It's Time to Love Yourself... (and Get Some More Sleep)

This February, we're all about creating new habits, changing minds and changing lives. We'll be posting a blog from one of the team around this theme every week. Next up is business psychologist and executive coach, Sara Duxbury, who after having an epiphany of her own is challenging us to change our mindset on how we view sleep. 

With those new year’s resolutions becoming a faded memory and Valentine’s Day arriving tomorrow, it seems the perfect opportunity to focus on giving yourself some love… and maybe getting some more sleep. The latest sleep stats research tells us that since 1985, the percentage of adults getting on average less than six-hours sleep per night has increased by 31%, compared to 1910 when we used to get a snooze-tastic nine-hours per night.

Sometimes when we are setting our new year goals, we’re focusing on breaking bad habits or creating new ones. We can forget to reflect on the simple things – do I eat the right stuff? Do I move enough? Do I get enough sleep? We can forget to look after the basics to give us a solid foundation on which to pursue more complex goals. Now, it turns out I was the last person to lecture anyone about getting more sleep, towards the end of last year I was finding myself feeling a little demotivated and struggling with goal-setting generally. I decided to go back to basics and conduct a sleep study on myself. My thinking being if I was getting ‘enough’ sleep then I could progress on from there (I do understand a study comprising one participant and a fitbit sleep tracker does present some validity challenges!). The results were surprising – I was sleeping on average four to five-hours a night over the whole week.

The psychologist in me was naturally intrigued to learn how this could be impacting me, and the coach in me was already identifying clients in my coaching practice who might benefit from exploring the same. It turns out I’m not alone in dealing with sleep deficit, a 2005 survey from the National Sleep Foundation found that 75% of adults have at least one symptom of a sleep problem (insomnia, waking during the night, snoring, a partner with a sleep disorder). But we’ve all been there, a couple of nights of interrupted sleep…in the middle of conference season, prepping for a big presentation or that summer holiday to Ibiza. We seem to accept that having to deal with poor sleep at some point is inevitable and unavoidable, we might even convince ourselves that our sleep habits are ok? Here are some of the most common sleep myths according to the Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep:

  • Alcohol helps you sleep better – you might fall asleep faster, but you get less of the deep sleep you need to feel refreshed and you’re more likely to wake up during the night.
  • I can get by fine on five or six-hours of sleep – two-thirds of the population believe this is true… most people need between seven to nine-hours, so you might be able to carry on for a day or two but then you will start to show signs of sleep deprivation.
  • You can learn to get by on less sleep – sorry, there’s no way to train the body to reduce its sleep need.
  • Napping is a bad habit – napping is a great way to replace lost energy from an occasional night of short sleep and a lifesaver for shift workers. However, if you are an insomniac that naps during the day, napping will only perpetuate your night-time insomnia and daytime sleepiness.
  • You can get too much sleep – you can’t get more sleep than your body needs. When you notice that groggy ‘slept too long’ feeling, it’s probably because you were in sleep deficit.
  • How I sleep doesn’t affect the rest of my health – more and more evidence is telling us that overall health is tied to sleep quality and quantity. Studies have shown an increased risk of heart disease, weight-gain, impacts on your mood, resilience, success at work, and most worryingly experiencing even moderate levels of sleep deprivation has been shown to have the same effect as if you had drunk five glasses of wine. So basically, you’re turning up to work ‘drunk’ if you’ve had no sleep! (Dawson & Reid, 1997)

Sleep is essential to your health, well-being and success, which means you need to think about how you will get the sleep your body needs. Otherwise, you won’t receive the full benefit of the other changes you want to make, effectively failing to protect your sleep is the equivalent of drawing the Do Not Pass Go card in Monopoly. What could make a difference:

  • Diet, exercise, less alcohol and smoking – the obvious ones. There is plenty of research to show that regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet and reducing drinking alcohol and smoking aid better sleep.
  • Pre-sleep routine – whether it’s a relaxing bath or shower, reading a book, mediating, yoga, exercise. Make time to do it and build a routine that teaches your body that it’s time to start to wind down.
  • Put. The. Phone. Down – finish work emails and social media at least two-hours before you go to bed, if you keep remembering things you need to do, just write it down (pen and notepad!) and tackle it tomorrow. If you use your phone as your alarm clock – put it in ‘night mode’ so you won’t be disturbed by notifications.
  • Sleep environment – create a sleep sanctuary that encourages you to get a better quality of sleep. Whether that means treating yourself to some super soft bed sheets, removing the TV or installing black-out blinds.
  • Working away? ‘home from home kit’ – re-create as much of your night-time routine as you can in your hotel room. Whether it’s packing your favourite tea, best pyjamas, running or yoga gear. A favourite of mine is bring a pillow case from home and put on your hotel pillow.
  • Use an app for that – there are plenty of relaxation apps and sleep trackers available that can aid you in improving your sleep or try listening to an audio book if you don’t fancy reading.

So, I challenge you to choose to love yourself a little more and get some more sleep. It might change your life. (Thanks to my coaching clients and my Twitter #tribe for sharing their own sleepiness to inform this blog.)

If you're interested to learn more, get in touch with Sara via email or give her a call 01625 526979