Sleep has a pivotal role in good health and wellbeing throughout a person’s life. High performers know this only too well. Sleep is an essential building block of the immune system and getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect a person’s mental health, physical health, quality of life, etcetera. In fact, sleep allows the body to repair itself as the cells in the body regenerate particularly well during sleep. When it comes to cognitive skills, one of the important keys to high performance, sleep is a necessary enabler for the brain to maintain normal levels of cognitive skills (e.g. memory, creative thinking, flexible thinking, speech). Through a full night’s cycle of sleep, we will process emotions, memories and relieve stress.
Some evidence confirms that the psychological effect of tiredness—i.e. the thought of being tired—has a huge effect on our mental state. Therefore, separating the feeling of tiredness from the amount of sleep one has had can be instrumental in navigating beneficially with sleep-related stress. I make a common mistake of calculating how much sleep I have had. If I have (only) had five hours of sleep, I immediately convince myself that I must feel tired. Sometimes, five hours of sleep is enough; other times seven. Thoughts produce feelings, and the brain responds to the way the body is feeling and begins to validate your feelings. It is a continuous loop. What I have found is that having positive thoughts, engagement and enthusiasm will allow me to get through periods of less sleep.
One of the challenges of people who feel stressed is that they are going to bed with a busy mind. When a mind is stressed, it will need to be cleared before going back to sleep. In fact, mental activity should be slowly reduced as the time to go to bed draws near. That means removing mental stimuli close to going to sleep such as work, worry and watching intense films, etcetera. Other factors influencing sleep negatively include: 1) intake of caffeinated coffee or alcohol a few hours before going to bed; 2) surfing the Internet, as it keeps your mind alert; 3) exercising shortly before going to bed, as it will act as an activation stimuli; 4) taking sleeping pills, as they will keep a person from getting the much needed deep sleep and 5) going to bed when you are not tired, as it weakens the subconscious mind’s association with bed and sleep.
From time to time, most high performers will have experienced thinking in bed as a sleep depriver. I always have a pen and blank piece of paper next to my bedside that I use to write up things that pop into my mind during the night. It is often the worrying that we may forget something important that will keep us up. However, when your thoughts have been noted on a piece of paper, your mind will clear and you can relax better. Actually, it is extremely easy to write in the dark. Close your eyes while writing and imagine that you are writing in broad daylight—you will be surprised how beautiful (perhaps a bit skewed) your handwriting can be.
The best advice I can give is to create a winding-down routine as you prepare to go to bed. Make a rhythm that works for you—e.g. make the bed inviting, dim the lights in advance, take a warm bath, etcetera.