5 Steps to Unleash the Significant Power of Sleep
I love to sleep, but the truth is that of all my many skills, sleep may be one of my weakest.
I know it’s important and I know it has a direct effect on my health and wellbeing. It even has a direct effect on my overall success. Yet, night after night, I break the rules and my sleep suffers for it.
But… I am getting much better.
A few years back, I began to experience some concerning health issues. After months of tests and consultations with various physicians, it was determined that my symptoms were (and still are) a direct result of my very high levels of stress. My problems were caused by me and the lifestyle I was leading.
So I made some major changes in my life.
I began to exercise on a regular schedule. I learned to meditate and I began to focus on improving my horrible sleep habits. I have achieved significant improvements and I have felt the benefits, but you will only need to ask my wife Annmarie, that I have ways to go with improving that third one. I am still a horrible sleeper.
For many of us, our habits were formed in the architecture studio. Late nights were the norm and all-nighters were looked upon with honor. I recognized the seriousness of sleep deprivation after my first attempt at working through to sunrise. I felt the serious effects throughout my mind and body, and I decided to better manage my schedule to avoid such situations in the future.
Recently things are changing for architecture students in the United States. Over a decade ago, The American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) developed standards for a healthy studio culture, which architecture schools would be required to meet in order to achieve accreditation.
Though, today, many schools do not enforce these rules, the AIAS and current generations of architecture students are taking on the responsibility to educate their peers and are advocating against the unhealthy and unsafe practice of the legendary all-nighter.
The Damage is Done
For many of us, the damage is already done. Today, many architects continue to forego sleep in the name of productivity. The habits of working late nights are hard to break. We ignore the signs of danger to our health until one day we find ourselves in the hospital with significant health issues.
As a profession, we need to make a change.
Sleep is Good
In fact, studies show that with proper sleep patterns, we are much more prepared to efficiently accomplish daily responsibilities with speed and accuracy. We are more creative and better at making critical decisions for our success. We are simply more productive and prepared to succeed on a daily basis. Sleep is good.
There are many recent studies showing the power and importance of healthy sleeping habits. What should we, as Entrepreneur Architects, be doing to improve our sleep habits?
5 Steps to Unleash the Significant Power of Sleep
Here are 5 steps to unleash the significant power of sleep.
1. Schedule Your Sleep
The first step I took a few years back was to set a more consistent sleep schedule. I try to be in bed at the same time every night and rise at the same time every morning.
Experts say that we should even keep our schedules consistent through the weekend. I will admit that if not for my kids’ swim meet schedule, “sleeping in” is a habit hard to break.
Much like finding success in other areas of our lives, developing a plan and scheduling for success is a key factor in accomplishing our goals. We should be sleeping for 7 to 9 hours every day, so my goal each night is to hit the sheets by 10PM, so I can rise at 6:30AM and get the kids off to the school bus on time.
2. Practice a Relaxing Bedtime Ritual
For me, this is the toughest habit to break. My ritual each night is to curl up with a good iPad Air and watch an hour of YouTube videos. Could it get any worse? Experts say, probably not. I have much work to do with this step.
Turn off the technology and take a warm shower or bath. Turn down the bright lights and avoid all electronic screens. Most televisions, desktop monitors, laptops, Kindles and yes, my beloved iPad Air, all emit blue light. Blue light acts as a stimulant, signaling to our brains that its morning and time to rise. That’s not exactly the message we want our brains to receive as we are laying down for a comfortable night’s sleep.
Go back to basics. Do what we did before the Internet invaded our every waking moment. Read a book (a paper one) or listen to soft music. Try meditation. Consider establishing a new habit of gratitude, sitting quietly for 30 minutes thinking of the many things for which we are most thankful. Any of these activities will signal to your brain that its time to get sleepy.
3. Watch What You Eat
Caffeine may be one of our biggest challenges when trying to improve our sleep. Caffeine is still being processed in our bodies 6 to 8 hours after we finish that hot cup of afternoon coffee. Our sleep routines actually start around 1 or 2 o’clock PM. The choices we make from that point forward will directly effect the sleep we will experience that night.
Large meals and sweet snacks also take tremendous energy to digest, keeping our systems working overtime and late into the evening.
No caffeine after noon, a healthy dinner served in smaller portions and no sweet treats will prepare our bodies for a good restful nights sleep.
According to a study published in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity, people sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise each week.
I’ve experienced the results of this one personally. On days when I walk for 45 to 60 minutes, I feel better, I work better and I sleep better.
5. Design Your Sleep Environment
According to the National Sleep Foundation, we should design our bedroom environment for better sleep.
The temperature of our bedrooms should be set between 60 and 67 degrees (that’s not going to happen with my wife). The best environment for sleep is a cool room with no distracting noise and no light, including the dozen or so LEDs we all now have beaming from every device in our homes.
Consider a “white noise” machine, sleep with an electric fan running or use ear plugs. Install window blinds and cover the LEDs. Anything to keep the light and noise from finding its way to our brains will keep us sleeping through the night.
And when we wake, fully rested and ready for a productive day, full exposure to natural sunlight first thing in the morning will help manage our circadian rhythms and reset our brains for the successful day ahead.
Question: Do you have good sleep habits? What have you done to improve your sleep hygiene?
Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Adya