This is NOT about making money while you sleep. This is NOT about sleeping with the boss to get a promotion. Get your mind out of the gutter! This is about managing your most precious resource: your energy.
You are burning your candle at both ends. You have no choice. You can’t take anything off your to-do list and you are using all the energy you have to make it through the day.
You know energy management is more critical than time management, and you’ve recognized that the best way for YOU to manage your energy is to increase your capacity.
In the following articles I’ll explore strategies that may help us increase our capacity in the four energy areas:
Physical | Mental | Emotional | Spiritual
In each area I’ll dive deeper into one factor that will help us as anywhereWorkers manage our most precious resource: our energy.
It makes sense to first explore the physical realm of capacity. The healthier you are physically, the more you can handle in the other areas.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
You’ll most likely look at the following list and say ‘I already know all of this!’ I agree. Most of us DO know about these areas and acknowledge their importance. However, knowing and practicing are two different things. I want to take a little bit of a deeper dive into one area to get you thinking about just how well you are managing your energy through these factors. You may be able to push through for a short time without strengthening these areas, but if you intend to be successful in the long run, I suggest you join me and find one thing you can do to increase your energy capacity. For the physical realm there are three areas:
Sleep | Nutrition | Movement
If you’ve already done your energy observations you should have a pretty good idea of where your own opportunities lie. Many of the responses I received made it very clear that sleep was a common concern.
A lack of sleep impacts us on all energy levels. We each can tolerate different levels of sleep deprivation. Anywhere from the ‘driver’ that walks around saying ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ to the ‘pacer’ who is out for the count after only one late night.
We don’t have to be concerned about the occasional lack of sleep due to working on a project or a night on the town. What is a concern is the lack of sleep night after night.
It may be a carry over from your college days of trying to cram every possible experience AND your studies into that 24 hour period. Or it could be you are having trouble adjusting from the office life to the anywhereWorker life. It could be that you started getting less sleep for a work project and then just kept your five-hours-a-night habit. No matter how you started it’s time to stop. Why? Because chronic sleep deprivation can seriously impact not only your health but can also make you a danger to others!
- Chronic sleep deprivation has been tied to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression.
- A Harvard Medical School study found that sleep deprivation causes 274,000 workplace accidents and errors each year, adding up to $31 billion in extra costs.
- There are around 100,000 car crashes and 1550 deaths each year caused by fatigued drivers (though it’s believed there are more since it’s difficult to investigate and prove.)
- These tragic accidents were all caused by lack of sleep: The Exxon Valdez spill; The Challenger explosion; The meltdown at Three Mile Island; 2009 Air France plan carrying 228 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing everyone on board (to name a few).
AM I SLEEP DEPRIVED?
Those are enough reasons to make sure we have the right capacity for sleep. So how do I know if I’m sleep deprived? If you are concerned that you are truly at risk, or if you have serious sleep issues, please see a doctor. Sleep disorders can be serious.
My guess is you already know from your observations that you need to increase your physical capacity through sleep. But I was curious to know the possible signs and found some interesting indicators:
- You’re always hungry – as it turns out the brain needs energy and if it doesn’t get that from sleep, it will resort to food. But wait, it gets worse. The type of food it craves are the fatty sugary kind! This is a risk for the anywhereWorker especially if you work from home. The kitchen is just a few steps away at any moment.
- You’ve gained weight – of course if your brain is craving fatty and sugary foods, you’ll gain weight. But it’s also because you are less able to curb your cravings with less sleep (here’s that link between physical and intellectual energy) less sleep = less willpower.
- You’re more impulsive – your willpower is not only reduced when it comes to food, but you are more likely to say or do things impulsively with a lack of sleep. When we are trying to connect and collaborate with our clients and teammates it could put a strain on our relationships. Especially when we are working virtually. It’s less likely they will know your curtness is due to a lack of sleep than you just being rude. Ouch!
- Your memory’s shot – don’t panic, it’s probably not serious. If you are lacking sleep your brain has trouble actually creating the memory and therefore you can’t recall – where you put your keys, who your 2pm meeting is with, or what you read in your newsfeed yesterday.
- You’re having trouble making decisions – sleep deprivation impacts our higher-level cognitive processing such as problem solving and time management. So if you notice you can’t make decisions, or are having trouble managing that project at work, you may need sleep.
- Your motor skills are off – lack of sleep impacts how we function neurologically. We have a lowered reaction time and have difficulty concentrating. Have you ever had a day where you just kept dropping things or tripping on your own two feet?
- Your emotions are all over the place – this can range from getting slap-happy to becoming over reactive to things like deadlines and co-worker comments causing anger or anxiety.
- You get sick often – lack of sleep impacts our immune systems and so we are more likely to get a cold or other infection and have a harder time fighting it off.
- You’re having trouble seeing – this was a surprise to me. Apparently when we are fatigued, we are not able to control the muscles of the eye as well. So when you have double vision or have difficulty reading up close, this could be a sign you are not getting enough sleep.
- Your skin isn’t looking good – Mom was right again! We need our beauty sleep. Our body uses the time we are sleeping to repair our cells. Without enough sleep we can see increased breakouts and look older.
