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Are You Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene?

24 September 2013

Allison read Sleep Hygiene Tips on the American Sleep Association web site in an effort to support several clients who know being rested improves their performance, but are struggling to get a good night’s sleep.

Tags: allison read, balance, leadership, sleep

Sleep matters. A lot. In fact, I often tell people to get seven to eight hours of a sleep a night for a month just to find out how much happier, more productive, peaceful, and even thinner they can be if they actually commit to getting the sleep they need. (A lot of Americans don’t know the difference between hungry and tired.) You just can’t be the kind of leader we try to help clients become if you aren’t committed to being rested. I find that very few people try to convince me that they can get by on four or five hours of sleep a night on a regular basis. However, many are surviving on six and have no idea how much more effective they would be if they got the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep the majority need.

If you need proof that this six hours simply isn’t enough, then read my 2011 blog post about Dr. Charles A. Czeisler's groundbreaking research and article in the Harvard Business Review, Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer. Or perhaps my 2012 blog post about findings from Megan Ruiter’s study presented at the 26th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Boston will convince you. “The 30% of working adults who routinely sleep less than six hours a night are four times more likely to suffer a stroke. The really troubling news is that this study was done “on people of normal weight” who “had no history of stroke, no symptoms and were not at high risk for sleep apnea.” (Yikes!)

You get the picture. I’m serious about spreading the word about the importance of sleep. I’m interested in helping our society to recognize that sleep is as important as nutrition and exercise. (These are often referred to as the three-legged stool of health with sleep being the one that is most often neglected. This is interesting given that it’s a lot easier to make good food choices, eat less, and exercise more if you’re rested.) I’d also like to help us move away from seeing sleep deprivation as a badge of honor. “I pulled an all-nighter” should not be a statement said with pride especially since Dr. Czeisler’s research proved that going 24 hours without sleep or getting less than six hours a night for a week creates the functional equivalent of a DUI. (None of my Washington DC Metro Area clients would drink a six-pack before their two-hour commute at 5:30am, but plenty are driving in a state of sleep deprivation and putting themselves and others at risk.)

However, I also realize that some of us want to sleep and have a hard time doing so. When I talk to people about their sleep habits, I find that poor sleep hygiene is often the culprit. If someone can’t fall asleep or sleep through the night, I recommend they read Sleep Hygiene Tips on the American Sleep Association web site. Right away people find a couple of things they could change that would give them a better chance of good rest.

In my experience, going to bed at the same time every night, eliminating caffeine after 12:00pm, putting yourself to bed peacefully, and changing your behavior when you wake up in the middle of the night help the most. If you find you can’t get through the afternoon without caffeine, then you are not well-rested. Period. End of story. I know it's hard to break the caffeine cycle, but quit telling yourself, “I just can’t sleep,” until you give it a try. For a few weeks you’ll drag in the afternoon, but then you’ll go to bed earlier at night and eventually regulate your sleep cycle.

Additionally, I always ask people, “Have you ever put young children to bed or do you remember being put to bed?” Most grown-ups agree that if you want a young child (or even an older one) to go to bed at 8:00pm, you can’t turn off the TV at 7:50 and shout, “Go to bed!” You have to start the getting-ready-for-bed process earlier and go through several rituals to give sleep a fighting chance. (You tell the child they have 30 more minutes of TV, help them turn off the TV, take a bath, read a few stories but not too many, get a cup of water for the bedside table, tuck her in, turn off the light, and say “Goodnight. I love you.”) Most grown-ups know this, but watch TV in bed (a big no-no), have their Smartphone in their hands until the last minute, turn off the light and demand of themselves, “Ok, it’s time to sleep so sleep!” Are you really surprised you can’t fall and stay asleep?

I once had a client who told me that if she couldn’t sleep she got up and cleaned the house or cleared out her email. This was exactly the wrong thing to do. She was revving up her brain rather than following ASA’s advice, “If you find your mind racing, or worrying about not being able to sleep during the middle of the night, get out of bed, and sit in a chair in the dark. Do your mind racing in the chair until you are sleepy, then return to bed. No TV or internet during these periods! That will just stimulate you more than desired.” It’s also a good idea to try some of the meditation and mindfulness techniques I wrote about last year.

Changing your sleep habits will take discipline but I think you’ll find that once you discover what rested feels like, you will have an easier time making the choices that allow for a good night’s sleep. Give it a try for a month and see how you feel.

p.s. If you try practicing better sleep hygiene and still can’t sleep, then it’s a very good idea to visit your doctor since there could be an underlying health issue.


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