How to sleep your way to the top (the right way!)
There are many factors that can help contribute towards a successful life, full of rich experiences, great relationships and whatever other rewards you seek, financial or otherwise. But one that is all too easily overlooked is the amount and quality of your sleep.
In some ways, that seems counter-intuitive. How can you become more productive by spending less time at work, on your hobbies or nurturing your relationships - and more time in bed, sleeping? Indeed, many workaholics live their lives with exactly that attitude. But to do so fundamentally misses the point of sleep.
Sleep and the conscious mind
Our minds can be described as having both a conscious and a subconscious element. The conscious mind is the bit that does the active thinking and decision making. The subconscious is where we store our memories, skills and beliefs and it acts largely on auto-pilot, depending on how we have programmed it since the day we were born. Our emotions - whether they are defence emotions like fear and anger, or attraction emotions like joy and attachment - emerge from our subconscious minds to help us make decisions that are consistent with our beliefs.
It's a great system because our conscious minds have the ability to over-ride the emotions that come from our subconscious, whilst still having our awareness raised by them. For example, if something makes us afraid, we can still choose to do it. We even have a name for a decision like that. We call it courage!
But what has this to do with sleep? Well, for our conscious mind to work at its best, it must be alert and have access to plenty of energy - in other words, well- rested and with good fuel available in the body. That is why when we are tired or hungry, we are much more in danger of becoming victims of our emotions and much less able to put things in perspective. And the result of that is our decision making becomes seriously impaired. That's why we can get overwhelmed with emotions (such as fear or excitement) if we wake at three in the morning; but we can react much more rationally to those same emotions in the morning (provided we can get back to sleep).
And if that's not enough, a good night's sleep helps our conscious minds in other ways too. Not only are we better at controlling our emotions and making better decisions, we also become more creative because our minds can come up with all sorts of new ideas, and we become much more resilient to set-backs.
In fact, sleep is so important to our well-being that it is almost impossible to imagine that someone who doesn't get enough sleep on a regular basis, will be living a life that is as exciting and fulfilling as it could be. And one thing is for sure: they will be much more susceptible to making irrational decisions that are purely based on their emotions.
Healthy sleeping tips
The easiest way to improve your sleep is the one that is most frequently overlooked: Go to bed early enough to get the seven or eight hours that most of us need to operate at our best the next day. Put aside that work you took home, don't finish the housework, stop watching the TV and get yourself to bed! You will be so much more productive, creative and resourceful the following day if you do!
If you have serious difficulty sleeping, then you need to visit your doctor for professional support. As we have seen, it is not a trivial issue. But it would be a good idea to first make sure your insomnia does not have one of the more obvious causes:
- Not enough exercise. Getting plenty of exercise, especially in the fresh air, is the biggest friend of sleep - and it also has its own powerful effect on improving your brain function and mental health. If you have trouble sleeping and don't exercise much (or at all) this is the most likely cause.
- Too much caffeine in your system, especially from late afternoon. And remember this powerful stimulant is in lots of soft drinks as well as coffee and tea - so check those labels!
- An unrestful bedroom. Possibly because it is full of work materials, overheated, noisy or not dark enough. The blue light from many electronic devices (including from mobile devices and some alarm clocks) has been scientifically proven to negatively affect our sleep.
- An old uncomfortable bed. It is generally recommended you change your mattress every eight years.
- No relaxation routine. What works for one person may not work for another, but this is all about having a routine that will divert your mind away from the concerns of the day and help you feel more at ease. Examples of a pre-sleep relaxation routine include having a hot bath or shower, meditating, reading (provided it is not work related), having a hot milky drink, doing a crossword or Sudoku puzzle or listening to soft music.
The over-riding message of this article is to be very mindful of the importance of having a good night's sleep and to make sure you do everything you can to ensure you have one, every night!
How coaching can help
Coaching is a forward looking process, that involves helping you draw up an action plan that can literally transform your life - whether in a work or a social context.
The way you look after your health, to improve your confidence and not to be so much at the mercy of your emotions, can be an important part of that action plan. Ultimately life should be as enjoyable and rewarding as possible, and it is very easy to under-estimate the importance of good sleeping habits in order to achieve this.
And talking things through with your coach could be just what you need to get this process started.
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