“I’m going to get some sleep!”
I thought this was bizarre at first. After all, I remember trying to negotiate my bedtime schedule with my mum when I was little (and I’m sure I’m not alone).
Isn’t ironic that, as adults, sleeping becomes an activity that we eagerly look forward to?
A few months into the job and I understood exactly what my colleagues meant. Being able to function on little sleep was worn almost like a badge of honor.
I recall this particular session that I attended in New York many years ago, as part of my training as a new Business Analyst at the firm. Behind closed doors, with no senior people present, we were given the opportunity, as junior analysts, to ask any questions to a couple of more senior BAs.
When someone inquired about work-life balance and how to manage the long working hours, the response was short and clear: ‘Sleep less! Your body will get used to it.’
That is true to an extent. We are incredibly adaptable creatures. But it all comes at a price…
For a long time, I got used to surviving on only 4 hours a night. Needless to say that this wasn’t a very good strategy for my well-being and personal effectiveness.
Constantly fatigued and with my emotions in roller-coaster mode, I got into a cycle of over-eating carbs and then over-exercising to compensate for it. Moody and confused, my romantic life was also on the rocks.
Eventually, I took a stand for myself and decided to increase my sleeping time to 6 hours a night, no matter what! It may still not sound like much, but it was a massive improvement for me.
I suddenly realized how much smarter I am when well rested. I felt like my IQ had doubled! Without noticing it, my cognitive functions had been deteriorating due to sleep deprivation. And this had been affecting my ability to make good decisions – in business, love and life.
Just by adding a couple of extra snooze hours to my day, I felt like a new woman – more balanced, centered and bien dans ma peau!
Nobody knows exactly why we need to sleep, but neuroscientists have identified at least three key benefits:
During sleep, your anabolic functions are increased, enabling healing. Conversely, sleep deprivation impairs your immune system, making you more susceptible to infections.
It has also been shown that sleep acts as a brain detox, as the waste-draining glymphatic system (which clears away toxins linked to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia) is ten times more active during sleep.
2) Memory Processing
Short-term memory – essential for decision-making and reasoning – is affected by sleep deprivation.
Harvard scientists Saper and Stickgold have suggested that memories and knowledge are organized during sleep. When no external information is presented to the brain, the latter is finally free to form new neuronal connections based on the information already acquired.
Sigmund Freud proposed that dreams are the expression of our unconscious desires and frustrations. They help us process shadow emotions in our unconscious mind for the sake of our psychological health.
Finally, getting a little metaphysical about it, I would add…
4) Connecting with Spirit
Whether you call it God, the Universe or Spirit, chances are that you believe in some sort of Higher Power or Creative Consciousness that put us on this Earth.
Spiritual teachers tell us that during sleep and meditation we access a consciousness gap that enables us to connect with that Higher Mind and tap into our intuition. Another good reason to get some additional quality sleep!
That said, what can you do if you’re feeling sleep deprived? Here are 5 steps that you can mix & match to help you get back on track.
Step 1: Up your sleep intake
Research shows that people who consistently sleep at least 7 hours tend to live the longest.
Note that some of us need as much as 8 or 9 hours a night, and there’s nothing wrong with that. These are just averages.
Step 2: Mind your circadian rhythm
Your daily activity and energy cycles (a.k.a. circadian rhythm) are regulated by your individual body clock.
You may think that you’re in control of your life, but in fact it is your biological circadian rhythm that defines the time of the day at which your physical and cognitive functions are active and to what extent.
Some people, commonly referred to as ‘larks’, like waking-up early and feel very energetic in the first part of the day. Other people, known as ‘owls’, prefer waking-up late and are more active in the evening.
Whether you’re a lark or an owl is genetically determined. Therefore, there’s no point in fighting your body. It’s better to respect your natural rhythm!
Step 3: Pay-off your sleep debt
Sleep debt results from consistently lacking sleep. It leads to physical, mental and emotional fatigue.
To pay-off your sleep debt this coming weekend, close your blinds, go to bed earlier and do not set your alarm clock. Just sleep undisturbed for as long as you like.
Step 4: Wind down
Create a consistent bedtime routine that helps you relax.
Choose 1-3 activities that help you unwind and combine them in a routine that you’ll repeat every day. For example, you can take a warm bath, practice some gentle yoga moves, listen to soothing music, etc.
Whatever you do, avoid bright lights, caffeine, technology use (computers, smart phones, tablets) and vigorous exercise at least 1 hour before going to bed.
Step 5: Herbal indulgence
Herbal teas are great for insomnia. Chamomile tea is a great option. If you would like something stronger, you can try Valerian tea in moderation (as it causes drowsiness).
Take your tea about 20 minutes before heading to bed to avoid a trip to the ladies’ in the middle of the night.
Now if you’re a mum and your little one constantly challenges your beauty sleep, you may be thinking: “This won’t work for me!” I know so because I’m a mum too!
For now, turn the question around and ask yourself: “How can this work for me?” Then stay tuned to an upcoming article just for mums where I will walk you through my tried & tested tips to help you restore your beauty sleep.
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