What does getting a good night’s sleep have to do with career success? You might be surprised. The topic of sleep comes up frequently in my coaching sessions with international development professionals. They tend to be hard-working, intelligent, successful people…who are exhausted. They know they’re not at the top of their game when they don’t get enough sleep.
My clients’ sleep is affected by late night conference calls with colleagues in different time zones, frequent international travel, and the sheer volume of work that their jobs entail. Many of them try to maximize time with family and/or loved ones in the evenings, and then put in a few more hours of work. They then fall into bed, exhausted, yet find it difficult to “shut down” their brains and fall asleep.
If you’ve experienced the same problem, here are five techniques to help you fall asleep more easily.
1. Stop work one hour before you plan to go to bed
Give your brain a chance to down-shift from the intensity of work into a lower gear that will be conducive to falling asleep: plan to stop work one hour before you go to bed. This is going to involve some backward mapping: How much sleep would I like to get? Given that, what time do I need to be in bed with the lights out? What time do I need to stop working to allow my brain to down-shift?
It’s easy to get so involved in evening projects that we keep working well past the time we know we should quit. (I am definitely guilty of this.) Setting up an external reminder of our chosen quitting time may help. I have a feeling that choosing a neutral reminder – such as an alarm on your computer or cell phone – may be a better move than enlisting your spouse’s help on this one.
2. Establish a pre-bedtime wind-down routine
If you have ever tried to help a baby or toddler fall asleep, you know how important a bedtime routine is. (In my sample size of two kids, bedtime routines worked so well that I became somewhat superstitious about them!) Why not harness some of that power of conditioning to aid your own sleep?
Engaging in relaxing activities before bedtime, in a predictable routine, can help us rev down our brains and prepare for a good night’s sleep. Choose activities that you will enjoy, for example: take a hot bath, enjoy a cup of herbal tea or warm milk, write in your journal, do a guided meditation, read something relaxing (not something like The Hunger Games trilogy – which disrupted my own sleep last week!) Follow the same order of activities each night to signal to your brain and body that sleep is coming soon.
3. Limit your exposure to light after the sun goes down
Did you know that exposure to artificial light in the evening can keep you awake well into the night?
I learned recently that our bodies begin to feel drowsy and fall asleep in response to the release of the hormone melatonin. However, the signal to our bodies to produce melatonin is a dark environment. If we spend our evenings working on the computer, watching TV, or doing anything under bright light conditions, our melatonin production may be suppressed, making it more difficult to fall asleep (and stay asleep).
There is even some evidence that certain kinds of light – “blue light” wavelengths emitted by computer monitors, iPads, smartphones, and many kinds of energy-efficient light bulbs – slow production of melatonin even more than other types of light. This is bad news for those of us who like to work late into the night on our laptops, or unwind before bed by surfing the web on our portable devices.
In order to help yourself to fall asleep when you want to, it’s worth limiting how much you expose your eyes to light, especially “blue light.” For some people, this will mean turning off all the electronic gadgets and choosing lower-tech wind-down activities (as in tip #2, above). Other people may turn to technology itself for the answer – apparently there’s an app for that: one that will automatically adjust the color of your computer screen depending on the time of day. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m curious!
4. Keep a pad of paper and a pen near your bed
Do you think about work when you’re not working? Most of us do. It’s most annoying, though, when you are trying to get to sleep and thoughts (and anxieties) about work keep whirling around in your head. For times like these, you’re better off turning on a dim light and jotting down all your thoughts on a pad of paper in a “brain dump.” Simply capturing your ideas, worries, and reminders of things to do tomorrow will help you stop thinking about them.
If this problem troubles you often, you may want to incorporate a “brain dump” into your pre-bedtime wind-down routine.
5. Develop a thought ritual
Rather than letting your “monkey mind” jump all over the place, develop a ritual of thought when you first get into bed and turn out the lights. One friends swears by the technique of counting backwards from 300 – it’s so boring, he’s asleep before he finishes. Another option is doing a relaxation meditation. I like to think of 10 things I’m thankful for that happened in the day that has just ended. It helps keep me grateful, and also helps me put into perspective some of the anxieties that might otherwise keep me up at night.
What helps you unwind and “power down” your brain for a good night’s sleep? Please share in the Comments below. And if you tried out the 7-day sleep challenge from last week’s blog post, I’d love to hear how it went!