sleep’

~ Arianna Huffington

I’ve been writing a series of posts about how I’m tackling my New Year Resolutions this year. My over arching resolution is to take good care of  my health, but due to this being a massive topic I have split it into 12 parts and am focusing on one part each month.

So far I have covered exercise, diet and alcohol. You can see how I got on with these here. This month I’m looking at sleep.

Why is sleep so important?

The view on sleep has changed significantly over recent years and the importance of a good nights sleep seems to becoming better understood. Previously, surviving on a few hours a night and feeling exhausted but soldiering on was seen as a positive attribute, and was done in the name of productivity. Recently, these views are changing and people seem to be starting to understand that we can’t do our jobs nearly as well on five or six hours sleep as we can on seven or eight, as our productivity is reduced substantially when we’re sleep deprived.

Research has shown that lack of sleep impairs our cognitive functions and means we are more likely to overact about things, be irritable, forgetful, lack focus and concentration and even possibly feel depressed.  It can hinder productivity, creativity judgement and decision making. It impairs a persons mood as well as their diet. It generally results in a sub par performance. Therefore getting enough good quality sleep can be a complete game changer to both our mood and our productivity.

In terms of getting a good nights sleep I believe in following the simple process below:

1) Calculate how much sleep you need

Research has shown that most people need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep a night. Try having a few nights with 7 hours, then a few with 7.5 and a few with 8 hours and see how you feel. After trying this out, you will be able to identify whether 7 is enough, or whether you function much better the following day after 7.5 or 8 hours.

2) Decide what time you want to get up in the morning

According to your job and family commitments, your lifestyle and your desires, decide what time you would like to get up in the morning and what time is feasible for you to achieve. Of course, if you have children, this could be dictated by them. The time you need to leave to get to work will also be a major factor. If it is in your control, I am a big advocate of getting up to start the day, rather than getting up to go to work. If possible, it can be better not to work backwards from when you have to leave to get to work, but instead to decide what time is desirable for you to get up to start the day ahead.

3) Working backwards calculate what time you need to go to bed in order to get enough sleep

Depending on how much sleep you need to be at your best and what time you need to get up in the morning, you can calculate what time you must go to sleep in order to have get enough hours sleep.

4) Follow a night time routine leading up to sleep

Creating a bedtime routine before you go to sleep, can help you rewind in order to fall asleep more easily. Some things you might consider doing:

  • Turn off all your electronic devices and leave them outside the bedroom
  • Prepare your to do list for the next day, so that it is out of your mind and on paper
  • Have a relaxing soak in the bath
  • Get changed into comfortable pajamas (if you wear anything to bed)
  • Read a book that is not related to work
  • Write down 3 things you are grateful for about the day
  • Write down 3 things you are looking forward to for the next day

5) Get good quality sleep

It is important that the quality of sleep you get is good. We are aiming for uninterrupted deep sleep. This post explains 30 actions you can take to get a good quality sleep.

If you do wake up, in the night. my top tip is to try listening to Headspace Sleep Exercise to help you go back to sleep.

6) Maintain a similar pattern each day

The more you are able to maintain the same get up time, the more your body will attune to this and start to wake up naturally at this time each day.

 

How does this relate to my New Year Resolution?

My idea is that each month, I will try to introduce a new habit into my life, with the intention that over the next 12 months, I can fundamentally change the way I am looking after my health and make a big positive impact.

Interestingly my sleep has massively improved without me focusing on it specifically which I believe is very much down to my achievements from previous months, particularly  to do with the reduction in the amount of alcohol I am drinking. This shows how interlinked many of these areas to do with health are.

Break down the goal into what I want to achieve

  • I want to get great quality sleep every night
  • I want to sleep for at least 7 hours each night
  • I want to be operating at my most productive every day
  • I want to feel awake and full of energy in the day

Define minimum and maximum standards

I want to have 7 hours of good quality each night.

I want to wake up naturally without an alarm clock (unless I am catching an early morning flight)

Identify barriers that might stop success and make relevant adjustments:

If you are not sleeping well the first thing to do is to identify what is causing this, as depending on the specific cause, the solution may be completely different.

From my experience there are a number of common elements that prevent us from getting enough good quality sleep:

1) Getting distracted in the evening doing something and going to bed too late

When you notice yourself getting distracted in the evening with something that is meaning you are going to bed too late, figure out how you can carry it on in the morning instead.

2) Too many thoughts swirling around your mind to get to sleep

If there is a lot on your mind, this can sometimes prevent you from sleeping well. A good tip can be to make creating a to do list part of your evening routine to extract the thoughts from your head and to instead get them down onto paper so you know they are still there to be tackled the next day.

You might also want to consider carrying out a Fear Inventory to move all your subconscious thoughts and fears from your head into your conscious minds and then onto paper.

3) Waking up in the middle of the night and reading for too long

If you wake up in the night, it can be useful to get back into the habit of getting to sleep as quickly as you can. If you pick up your book, or your phone, or ipad, this can distract you for quite some time and mean you miss out on a significant amount of sleep. Instead, try using the Headspace Sleep Exercise, which should send you back off to sleep quite quickly.

4) Drinking alcohol affecting the quality of sleep

If you want great quality sleep, it is best not to drink any alcohol the night before. The less alcohol you drink the better your sleep should be.

5) Travel meaning you get to bed very late

Sometimes if you are travelling and you still need to get up the next morning, it can limit the amount of sleep you can get. One option is to try to get sleep during the journey. I find using an eye mask can help you block everything out and sleep better whilst travelling.

6) Not feeling tired when you go to bed and struggling to get to sleep

Trying to ensure that you have tired yourself out mentally and physically during the day can help with this. Getting fresh air and exercise in the day, not having lots of naps in the day, and stopping using electronic equipment half an hour before bed can all help.

7) The environment not being conducive for sleep

If you room is too hot, too cold, too light, too noisy or too cluttered it may prevent you from getting great quality sleep. Try paying attention to setting up your room in the best way you can  for a good nights sleep. Empty it of all clutter. Use an eye mask and ear plugs to control the light and sound. Ensure you have the temperature right, so you are not too hot or cold.

 

Being my most productive self is a huge driver of mine. I have seen how getting great sleep has improved my productivity. I have also seen how interlinked getting great sleep is with diet, exercise the amount of alcohol consumed.

I’d love to hear any tips you have for embedding great quality sleep as a habit in the comments below.

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