You Are Not At Your Best If You Don’t Sleep
It’s 2:30pm and you can NOT keep your eyes open. You dread the meeting you have in 30 minutes. You have four more things that will take you hours to do and you are so tired you can barely sit up straight. And then, all of a sudden you wake up, with your face in the keyboard. You are really tired!
Okay, it happens to everyone – once in a while, but what happens if it happens to you on a regular basis? Like 2-3 times a week. Trust me, this is not normal and you might want to investigate why it’s happening to you.
The chances are you are like so many other people who think they can do it all, all the time, with no help – no problem. And maybe if you were in good physical and mental shape you could, but you’re not; so you can’t. Is this making sense to you? If it is, then you already know that you are not at your best. Let’s unpack this tight little bundle, called “You” and see what we find.
The reason you can’t stay awake at work is because you are not sleeping at night. This is something that has to be remedied in a hurry because whether you know it or not, if you are not getting your required sleep, this could be the beginning of a downward spiral that usually does not end well. The question is, “Why aren’t you sleeping?” Why are you laying awake in bed at night? Here are some possible reasons and remedies for what might be affecting you.
Can’t Let It Go
You have been working on something at work and when you go to bed, you continually think about it. OR something happened to you in the past (recent or further back) and it won’t go away. The effect is the same; you cannot get it off your mind.
In situations like this you either fall asleep in 20-25 minutes or you should get up and do whatever it is that makes you tired…read a book, write a letter or write in a journal. (I wouldn’t suggest a computer and you will see why shortly.) If you don’t get out of bed you will be training your body “not to sleep” in your bed. When you go to bed your body should be thinking, “Great, I’m going to sleep.”
Another way to get to sleep is to distract your mind. One way is counting your breaths, which is simple, and it works. Find a comfortable position and start to count your full breaths: inhale and exhale = 1. When you count that “1” wherever your hand is, tap something once. (Your arm, the bed, or something imaginary.) And you do that for each number until you hit “5” and on this number you tap twice. Repeat. It sounds simple at first, but it will take concentration and focus to do this and before you know it – the alarm will be waking you up.
This one is tough because it’s hard to pin down. Typically people get stressed out due to the amount of work required. Most people want to do a good job, they care about getting it done, and yet there is simply too much to accomplish in the time allotted, so they feel a pressure which translates to stress. It’s externally imposed.
On the other hand we have some people who are internally driven to accomplish unrealistic goals and they drive themselves to accomplish more than humanly possible, again raising the pressure, which equals stress. They are typically aggressive and they have a “Superman” complex, which forces them to take on more work than they can do by themselves. It’s internally imposed.
And if all the professional problems are not bad enough, we have our personal lives going on as well! Relationships, finances, medical issues, and other significant events all weigh on our mind.
In reality what we have here is another version of the “Can’t let it go” theme we just talked about – only magnified. Our mind will not shut down because we keep thinking about all sorts of things, but in addition to that, in certain situations our body produces certain hormones – like cortisol, which seeps into our body and keeps us “alert” and will not let us relax. Simply put, the amygdala (a small portion of our brain) recognizes a threat in our lives and triggers a fear emotion starting the production of cortisol, which will remain in our body until the threat goes away. The problem is our basic Paleolithic human brain cannot distinguish from the original threat it faced 250,000 years ago (i.e. a saber-toothed tiger) from your boss screaming at you yesterday, and will react the same. This stress and the change of hormones in your body make it extremely difficult to sleep.
Until the situation that generates this “fear” in your life (professionally or personally) is resolved, going to sleep will be a challenge. Perhaps the same methods used in the above, “Can’t Let It Go” scenario may be the best method of beating this type of mental stress. (In the end, this issue will have to be addressed at the source to truly be resolved and that’s a conversation about communication and conflict management we need to have at another time).
Staying Up To Do Work
This one gets you two ways. First you think, “I have a lot of work to do, so I’ll just do it now and go to bed a little later.” The second way it gets you is, you think, “Well, I have a lot of work, so I’ll get up early and do it when I’m fresh.” And of course the worst of all worlds is you go to bed later and get up earlier. This cuts your sleep time down considerably.
Here is the problem with these antics: if you don’t get the sleep that YOUR body requires (We are all different. Some people need 8 hours, some 7, some 9.5 etc.) for three days, it’s the same as going to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Is this when you do your best work? Probably not. However if you don’t get your required sleep, that’s the effect lack of sleep, has on you.
So the answer, although not popular is, go to bed at the time required to get the sleep you need. In the end you will be better rested to do the job better next day. Yes, once in a while we can handle losing some sleep, but not as a routine.
What may also help here is to write down things you would like to do tomorrow. By physically writing them down, it releases your brain from the task of having to remember them. It makes a difference to your brain and puts your mind at ease allowing you to find sleep easier.
Overuse of Electronic Devices
For the sake of this blog, electronic devices are things like, smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktop computers, and iPods (or the like). These are what the bulk of our society turn to and use on a daily basis for either personal or professional use. It’s amazing what these devices can do. The problem is – they can do “it” 24 hours a day, and for some of us, we take advantage of that fact for most of our waking hours!
