One would think that sleep was the easiest thing to achieve since so many people attest to being able to do it with their eyes closed! I jest, but on a more earnest note, in a working world where advances in technology, late-night and early-morning deadlines, and a competitive 24/7 culture all take precedence, sleep can be elusive and often relegated to the bottom of the priority pile.
Sleep deprivation and fragmented sleep take their toll. You’ll inevitably pay the piper with poor work performance and lack of focus at one end of the scale, and the potential for serious health implications – heart disease, obesity, diabetes, stroke, cancer and dementia at the other (Walker, 2017). A lack of sleep has also been associated with aggression and forgetfulness, with preliminary research suggesting an inclination to unethical behaviour (Barber & Budnick, 2016). And if you think you’re alone in the sleep-deprivation stakes – you’re not. In a 2010 Australian study there were 1.5 million Australian adults (9% of the adult population) suffering sleep disorders, at an annual economic cost of $5.1billion.
But despair not, this article will provide practical strategies for better sleep and a whole host of spin-off benefits and advantages that will enable a more productive, creative, and healthier you.
There are a number of notable nappers who’ve demonstrated the power of a good night’s sleep. Among them is Charles Darwin, famed for his theory of evolution. He kept a rigid 10pm to 7am sleep pattern with additional naps during the day. Meanwhile, Albert Einstein managed 10 hours of nightly sleep and daily naps! More current is author, businesswoman and founder of The HuffPost, Arianna Huffington, better known as the Queen of Sleep: she prioritises eight hours of sleep a night, following her diagnosis in 2007 of sleep deprivation and burnout. While cause and effect can’t be confirmed here, these remarkable individuals do offer social proof that sleep is excellent for the mind.
In her seminal work, From Exhausted to Energised (2015), Weaver argues that good sleep is the basis of good health. There are several important strategies you can employ to maximise healthy, natural sleep – and none of them involve taking sleeping tablets or counting sheep. (Note: If you have young children who require your attention during the night, only time and routine can ‘remedy’ this situation once the children grow and become more settled.) Weaver describes her approach as “sleep hygiene”, asserting that rest and sleep allow the body to function well. For example, seven to nine hours of restorative sleep allows the kidneys to cleanse the blood, eliminating waste products in the urine the following morning (Weaver, 2015).
According to Weaver, the first strategy to good sleep is to ensure you have any caffeine hit(s) before midday. Caffeine can remain in your system for up to eight hours and can keep you wired, leading to fluctuations in your emotions, temperament and self-control. Not a good state when you need to remain focussed!
Weaver’s second strategy is to try mindfulness or meditation before going to bed. Guided meditations are brilliant for relaxing the mind and body. Noted Human Behaviourist, Dr John Demartini (2008), takes mindfulness to another level in promoting a state of gratitude before sleep. He attests to the benefits of reflecting back on the day’s events (both positive and challenging) with gratitude. When you have true gratitude it’s impossible to be worried, angry or stressed, and you’ll find that in this state of gratitude, you’ll soon drift off into peaceful sleep.
Next, Weaver suggests avoiding backlit devices such as TVs, computers, iPads, iPhones, etc. 90 minutes before going to bed. The electromagnetic field disrupts sleep patterns, promoting wakefulness, as well as depleting the calcium in your body. While global video and Skype calls outside of normal working hours might be necessary, it’s preferable to use your phone on Night Mode to eliminate the LED/blue glow that promotes wakefulness. If you really need to work late using your devices then you do have another option. In a recent study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, the wearing of amber-tinted lenses before sleep has been proven to block the blue light that interferes with sleep cycles, providing a further 30 minutes of sleep and reduced insomnia symptoms for the group studied (Shecter et al, 2018). When you eventually put the electronic gadgets to bed, Weaver suggests switching them to aeroplane mode. This eliminates notifications during the night while still allowing you to use your phone as a morning alarm.
Then there’s the ‘keeping yourself in the dark’ strategy, which has absolutely nothing to do with being ignorant about something, but is imperative for good sleep. Make your bedroom as dark as possible – cutting out any light sources, including LED light from electrical gadgets. You could also use black-out masks that you see on long-haul flights. Artificial light raises our cortisol levels, which disrupt sleep and are designed to wake us up. When it’s dark, our bodies pump out melatonin, which regulates our sleep-wake cycle, lowering blood pressure, glucose levels and our body temperature – all the markers for great slumber (Cytowic, 2017).
Power napping during the day may be another option, with employers now recognising that a little shut-eye at work has enormous benefits for enhancing attention and performance. If you have a daytime activity that will require your full attention and focus, or a big evening event to attend, a planned snooze might be just the tonic. The keys to productive napping are duration, time and location. Fifteen to twenty minutes is best – where you shift from stage one, ‘drifting off’, to stage two, ‘brain activity slows down’. Ideally, naps should take place at siesta time – sometime after lunch and before 3pm. As for your napping place? On your desk in the foetal position in an open plan office may not be appropriate, so find a location where you’re less likely to be disturbed.
Adequate, quality sleep has enormous benefits for your mind, body and spirit. Walker (2017) identifies the merits of sleep for your mind as: developing creativity and the ability to ‘think outside the square’, amplifying focus and attention, increasing engagement, and improving memory and retention of information. From a physical perspective, Walker argues that good sleep enhances appearance, brings improved health, builds a stronger immune system and increases energy, which enables greater productivity. In spirit, Walker tells us that quality sleep lends itself to exercising better ethical behaviour, fostering a stronger willpower, lessening our tendency to be fearful and boosting emotional stability.
City of Thieves author, David Benioff wrote:
I’ve always envied people who sleep easily. Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of the skull well swept, all the little monsters closed up in a steamer trunk at the foot of the bed.
An apt analogy for the peace of mind and clarity that sleep brings.
As a well-rested member of your organisation, you provide enormous potential. With greater performance, innovation and creativity derived from a good night’s sleep, you may well deliver a competitive edge for yourself and your organisation. So, get yourself some quality shut-eye because when you snooze, you win.
Barber, L.K. & Budnick, C. (2016). Sleep and Unethical Behavior, in Barling, J., Barnes, C.M., Carleton, E. & Wagner D.T. (eds.), Work and Sleep: Research Insights for the Workplace (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 125–146.
Clark, N. (2018, November 16). Sleep Cycle: How to Power Nap Like a Pro. Retrieved from https://www.sleepcycle.com/how-to-fall-asleep/how-to-power-nap-like-a-pro/
Cytowic, R.E. (2017, August 24). Four Ways to More Restful Sleep, Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-fallible-mind/201708/four-ways-more-restful-sleep
Demartini, J.F. (2008). The Gratitude Effect, Frenchs Forest, Australia: New Holland Publishers.
Shecter, A., Kim, W.K., St-Onge, M.P. & Westwood, A.J. (2018, January). Blocking nocturnal blue light for insomnia: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Psychiatric Research, January, 96: 196-202. Retrieved from https://www.journalofpsychiatricresearch.com/article/S0022-3956(17)30859-2/abstract
Sleep Health Foundation (2011, October). Reawakening the Nation: The Economic Cost of Sleep Disorders in Australia, 2010. Retrieved from https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/component/content/article.html?id=76
Walker, M. (2017). Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams, London: Penguin Books Ltd.
Weaver, L. (2015). Exhausted to Energised. China: Little Green Frog Publishing.