Do you want to be healthy, wealthy, and wise? Then you’re going to need to get adequate sleep. It’s that important. If you regularly get less than six hours or more than nine hours of sleep a day, then you’re headed for trouble. This Provision reviews the literature and makes specific suggestions on how you can get better sleep.
Do any of these sound familiar?
* You’re so busy that you don’t have time for sleep. In fact, four hours is about the norm. There’s just too much to do! Sleep, it appears, is both a luxury and a waste of time.
* You have trouble getting to sleep. Sometimes you know what’s getting in the way, your brain can’t stop thinking about a project at work or your heart is worrying about some situation, but often there’s nothing specific. You’ve tried counting or reading, and it doesn’t help. You still lie there, tossing and turning.
* You have trouble staying asleep. And this is not about a weak bladder! Every hour or two you wake up and stare at the ceiling. Eventually, you give up and get up. But the clock says two in the morning. You know it’s affecting your energy and sensitivity throughout the day, but it goes on this way, night after night.
* You haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep since your first child was born. First, there was the feeding and the changing, but then your child wanted to sleep in your bed. You tried to say no, and even tried letting your child scream it out on occasion, but it was just easier to go with the flow. Now, however, you’re the one who sleeps like a baby • interruptions and all.
If these scenarios sound familiar, or if you have one of many other sleep disorders, then you’re in good company. Approximately 25% of all Americans are sleep deprived, and we’re not the only ones suffering from the problem. People around the world have trouble mastering a skill that absorbs approximately one third of life.
Unfortunately, the sleep deprived are not the only ones who suffer from sleep deprivation. It affects our world in so many ways, including lost creativity, constructive conflict management, and civility. We all suffer from the problem, on many levels. In one study, getting less than six hours of sleep a night had the same negative impact on coordination, reaction time, and judgment as alcohol. In other words, driving sleep deprived can be as bad as driving drunk.
Sleep deprivation may even contribute to the current crises in international affairs, as one sleep-deprived leader after another jets across time zones to negotiate world peace. Studies have shown that people experience greater stress and take more unnecessary risks when they get too little sleep.
There are also plenty of direct health impacts for those who suffer from sleep deprivation. Recent studies correlate sleep disorders to an increased incidence of anxiety disorders and depression. Other studies correlate sleep deprivation to a weakened immune system, leaving us more susceptible to other diseases and disorders such as diabetes, cancer, and even the common cold. These studies suggest that if you think you can get by without much sleep, it’s only a matter of time before you end up paying the piper.
So how much sleep to do you need? Somewhere between 6 to 9 hours per night. Studies have shown that both too much and too little sleep correlate to bad health. It appears that seven and a half hours of sleep per night is about right for most people.
So how do you get the sleep that you need? It may require setting boundaries on the people and projects in your life. Too many demands from too many directions interfere with your ability to get a good night’s sleep. In real life, there’s no such thing as the “super man” or “super woman” who never needs to sleep. Perhaps that’s why boundaries are so often a part of coaching conversations. If you want to do better, then you need to get adequate sleep. And if you want to get adequate sleep, then you need to set limits on the who, what, when, where, why, and how of life.
That said, here are a few strategies that you may find helpful to get a good night’s sleep.
* Pay attention to the thirty minutes immediately before and after sleep. Those who transition mindfully and gradually into and out of sleep, experience both a better quantity and quality of sleep. Those who work until they’re just too tired to go on, often find themselves dropping restlessly and unsuccessfully into bed.
* Pay attention to the quality of your mattress. Many people with sleep disorders have reported an immediate transformation upon the purchase of a high-quality mattress. Be sure to check out a variety of makes and models. There are a lot of differences between them.
* Pay attention to the light and sound of your environment. People sleep better when the room is dark and quiet. If you can’t make your room dark and quiet, then consider wearing an eye mask and ear plugs or using a machine that will generate a steady background noise.
* Pay attention to the allergens in your environment. For some people, sleeping with a feather pillow is like burying their head in a bag of ragweed. They wake up stuffy and never do get a good night’s sleep. For those with airborne allergies, a HEPA air filter for the bedroom is a great idea if you don’t have one for the whole house. Breathing cleaner air while you’re asleep not only improves the quality of sleep, it also gives your body a rest from the allergens it encounters through the day.
* Pay attention to what does and does not work for you. There’s no one right formula for transitioning into sleep. Some people enjoy reading while others enjoy meditating and still others enjoy stretching. If you’re having trouble getting to or staying asleep, experiment! Discover solutions through increased self-awareness and open-ended exploration. Remember, your health is at stake here, so be creative.
* Pay attention to the treasures of sleep. Sleep was long thought to be a time when we are most susceptible to what David Whyte has called the treasures of the night. Old people dream dreams and young people see visions when they sleep well. In one of his poems, David Whyte writes that by waking up we are responding to an invitation that comes from “another and greater night than the one from which we have just emerged.” By increasing our understanding and appreciation of sleep’s power, we become a better partner in the sleep process.
* Pay attention to your breathing. Falling asleep at night is a perfect time to take a series of relaxing breaths, perhaps following Andrew Weil’s pattern of 4 counts in through the nose, 7 counts while holding your breath, and 8 counts out through the mouth. You can do this while sitting up on the side of the bed, before you lie down, as well as after you lie down.
* Pay attention to your children. Think of sleep in their own bed as an essential life skill that needs to be taught and learned. As you read to your children, say their prayers, and rub their backs you are doing for them exactly what you need to do for yourself. Be gentle and firm. Sleep is that important both for you and for them.
There are, of course, many other techniques to improve your quantity and quality of sleep. Until you make it a priority, however, you will never figure it out. And until you figure it out, you will never be totally successful and fulfilled.
To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.
LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.
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President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
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Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
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