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I was in the habit of accumulating a sleep debt during the week and crashing out over the weekend, a common behavioural pattern in our Monday-Friday culture. By losing 2 hours of sleep per night, I was left with a 10 hour debt by the end of the week. And while napping is shown to help a little, you just can’t make up for lost sleep.
As someone who often feels inspired and energised, it’s astounding how a few nights of suboptimal sleep can alter my attitude. I know for a fact that accumulating a sleep debt makes me sluggish, impatient and complacent. Not a winning combination.
Sleep helps your brain function properly. It plays a key role in immune function, metabolism, memory, learning, and emotional wellbeing. In fact, studies show that a sleep deficiency, in times when you don’t get enough sleep, don’t sleep well or sleep at the wrong time of day, may result in trouble making decisions, problems solving, controlling your emotions and coping with change. In the long term, studies have even linked sleep deficiency to many chronic health problems, like heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and depression.
With all of this information looming about the benefits of sleep (and the consequences of sleep deficiency) why was I finding it tricky to prioritise?
It was then that I realised I was in denial of how much this pattern was affecting me. I needed to make it clear what this behaviour was really costing me – a process that I recommend to clients regularly. By understanding the cost, we can shift an unwanted habit because we can see the negative impact it is having across different areas of our lives. Moving away from a negative outcome is a powerful source of motivation that can kick-start the process of behavioural change. Studies show that moving towards a positive outcome can be more motivating over the long term and lead to sustainable change.
So let’s split this into a 2 part process:
Think of a time when you were really ‘burning the candle at both ends’. How did you feel with less-than-optimal sleep?
What does sleep deficiency cost you?
As an example; it affects my ability to focus and control my emotions, makes me feel lethargic and unmotivated which in turn affects my relationships. It impacts my performance and costs me results in my training. And in the long term it increases my risk of developing health related diseases etc.
Before we move onto the next step, think about what optimal sleep is for you. Remember that this is the amount of sleep that means you are fully functioning and can show up and give 100%. Required sleep varies person to person however for adults 7-8 hours per night is the general recommendation.
Write down your sleep number.
How do you feel and what can you achieve when you hit your sleep number? Write this down or tell your friend, flatmate, partner or family member to remind you of this when you are making plans that compromise sleep.
So the last piece of the puzzle is to understand what helps us get a more restful, higher quality sleep.
1. Listen to your body clock.
By increasing exposure to bright light during the day and reducing blue light exposure before bed your body will be more awake during the day and more ready for sleep at night.
2. Try to sleep and wake at consistent times each day.
Our bodies love routine and being consistent with these times will help sleep quality in the long term.
3. Avoid alcohol.
Although alcohol is a depressant and is thought to help you fall asleep faster, drinking alcohol, especially in the evening, significantly affects sleep quality.
4. Avoid caffeine late in the afternoon.
Caffeine is a stimulant and can override the body’s natural ability to relax at night.
5. Exercise regularly during daylight hours.
Regular physical activity is shown to increase all aspects of sleep and even improve symptoms associated with insomnia.
** Don’t rush through your week building sleep debt only to crash over weekend. Your days can be more energised, your training more efficient and your happiness can skyrocket with those extra few hours sleep.
Take the time to go through this process and work out what it means to you to hit your sleep number. Make sleep a priority in your life and discover the power of rest.