Pi of Life : Sleep – Get (Up) Smarter

Yeah, the whole sleep universe is full of vicious cycles. And virtuous ones. It is important for our sanity, health and efficiency that we sleep well (without the aid of medication I might add) – there is just too much to lose for that extra, questionable hour of work. Or worse, distraction.
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Last night, I watched another pointless debate on TV till 1:45 a.m., and simultaneously tracked what Twitter and Facebook had to say on the subject. I needed an early start to the morning so the thing that took the hit the easiest that has no voice – sleep!

I fall into this trap – either working late into the night, or watching TV – every once in a while. And the next day is never at a 100% state of alertness. I sincerely keep telling myself that I need to plug out of all electronics by – say – 8 p.m. and have a conversation, read a book or just plan go to bed early!

But it rarely happens. “Early” now is about 10:30 p.m.PiOfLife-Sleep

I see this happen all around. Friends and colleagues are often up late into the night whenever I’ve been awake. The timeline in the morning has a “Anyone around?” tweet or two from late last night.

Whatever happened to our diurnal cycles?

There’s studies that go both ways – some reinforce long standing beliefs about us needing enough sleep and at the right time of the day – others wonder how much sleep we can make and how often we really need it. It is an important enough area for humankind that people have tried to establish the linkage between caffeine and the quality of rest one gets, dug deep into tradition for relaxing before bedtime, and in general, tried and recommended a gazillion different things so you can make the most of that activity you spend a significant portion of your life doing!

There’s even apps for trying to tackle insomnia!

Here’s some things I’ve observed from personal experience.

Sleep is important!

Yes, that’s stating the obvious. But this does get relegated to the bottom of the priority list amidst the numerous must-achieves in our multi-tasked overstretched lives and careers.

Sleep deprivation DOES have consequences, irrespective of what your body managed to get away with when it was younger, and whatever research may suggest. I’ve had a colleague report wildly fluctuating sugar levels at 28. I’ve seen accidents up close that were probably induced by sleep deprived, less than 100% alert drivers. Your digestion, appetite, immunity all take a hit when you consistently start sleeping less, or too much off the circadian clock.  And consistently is even 2-3 days in a row.

Irrespective of the high you feel, your brain just doesn’t work as optimally.I’ve once had our entire team spend a day recovering from a late night check in.

And hey – we’d just need much lesser energy if the whole planet kind of woke up and slept along with the sun – our ancestors did get some things right in this respect.

Just reminding yourself once a day that sleep is important and as much a priority as that task you told yourself you would finish tonight helps you budget for it better.

What helps?

For starters, BOTH quantity and quality matter. I am not sure if it’s eight hours you need, or if six is enough, but every individual’s probably got a minimum threshold that they must not abuse too often or too much. Personally, about 6-7 hours works great for me most of the time, with the odd shorter night.

But all this is also then gated on quality. And this is a really complex one!

I have now started believing that it is both a driver, as well as an indicator of a lot else going on in your life and your body.

Exercise, for instance! We all know we need it. And when we get enough, we usually sleep really well. It’s equally true that when you’ve rested well, and get up early, you feel like going for that run, or bike ride, or getting going with that exercise or yoga session much more easily. Early mornings are great for that!

The same goes for food. Eating healthy and at appropriate times helps sleep better. And good quality sleep is critical for a well functioning alimentary system. Lots of water does help, as does making sure you eat right, and at least an hour before you hit the bed.

There’s a growing body of evidence linking all the gadgets and electronics in our lives to sleep disorders – those are growing to epidemic proportions as well! Switching the laptop at least an hour before and ensuring there aren’t any innocuous LEDs around before you tuck yourself in is probably a good idea.

And then there’s the whole set of things going on inside your head – the plans, the worries, the anxiety and excitement. I find it very very tough to get a good night’s sleep when the mind is abuzz with many thoughts – positive or negative. Conversation around topics which get you there just before you sleep – in real life or worse, online – do not help either. What’s scarier is that more the sleep pattern gets disturbed, the worse your brain seems to get at managing the many thoughts and tasks that it needs to. Meditation, yoga, a good soothing book or spending a few sweet-nothings moments with your kids and loved ones can help push all of the days thoughts into the backburner. A late night conference call – while sometimes sleep inducing – is unlikely to help. And hard fought battles with strangers online certainly don’t!

Yeah, the whole sleep universe is full of vicious cycles. And virtuous ones.

It is important for our sanity, health and efficiency that we sleep well (without the aid of medication I might add) – there is just too much to lose for that extra, questionable hour of work. Or worse, distraction.

So starting today, try eating early, switching off early and getting to bed much much earlier than you normally would. I certainly am going to try much much harder, and hopefully wake up to new possibilities!

(image credit : shutterstock.com)

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