• Rachael Ferguson

The importance of sleep to your success

How important is sleep to you? Are you feeling well rested - or are you feeling perpetually exhausted?

As entrepreneurs and business owners, we are often living an exciting yet stressful and emotional life. We can face a very different set of responsibilities and needs, resulting in often feeling pulled between our creative side and feelings of failure or even anxiety.

Yet sleep is a basic need, and we all know how terrible it feels for not having a good sleep - whether it’s just a one-off or chronic poor sleep due to stress, medical reasons, poor health, parenthood or all of the above!

The importance of sleep

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, sleep is defined as a basic need, along with food, drink, shelter and oxygen. Running a business can be extremely stressful and can take a toll on your mental health. A regular, healthy sleeping pattern can also contribute to positive mental health. Constantly feeling tired can lead to a low mood, or worse. So prioritising sleep can help you stay mentally healthy too.

How much sleep? The Sleep Health Foundation recommends that adults should aim for 7–9 hours of sleep per night.

8 reasons to prioritise sleep:

  1. Improved concentration

  2. Boosted immune system

  3. Better memory

  4. Increased energy

  5. Less anxiety and depression

  6. Better emotional stability

  7. Improved social interaction and emotional function

  8. Decrease in other health risks such as heart disease, diabetes etc

How do we sleep?

When our heads hit the pillow, we go through 5 stages of sleep, with each stage associated with different brain waves. When we successfully manage to pass through all the stages, we achieve a sleep cycle, which typically happens within 90 minutes.

  • Stage 1 - this is your light sleep phase when you often drift in and out of sleep easily.

  • Stage 2 – in this stage, our body temperature drops, and our heart rate begins to slow down.

  • Stage 3 - this is the transitional phase between light and very deep sleep.

  • Stage 4 – this is your deep sleep period that lasts for about 30 minutes. Your body will typically go into stage four two times during a full 8-hour sleep cycle – and unfortunately, if you wake up during the deep sleep stage you are likely to feel disorientated and a bit foggy.

  • Stage 5 – and so we get to REM sleep, which is the stage where most dreams happen. In this stage you will experience rapid eye movement (hence the name REM) and increased brain activity.

You can probably tell which sleep stage you were in when you wake up based on how you feel!

12 tips to get a great sleep – every night

The key to getting quality sleep. Here are some tips to help improve your sleep:

1. Remove technology

All technology – including our phones, TV, and laptops too - can negatively affect our sleep, as well as cause a rise in stress levels. Numerous studies have found that using your phone before bed is harmful to your overall health.

This is due to the blue light emitted by the phone’s screen which restrains the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep-wake cycle (aka circadian rhythm).

So, to combat this, consider charging your phone in another room overnight, and instead get yourself a basic alarm clock if you need to set an alarm for the morning.

2. Consider using a melatonin supplement

The body naturally produces melatonin and is a central part of the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Its production increases in the evening, and can promote healthy sleep.

Research indicates that melatonin supplements may shorten the time it takes to fall asleep and increase overall sleep amounts. Always check with your doctor before taking any medication.

3. Use an app to monitor your sleep cycles

There are several great apps that can monitor your sleep and provide data about your sleep cycles. Not necessarily needed long term, but tracking your sleep for one week might give you some useful insights.

4. Don’t exercise in the two hours before bedtime

While exercise is great for overall health and can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly, it is important not to exercise too late in the day. And this is because exercise stimulates the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which helps activate the alerting mechanism in the brain. This is fine -unless you're trying to fall asleep. So, try not to exercise within two hours of going to bed.

5. Enjoy a hot bath

A soothing hot bath can help many people to relax and help to promote a better night’s sleep.

6. Stick to regular sleep times

Keeping your bedtimes – and waking times – the same all week (including weekends) as it helps to set the body’s "internal clock”.

7. Keep your room dark and cool

Try to keep the bedroom’s temperature between 16-22C, and if possible, well ventilated. Also, consider getting heavy curtains, blackout shades, or an eye mask to block light, which will then aid in promoting a better sleep.

8. Use guided meditation

There are many apps such as Insight Timer where you can choose a different mediation each night – or stick to one that works for you.

9. Avoid caffeine later in the day

We all know that caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake – that’s why many of us chug it down in the morning right?! But this is not what we want at bedtime, so it’s best to avoid caffeine (found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, and some pain relievers) later in the day.

10. Create a bedtime routine

Rather than stumbling to bed half asleep or too tired to even brush your teeth, it’s much better to have a bedtime routine that helps relax us and acts as a bit of a comfort. Your routine can be unique to you, but it might include things like using a journal to declutter your mind, reading a book, washing your face, burning some relaxing essential oils in a diffuser or spending some time in meditation. You might also like to get organised for the next day – for example putting out your work or gym clothes or making kids school lunches. This can save time in your mornings but also help you to relax your mind as you know things are done.

11. Try pillow sprays or aromatherapy

Aromatherapy can in some cases activate the parasympathetic nervous system and slow our brain waves from highly active 'beta' and 'alpha' waves to 'theta', which in turn can help us relax. Some essential oils which are renowned for relaxing are lavender, cedarwood and bergamot. Alternatively, you could try a homemade sleep mist combining all 3 of these oils. There’s many recipes on the internet to make a homemade spray, so have a play to find a combination that works best for you.

12. Avoid eating late at night and balance your fluid intake

A healthy, balanced diet is crucial for all elements of our health, which can also aid in better sleep. A healthy diet includes trying not to eat too late at night, and to also keep your fluid intake up during the day, but taper down your fluid intake at night.

Sleep disorders

It’s worth noting that there are many medical conditions that can affect a person’s sleep, and these should be treated with the help of a doctor or medial professional. These include:

· insomnia

· narcolepsy

· circadian rhythm disorders from jet lag and shift work

· periodic limb movement disorder and restless legs syndrome.

· snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea

You can also get help from the Sleep Health Foundation.

Looking for more strategies to balance work, life and everything else. Why not sign up to my mailing list where I can keep you in the loop with my top tips to stay healthy in body and mind.

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