I've heard it said that the road to success is paved with hard work, determination and sacrifice. I couldn't agree more"¦ mostly. Certainly, achieving success goals rarely happens by accident. We grind through years of tough education whether in school or in direct experience. We get knocked down (probably a lot) yet bounce right back up to keep moving forward. We give up less important things in our lives to remain focused and dedicated on the end result.
And often, one of the things we sacrifice for success is sleep. The frenetic pace of our current culture embraces and even encourages sleep deprivation. We consider sleep sacrifice as our "secret sauce" and there is even a certain amount of machismo we feel in doing this. We embrace this mentality early on in life with "all-nighters" in high school or college and then continue depriving ourselves of sleep as a near requirement in our adult lives.
Yet, studies are clear on the widespread negative effects sleep deprivation has on the human body. Increased risk of Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and immune suppression are all associated with sleeping less than the body needs. Additionally, the immediate effects of sleeping less on cognitive function are downright staggering! A 1997 article in Nature showed brain fatigue from lack of sleep has roughly the same impact on performance as does alcohol!
Ever gone to work or driven drunk? Well, you essentially have if you did so while sleep deprived! The CDC estimates that up to 35% of us do this ROUTINELY!
So, how do you stop this madness? How do you get the right amount of sleep AND still drive hard towards your success goals?
1. Change your mind set about sleep
First and foremost, you have to change the way you think about sleep. It must become one of the highest priorities in your success drive instead of only an afterthought. Just as you would never choose to drive past a gas station when your car's gauge is on empty, you must not choose to skip on sleep but instead make it part of the success plan. Sleep is not only a physical recharge (as important as food), it is when much of the rewiring in your brain happens that facilitates learning and memory.
2. Schedule your sleep time
Once you've embraced the importance of sleep, you must MAKE time for it. The National Sleep Foundation recommends an adult get 7-9 hours of sleep every 24 hours. But, your success drive will often demand more time be spent elsewhere. DON'T give in! Sacrifice elsewhere, but stay consistent with sleep. Make it a ritual that you observe no matter what has, or has not, been accomplished in the day. It may take some time to find the right sleep schedule for you, but it is well worth the effort.
3. Fuel up for good sleep
The hormone serotonin is a key promoter of good sleep. You should plan to consume evening meals or snacks that support the release of this hormone at the end of the day. Complex carbohydrates such as whole grain breads and pastas, as well as lean proteins like turkey and fish are ideal serotonin stimulators. Avoid sugary, fried and high fat foods as they tend to lower serotonin levels.
Be aware of the herbs you cook with in the evening too as some can act as a brain stimulant (red pepper for example). Also, caffeinated beverage consumption should be avoided beyond the mid-afternoon as even small amounts can interrupt your sleep cycle later in the evening.
4. Put the technology away
Your body's internal clock is driven by light. Bright light signals the brain to stay awake and be alert. The blue hued light from computers, cell phones and TV is especially stimulating. About 30 minutes before bedtime, you should disconnect from the electronics. Begin dimming the lights around you too as this tells the brain it is time to shut down.
5. Plan for naps
No matter how hard you try, the best laid plans sometimes get messed up by an urgent or unforeseen demand. If you are forced to alter your nightly sleep routine, plan to supplement with naps in the middle of the day to combat the inevitable fatigue that results. Some will even contend that daily naps are a must for driven achievers IN ADDITION to a good sleep habit.
No matter the reason for the nap though, there are a couple guidelines to consider in getting the most out of your nap. Limit your sleep to no more than 20 minutes to avoid passing into REM sleep which, if woken during this phase, results in grogginess. Also avoid napping too late in the day so that you don't interfere with your normal bedtime routine.
There's no doubt that achieving lofty goals requires sacrifices in life. Rarely do such things come easy. However, sleep should not be one of those things that is ignored in favor of working harder and longer. In fact, in positioning sleep as one of your top priorities, it is quite likely to become your new secret sauce for success.