- You think you’ve fallen asleep at the wheel – micro sleep (nodding off for a few seconds and not even knowing it) is dangerous to you and others. Whether you are driving, operating equipment, monitoring critical instruments – alertness is critical. The problem is you can’t will yourself out of this. Your brain is essentially saying ‘if you don’t take a break I’ll do it for you!’
It’s clear there is a lot going on with our brains when we sleep. These things are critical to our health and our ability to function at all levels. Any one of this issues is enough to jeopardize our success as professionals. Why mess with the process? Let’s get some sleep!
HOW TO SLEEP
I never thought I’d be researching ‘how to sleep’ but in a way that’s what this is all about. As I discovered the impact of chronic sleep deprivation I was motivated to find the right strategies and discovered two factors: quantity and quality.
How much sleep do we need?
As much as it takes. There is no one answer that suits everyone, but the National Institute of Health recommends 7 to 9 hours a night for the average adult. The first step to optimizing your sleep is to track how many hours you get each night on a consistent basis.
The key here is consistency. It takes our bodies about one week to adjust to a different sleep pattern. So if you have two different sleep – one for weekdays and one for weekends – your body and brain are continually trying to adjust which is the exact opposite of optimizing your energy.
A word of caution about the number of hours and trying to be a superhero. Trying to live on less sleep than you actually need is NOT a badge of honor. As the dangers listed warn, lack of sleep does no one any good. Bragging that you can work on 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night just makes you more of a hazard to yourself and others. We’re not impressed. It’s better to sleep more and be more effective when you are awake than be awake more hours and risk more mistakes!
Strategy 1: Regular sleep times. Consistency comes from following a set a routine for going to bed and getting up in the morning. For example if you are a morning person and want to get up at 5am everyday, start by going to bed at 10 the night before. Try that for at least one week. Adjust the times to suit your individual sleep needs. A good indicator that you are getting enough sleep is if you get up at the same time every morning for a few weeks and eventually are able to do so without the need for an alarm. Yes, it can happen!
Strategy 2: Napping to make up time. There are times when you are not able to get your full 7, 8 or 9 hours of sleep. In that situation. Napping may help temporarily. This is a tricky one as it’s only good for some people. Taking a 30 minute nap in the afternoon can help you pay back your sleep debt, but if you suffer from insomnia and have trouble getting to or staying asleep at night, stay away from this strategy! Experiment with the amount of time starting with only 10 minute naps. A sure sign that you need more sleep at night is if you can fall asleep in 5 minutes at nap time. If this becomes a daily necessity, try to adjust your nighttime sleep duration so there is no deficit.
Strategy 3: Enhance the quality of your sleep. Even if you are in bed for 8 or 9 hours each night, you may not be getting quality sleep. There are numerous ways to improve the quality of your sleep but I’m going to list a few suggestions based on the feedback I received from many anywhereWorkers.
- Use the bedroom for sleep and sex only. No TV. No working on your laptop. Nothing.
- Have to read in bed? Make sure NOT to use backlit devices including smartphones, tablets, eReaders or anything that may trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime.
- Reduce the temperature in your bedroom to around 60-65 degrees.
- Make the hour before bedtime relaxation time. Read something not work related, listen to soothing music, do something to relieve the stress.
- Better yet, create a bedtime ritual. Example: Put your clothes out for the next day, brush your teeth and wash your face, put on your pajamas, go to the kitchen and get a glass of water, set your alarm, get into bed and listen to a mediation track. Pick a ritual that works for you. The ritual is a trigger to let the brain know it’s time for bed.
- Do not eat 3 hours before bed; do not drink alcohol before bed; do not drink caffeinated beverages or sugary snacks before bed. The 3 hours is a guideline but you’ll have to experiment with what works for you.
- Turn the TV off at least one hour before bed.
- Do some relaxing stretches as part of your bedtime ritual
Strategy 4: Get back to sleep. This starts a different category but if you have trouble sleeping through the night these little tips may help. If you have a sleep disorder, please seek professional help.
- Keep a pen and paper next to your bed to capture things that are on your mind. Sometimes all you need to do is let your brain know “I’ve got this” and you can get back to sleep.
- Do NOT turn on a bright light if you can’t sleep. It will trick your brain into thinking it’s morning and make it more difficult to go back to sleep.
- Go out of the bedroom and do something calming for a few minutes. Meditate, listen to calming music, read or write out what is on your mind. Of course you’ll want to keep the light at a minimum for the reason above.
- Block out light and noise. Sometimes when woken from sleep in the middle of the night we are more sensitive to the sights and sounds around us. If you can keep earplugs and eye shades next to your bed or even have a white noise machine (or app) to help drown out any distracting noises.
If sleep is one of your areas of opportunity to better manage your energy as an anywhereWorker, I hope you have found one action item in this article that will inspire you to make a change. My challenge to you is to take that one thing and make a change for the next 2 weeks.
The goal here isn’t to see how little sleep you can get by on. The objective is to help you function optimally by using key energy management strategies. The better quality sleep you have the better you can perform and engage with your clients and coworkers. Your professional success is dependent upon a number of things and energy management is part of the foundation.
Disclaimer: I am not sleep expert, a doctor, nutritionist, nor any type of healthcare expert. The information provided here is my personal observation and is for entertainment purposes only. Seriously, I’m just trying to get you to think about your life and work. If you need help, or if you have or may have a sleep disorder – please seek the services of a professional in the appropriate field.