Let’s use Bob as an example. Bob is a normal guy, with a normal job, and a normal family. When he wakes up in the morning, he turns off his alarm that is going off from his smartphone. Since he has it in his hand he checks his email while he is still flat on his back. He goes through his morning routine with his smartphone, in hand, so while he has his coffee he can check stocks, news, weather, and email again. On his way to work he can make a phone call or two because he has an ear bud allowing him hands free driving. At work, 85% of his work is on his computer, laptop, or tablet. His smartphone is on his desk, where he can see or hear it at all times. During lunch he is either texting, emailing, checking the sports or listening to music on his smartphone. If he goes anywhere and has to stand on line, it’s an opportunity to text friends or relatives. On the way home he repeats his commute to work. He comes home to his family, and because this is “family time” only checks his smartphone for information or connections once or twice through dinner. While watching TV with the family he checks his social media, accounts, texts, and emails a few friends. Finally he is off to bed where he lays down and checks the smartphone for any last minute connections on his various social accounts – and then the weather for tomorrow. He Puts the phone down and shuts off the light (not necessarily in that order).
WHEN did his brain get a chance to rest? What makes us think that after bombarding our brain for the entire day with electrons that it’s ready to just quit thinking and allow sleep to take over. Our brains are over stimulated and frequently we can’t shut it off.
How about this: when you leave work, put the electronics down – all of it. If you want to watch some mindless TV, fine, but don’t ask your brain to do a bunch of work and then just shut off. It can’t. Could you run a half marathon, finish it at 8pm and go to bed at 8:05 pm and go to sleep? Probably not. Don’t ask your complex and complicated mind to do the same. Give it a chance to disengage from all of the electronic stimulus it has had before you ask it to consider sleeping.
Beneficial Bedtime Diet
There are several articles and books that will tell you not to eat certain foods just prior to bed. You want to have something in your body so you don’t wake up due to hunger, but you don’t need 5 pieces of pepperoni pizza and two 16 oz. caffeinated soft drinks 20 minutes before you go to bed though.
Caffeine can be a real problem for a lot of people. Many people turn off the caffeine spigot around 3PM (or earlier) in order to prevent lying awake at night.
So, the trick is to find some foods that will satisfy your body hunger and add tryptophan, melatonin, or serotonin into your system. Surprisingly, walnuts are a good source of tryptophan; cheese and crackers or milk (warm or cold) is a source of calcium which helps the brain use the tryptophan found in dairy to manufacture sleep-triggering melatonin; White Jasmine rice at dinner, pretzels and corn chips have a high glycemic index, the blood sugar and insulin increase helps tryptophan enter your brain to bring on sleep. There are several more that will do the trick. This is not a license to gorge on fast food, but a little might help. Go to this article by Reader’s Digest for more ideas: http://www.rd.com/health/beauty/foods-that-help-you-sleep/
Although there are a few people walking around who can have a cup of black coffee and then go right to bed, they are in the minority and probably not you, so take note of what you eat as bedtime approaches.
Maybe this should go without saying, but I’m saying it anyway: You should feel comfortable in your bedroom. Most people prefer a dark quiet bedroom with the temperature just right (whatever that means to you). Try to make this atmosphere come true for you. Extraneous noise or bright lights may be inhibiting your sleep, so try to eliminate them if you can. In certain cases soft earplugs may be a consideration. You won’t sleep well if you are irritated with the environment.
We are all busy, but daily exercise is just one of those things we NEED to make time for. It tunes your muscles, helps to relieve stress, helps to keep your weight proportional, helps your circulation, which improves cognitive processes, and in the end helps you sleep. The best part is there is an exercise program for everyone. You do not have to run a marathon every day, but you should do something even if it’s a walk before work, after work, or during lunch. The evidence to prove this is overwhelming, so please don’t make the excuse of, “I don’t have the time.” Why is it that after someone has a heart attack scare, all of a sudden they can find time to exercise?? There are more books on the market about exercise and its benefits than you can count and they can help you get started. So, get started!
If you really can’t sleep and you have a solid routine of exercise, good eating habits and you feel your job and personal life are all going well, it might be time to seek some professional help. You can start with your general practitioner, but don’t be surprised if you end up in the office of someone who is board certified in sleep medicine. With proper testing and evaluation they can change your life.
A preponderance of people will not take this step because they feel “there is nothing wrong” with them and they don’t need help. The fact of the matter is, that if there were nothing wrong with you, you would sleep like a baby. So, if you aren’t sleeping like you were designed to do, try something to improve it, and maybe professional help may benefit you and everyone around you.
Some people are fortunate to have a great sleep pattern while others struggle. Being rested is one of the most important aspects of a productive, happy and healthy life. The only way you can be your best is to be at your best. Have a nice night…
If you have questions on this or any blog I have written, feel free to contact me by leaving a comment.