“I cannot get to sleep tonight.
I toss and turn and flop.
I try to count some fluffy sheep
while o’er a fence they hop.
I try to think of pleasant dreams
of places really cool.
I do not know why I cannot sleep –
I slept just fine at school.”
Sweet sleep. It's the stuff some of us can only dream of.
Yet sleep is essential to best brain performance. It's the one thing that can never be up for negotiation in any shape of form if we are serious about wanting to get the best out of our brain every day.
Keeping on top of everything and still operating at a high level takes time and effort. With big days, long hours and multiple demands on our time, managing our energy to get through everything can be more than a bit of a juggle.
But have you ever noticed how, despite doing all the 'right' things such as eating well, doing our exercise and chilling out, we sometimes still feel really tired.
It's often because the one thing that our brain needs the most gets overlooked or short-changed. We get so busy with our to-do lists and 'always urgent' deadlines we look to extend our brain's working hours shaving off a little bit of sleep time here and there. Sleep is still sometimes seen as a bit of a nuisance. If we didn't have to deal with the inconvenience of losing valuable work time from sleeping, just imagine how much more we could get done.
Except it doesn't work that way.
Sleep is the time when our brain is working at its hardest, consolidating long-term memory, deepening our understanding, creating new ideas and regulating our emotion.
Insufficient sleep over a period of time leads to an acquired sleep debt and the result is we feel tired, chronically tired.
Why this matters so much is that sleep deprivation is associated with poorer health - we are at increased risk of high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, depression and cognitive decline.
It also has a huge impact on our performance that can cost us dearly.
At the individual level it costs us our ability to learn well, to form memory and recall information. It reduces our ability to pay attention, reduces accuracy so we are more prone to errors, we make worse decisions, we suffer more foggy thinking and it makes us irritable and snappy.
At the societal level, sleep disorders cost the Australian economy over $5.1 billion dollars in 2012 with the reduction in life quality costing a further $34.4 billion dollars a year.
With roughly 10% of the Australian population suffering from some sort of sleep disorder, there's clearly a lot of it about.
There are many reasons why we don't always get a good night's sleep. Some factors may be outside our control, but there are many that are.
How we choose to live and work can often lead to poorer sleep.
Have a look at the following statements and ask yourself if any of these apply to you and if so, how much is it impacting your ability to do your work and do it well?
By the way, it’s important to be honest here – there can be a big difference between ‘knowing’ the right answer and what we actually do.
- You regularly work extended hours or pull all nighters to get all your work done?
- You frequently use your smart phone, tablet, laptop or computer in the evenings or at night?
- Your boss or work expects to be able to contact you outside normal work-hours by phone, text or email, and get a response?
- You work hard all day long from start to finish, there’s rarely time to take a break, let alone stop for lunch other than eating ‘al desko’ and you have a bladder with the capacity any self respecting camel would be proud to have.
- You have enough annual leave accumulated to not have to work for the next six months.
- Your self-care plan consists of half a bottle of wine in front of some brain dead TV or an ad hoc arrangement to meet your pals at the gym, which might happen one day when you’re not so busy.
- You frequently wake up feeling as if you’ve only just gotten off to sleep; you’re tired even before the day has started.
- If it’s not your partner snoring like a wildebeest or the dog taking up all the doona space, your sleep time is one long interruption after another.
- Fatigue has become your constant companion; you can’t remember what it feels like to not feel tired.
- Coffee is your essential go-to to stay awake and alert in the morning.
- You have cancelled dinner dates and social activities because you’re too tired to go out and enjoy them.
How well we work, depends on the energy we bring to work, and that means ensuring our brain is cognitively refreshed after 7-8 hours of great sleep.
If sleep is something you think you could do with more of, learning and implementing good brain hygiene is all about regularity, starting with:
- Keeping to a regular sleep schedule
- Having a wind down ritual
- Taking regular brain breaks during the day
- Exercising regularly
- Keeping the sleep cave just for sleeping (and sex)
- Turning off technology 2-3 hours before bedtime
- Avoiding sleep poison - alcohol, big meals before bedtime and caffeine
Getting a better night's sleep is part of the brain fitness program that helps you create a fit and healthy brain optimised for high performance.
To find out more about how you can get a better night's sleep and how the brain fitness program can help you, you can contact me here.