Welcome to the next post in my Boost Health Awareness mini-series, part of the Looking-Glass Translations productivity programme!

Wouldn’t it be great if we could make money in our sleep?

I, for one, am a huge fan of my bed, and only wish I could spend that bit more time there. Luckily for me (and many others, I’m sure!), getting enough sleep is perhaps the most important free tool in our arsenals for getting ahead in business.

 

The problems of not getting enough sleep

We’re probably all guilty of not getting enough shut-eye, but that doesn’t make it ok. On a day-to-day basis, poor sleep affects concentration, impairs memory and leaves our minds and bodies stressed.

Meanwhile, regularly attempting to override our natural sleep cycle can be a factor in the increased risk of cancer, heart disease, type-2 diabetes, infections and obesity – and these are not necessarily the results of long-term sleep deprivationjust a few weeks of too little sleep can make you pre-diabetic.

What’s more, sleep deprivation has also been found to kill brain cells, which means it is actually capable of making you more stupid – not ideal for any knowledge worker!

 

The 90-minute secret to the best sleep ever

If you don’t have the luxury of sleeping longer, why not sleep smarter? By learning about your natural sleep cycle, you can maximise your restful sleep without needing to find extra hours in the day.

Let me explain.

We all naturally follow a 90-minute sleep cycle consisting of approx. 65 minutes of normal sleep, 20 minutes of REM sleep (dream state), and 5 minutes of normal sleep. To feel most rested, we need to complete this cycle – so someone who sleeps for just 6 hours (or four cycles) will feel more alert than someone who sleeps for a solid 8 hours (thus breaking the last cycle).

To make the most of your time in bed, you should therefore sleep in 90-minute blocks. For those who are numerically challenged, this may seem awkward (I hear you!), but working out your optimum sleep time is actually relatively easy thanks to calculators like Sleepy Ti.Me. For an even lazier alternative, try one of these apps.

Anecdotally, I can confirm that this does seem to work.

So I’d recommend that you try it at least once to see how it suits you! Of course, there are other ways to improve our quality of sleep, including…

 

… sleep hygiene best practices.

The phrase ‘sleep hygiene’ might sound oddly clinical, but the theories behind it are golden – and sure to send you off to the land of nod. Here are some key pointers:

1. Set boundaries at work. Sometimes we all have to work late, but it’s not a good thing to do on the regular – you are not a machine. Set boundaries and know what time your working day is officially over to give yourself a psychological close to the day.

2. Avoid caffeine after 2pm. Caffeine stays in our systems for hours after ingestion, meaning it can disrupt our sleep even six hours before bed. It will sting at first, but once you’ve got better sleep hygiene, you’ll find you’re able to drink coffee for the enjoyment rather than for the buzz. If you must drink it, at least do it right.

3. Go to bed at the same time every night. Bedtime isn’t just for kids! By sticking to a routine you’ll help to train your body’s circadian rhythm. For the best results, try not to break the routine at the weekend.

4. Get up at the same time every day. I’ll tell you a secret: if you can stick to this one, you’ll find it easier to go to bed at night (see point 3). Then you’ll eventually start to wake naturally around the same time every day without even trying!

5. Nap smart. Naps rule, but snooze too long and you’ll totally throw out your body clock – which will wreak havoc on your sleep routine. If you have to do it, keep your naps under 30 mins and avoid napping in the evenings.

6. Keep your room cool. A warm room makes it harder to drift off, so open a window and snuggle up under the covers for a sleep-inducing hit of fresh air.
Disclaimer: Best avoided in Arctic conditions.

7. Use light to train your sleep reflex. Before alarm clocks, we would wake up naturally with the rising and setting of the sun, and we can use this knowledge to sleep better today. When you wake up, try to let the light into your room. At bedtime, make sure your room is dark (use a sleep mask if you have to!) to prevent the light from delaying the release of sleep hormone melatonin.

8. Avoid electronics at night. The best sleep hygiene involves training your mind to know when it’s time to start winding down – something which is increasingly difficult in a world of smartphones, laptops and tablets. These devices emit light at just the right frequency to set our body clocks off balance, meaning it will take longer to get to sleep. Switch off, pick up a book and get your head down instead.


Tip: If you must use your computer/phone at night, try using a filter or app like f.lux or Twilight (a must-have program!) to change the warmth of the light emitted from your screen – your eyes will thank you and it will help you sleep.

Bonus tip: If you can’t stop yourself surfing from your smartphone, try activating flight mode. It will signal it’s time to power down at night and will also help you get up quicker in the morning!

9. Keep your bedroom a bedroom. Don’t work in your room. Don’t watch TV or Netflix. Don’t surf the web until the wee hours. Don’t even play games or answer texts on your phone. Sleep and sex are the only activities permitted. You’ll thank me in the morning!


But sleep is not enough.

Even if your sleep hygiene is perfect, your mind and body need more: rest and holidays are absolutely vital to help you really recharge your batteries.

It may be helpful to consider Maria Forleo’s concept of non-negotiable time (NNT). When do you allocate time to do things just for you, that you find relaxing and that have nothing to do with work? This is vital downtime for your brain; scheduling you-time is the key to boosting your motivation and working productively. I do this is with an exercise lunch break (30 mins of music I love, plus some fitness thrown in), and very strict office hours.

 

I also recommend a completely unplugged holiday.

Turn off your electronics (consider leaving your smartphone at home!), and get outside in nature. Some of my best breaks have been holidays in the Austrian Alps, where temporarily severing the cord to my computer and taking in some fresh air have helped me to properly relax while taking in some spectacular views:

The view over beautiful Innsbruck in Austria

© Marie Jackson. This is what an unplugged holiday can look like (Innsbruck, Austria)!

 

If worst comes to worst, at least try to take a working holiday for a change of scenery.

I do this several times a year and it’s incredible what it can do for my state of mind, even if I’m still working pretty much full-time while I’m away. This is also a great opportunity to visit friends in other places (and if you’re a linguist, you definitely have those!), as well as to explore your own country. Many of us think of holidays as being wholly foreign affairs, but there’s nearly always some really spectacular places you can visit at home (UK-based business owners can google Bath, Kintyre, Penzance, Whitby and York to see what I mean!).

 

This fantastic interactive sleep graphic (plus quiz!) from the BBC will help you learn more about your sleep cycle (go take it, I’ll wait!). What were your results? Are you a morning lark or a night owl, and are you getting enough sleep? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

 

Want to learn more about how getting enough sleep can boost your business?

Then why not take a few minutes out to read through the articles below:

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