How many times have you done it – stayed up till the wee small hours on a must-do project, or catching up on important correspondence, then just zoning out on social media (decompressing, or catching up on news, you tell yourself)?
I don’t think there’s one of my Busy Professional, Real Life Superwomen clients who hasn’t done it at least once – twice – or maybe more in the past week. Or, when they get to bed, they can’t stop thinking and worrying, and so have difficulty relaxing enough to sleep!
March 6-13 was Sleep Awareness Week, and on Sunday March 13 we pushed our clocks forward. It got me started thinking…sleep is such an important aspect of our health and wellness, but much of the time we just don’t see it as a priority.
In our society, staying up all night to complete tasks or work on projects is celebrated. It goes back to the Puritan work ethic and the notion that busy-ness is a badge of honor. Sleep looks like a shameful waste of time that we could (and should) be putting to better use!
That was always my issue. I personally have never had problems with falling asleep. I actually love to sleep and can sleep for 12 hours at times. But I’ve always had lots of things to do and felt as though I didn’t have enough time to do it all, so I’d stay up trying to accomplish more. The less I slept, the more I could get done… but this was a very unsustainable way of living. I learned eventually that when I push myself this way, it’s only a matter of time before I get sick.
In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg Mckeown writes:
The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves. If we underinvest in ourselves, and by that I mean our minds, our bodies, and our spirits, we damage the very tool we need to make our highest contribution.One of the the most common ways people – especially ambitious, successful people – damage this asset is through lack of sleep.
So my question for you is: how many hours did you sleep last night?
Studies have shown that the less sleep you get you are more prone to impaired thinking; major health issues such as heart attack and stroke; reduced sex drive; depression; and increased risk of fatal accidents:
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that fatigue is a cause in 100,000 auto crashes and 1,550 crash-related deaths a year in the U.S. The problem is greatest among people under 25 years old.
In fact, I was surprised to find out that studies show that there is an increase in both heart attacks and road accidents in the days after clocks are set forward one hour in spring.
And it works the other way, too: just as a sleep deficit reduces your health and performance, getting seven to eight hours of sleep has shown to boost your health, youthfulness, productivity, focus, and creativity.
So what can you do to improve your sleep habits?
First of all, create a healing sleep environment:
- Evict the Electronics
Scientists are now finding that light from electronics – televisions, laptops, tablets and smartphones, as well as energy-efficient bulbs – has the potential to disrupt sleep by slowing the release of melatonin. According to The Sleep Foundation, The circadian rhythm seems to be especially sensitive to light with short wavelengths—in particular, blue light in the 460-nanometer range of the electromagnetic spectrum.
- Clear the Bed
I have many clients who tell me they have books and papers on one side of their bed, or on the floor next to the bed (I’m sometimes guilty of this, too). Why load your sleeping environment with the reminders of work? Instead, surround your sleeping space with pillows, sheets, blankets and comfort.
- Indulge in a Good Mattress and Pillows
Do you have a quality mattress? Do you know what kind of mattress your body needs? Some like a soft mattress others do well with the support of a firm one. This goes the same with pillows. What does your body prefer?
- Remove Indoor Air Pollution
Air quality can directly affect sleep. According to the Harvard School of Public Health indoor air pollution increases the risk of sleep disorders, including sleep apnea. This can also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Here are some suggestions to clear your bedroom air:
- Get an air purifier
- Spring clean your mattress to remove dust mites, skin cells, pet hair, and other allergens.
- Consider hypoallergenic bedding : mattress cover, comforter, and pillows, to protect against allergens, dust mites, and bacteria.
- Add a couple of plants to your bedroom: Boston Fern, Spider Plant, Peace Lily, Philodendron and other species thrive indoors while purifying the air
- Inexpensive ways to improve indoor air are: Salt Lamps, Beeswax Candles, and essential oil diffuser.
Once you have created a healthy outward environment, it’s time to change your psychological environment.
- Make your bed off-limits to anything but sleep and lovemaking. It will be easier to relax into sleep if you don’t associate your bed with other activities.
- Shift your mindset about sleep. Every night before bed, affirm that “Sleep is an effective use of time that leads to success.”
- Don’t eat a heavy meal or drink alcohol or caffeine (surprise!) right before bed. Other than a small, melatonin-stimulating snack or a cup of chamomile tea, it’s best to avoid stimulating your digestive system when you’re trying to sleep.
- Reduce Stress by creating a bedtime ritual – a shower or bath, 15 minutes with a relaxing book, a gentle yoga routine and my favorite is writing my to do list for the next day.
- Use music to relax: Gregorian chants, New Age meditation music, Native American flute music, and other compositions are excellent for winding down.
- Take counting sheep to the next level and practice visualizations! Record Yoga Nidra meditations and play them back as you’re settling in for sleep.
- If you’re really stuck and can’t get to sleep, gentle, natural sleep aids can help: homeopathic tablets such as Calms ; valerian capsules, or melatonin can all help you to relax.
When you approach sleep intentionally, recognizing and taking care of your body’s need, you’ll be surprised at the ease with which you can doze off!