Are you compromising your health to get more done each day?

We’re all so busy, so imagine being told a way to get an extra two weeks every year.  Sounds impossible?  Time is finite, right?

I remember vividly the day I was told the secret.  I was dubious, but listened intently.  I definitely needed that extra two weeks.  Imagine everything I could accomplish if I had that extra time?  My mind was racing trying to guess what the secret might be.  Then it came…

Sleep one hour less each day

Wow, it’s that simple?  If I just sleep one hour less each day, I will get an extra 365 hours each year, 15.2 days, more than 2 weeks.  Why hadn’t I thought of that before?

I felt like a lightbulb had gone off, I made a commitment then and there to sleep less.  What could be the downside?

I found out the answer about 12 months later.  After being sick for months without explanation I took matters into my own hands and decided to prolifically research what could be impacting my health.  It turned out that there were a few things that can have a negative impact on your health.  One is not enough regular exercise, which started me on the journey to exercise every day for 365 days, another is not eating a balanced diet, and finally the last one was not getting enough sleep.

After researching sleep in detail I found that there is a big downside to not getting enough sleep.  As Dr. Michael Roizen, Chief Wellness Officer of the Cleveland Clinic, phrased it, “Sleep is the most underrated health habit.”

The three biggest take aways from my research were:

  1. I was horrified to learn that I was effectively drunk 24/7.

Lack of sleep doesn’t just negatively impact our mood, cognitive function and focus, like this Harvard article discusses.  Scientific research shows if you are getting less than 7 hours sleep per night, you may be performing as if you have a blood alcohol level of 0.05%, which is the limit at which you are no longer legally permitted to drive in many countries.  After longer periods without sleep, performance reached levels equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1% which is over the threshold for being legally drunk in the United States.

Do you want to show up at work as if you are drunk?
  1. My leadership effectiveness was compromised.

I pride myself in my leadership ability and yet my colleagues and team were not getting me at my best.  According to an article published in Harvard Business Review there’s a proven link between effective leadership and getting enough sleep. Engagement is decreased, decision making ability is impaired, ability to operate with a strong orientation to results, solve problems effectively, seek out different perspectives and support others at work is reduced.

Additional research from the Sleep Journal shows that, lack of sleep decreases global emotional intelligence, reduces self-regard, reduces assertiveness, decreases sense of independence, reduces self-actualization, reduces empathy towards others, decreases quality of interpersonal relationships, reduces impulse control, creates difficulty with delay of gratification, reduces positive thinking, reduces action orientation, creates greater reliance on formal superstitions and increases magical thinking processes.

Does that sound like the kind of leader (or person) you want to be?
  1. Finally and most concerning, lack of sleep has a serious negative impact on your health.

I was potentially making myself sick, and at the very least, not allowing myself to heal by not sleeping enough.  You need sleep to allow your body to recover energy, grow and repair.  Without adequate sleep you will lack energy and be prone to more illness and injury.

Harvard studies show that immunity of those who sleep more is increased and in fact a lack of sleep may have long-term health consequences, including chronic medical conditions like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, and that these conditions may lead to a shortened life expectancy.  Chronic sleep issues have also been correlated with stress, depression, anxiety, and mental distress.

Do you want to do something that has that big of an impact on your health?

It turns out that, yes, you can get an extra two weeks each year, but it also means that you may be compromising your performance, your leadership effectiveness and your health.  In my quest to do more, I was actually doing less, and risking my health and wellbeing.

As Arianna Huffington beautifully put it in her book Thrive:

There’s practically no element of our lives that’s not improved by getting adequate sleep.  And there is no element of life that’s not diminished by a lack of sleep.”

Following my research I obviously made the choice to sleep more.  I’m still not perfect, as I write this article I know I should stop and go to bed, but I have made a lot of progress over the last 12 months.  The majority of the time I get 7-8 hours sleep, which is a huge improvement on my previous average of 3-5 hours per night.

Here are the 8 things I did to improve my sleep:

  1. Set a goal to sleep 7+ hours every night and tracked it
  2. Scheduled a regular time to go to sleep and wake up
  3. Exercised to make myself more tired
  4. Created a bed time ritual (dim lights, PJ’s, brush teeth, take make up off, take contact lenses out, light candle with relaxing oil) to send a signal to the brain that it’s time to sleep
  5. Put lavender oil on my pulse points
  6. Made sure I finished eating and drinking 2 hours before bed (I’m not a coffee drinker, but I found in my research you shouldn’t have any caffeine containing drinks or food after 2pm)
  7. Reduced screen time (computer, iPad, iPhone) one hour before bed
  8. Worked on strategies to improve my jet lag as I travel often

March 17 is World Sleep Day and this year’s slogan is “Sleep Soundly, Nurture Life”.  My biggest lesson is that you can’t underestimate the importance of sleep.  You truly can nurture life just by sleeping more, it can have a huge impact on your quality of life.

I am not getting less done, instead I am achieving more and having better quality relationships.  I have more clarity about what I need to achieve in the day, I am more efficient and effective when working on tasks, I’m more patient, less hangry, I have better ideas and I am more positive.  When I go to bed I fall asleep more easily, I sleep more soundly and when I wake up I am feeling more refreshed.  During the day I don’t feel the dips in energy that I used to.  Overall I feel my health is significantly improved and I know I am reducing my risk of chronic illness.

My ask from you is, on World Sleep Day, stop wearing the badge of honour that says that sleeping less so you can do more is what real leaders do.  Make a commitment to yourself and your health to let go of the need to be constantly connected.  Allow yourself to embrace the fact that by sleeping more you are actually able to do more, perform better, and be happier.

If you need some support to master the most underrated health habit, sleep, grab some friends and join us over on 365+ where we will soon be starting our free 30+ Program.  The program is designed to support you in achieving your goals and create lasting change by providing tools, resources, accountability and a community for you to thrive in.

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