I was in El Segundo, CA today (that’s a town just south of Santa Monica, for those of you who don’t know the California landscape). I gave a talk on Sleep and why it’s needed. There were a lot of questions and I shared a few ideas that might help, so I thought I would share them with you.
You may be thinking, “Wait a minute, Rona, you’re supposed to be helping employees be more playful and cohesive. How is THAT subject related?”
Easy! Ever try to be happy, playful and engaged at work when you’re tired and cranky? Never happen!
One of the reasons companies call me and my team at PlayMore to work with them is because of high stress and burnout. Burnout often causes high turnover, which means a higher outlay of company money….you get the idea. And one of the reasons for burnout is lack of sleep.
When people have deadlines, need to be creative on the spot and take on more then they can handle, it affects their sleep patterns.
You know the feeling–you lay in bed at night, regurgitating all kinds of details:
• What you HAD to get done today that you didn’t finish
• What you NEED to do tomorrow
• What things you missed out on
• Random worries about friends, family, the house, the job, your health, the dog, the cat, the gerbil….and the list goes on.
Trust me, it happens to all of us, myself included. Things very rarely go as we plan. Our expectations about daily events gets all screwed up and that screws with our heads. Years of this has me well-versed in how to quiet your mind so you can get a good night’s sleep.
This is incredibly important! When you’re well rested:
• You’ve got more energy for your work and your family
• You’re happier
• Things don’t bother you as much, and you don’t hold on to the emotions
• You’re more flexible and willing to listen to other’s opinions
• You’re more creative and think more quickly
Sleep deprivation is becoming a common problem. Sometimes it is because we fill up every possible hour of the day and night with errands and catching up. Sometimes it’s the constant temptation of readily available technology. (You’re reading this on one of them!)
But other times we just can’t sleep because our minds are sprinting with an ever-cascading flow of stress because of “replays and imaginings.” We go over stuff that happened during the day or we imagine what “could” happen in circumstances in the future. We make mountains out of molehills and we rehearse conversations we THINK will happen, when 99.9% of the time, they never do! The fact is, the only thing we have is right now. Worrying about anything else is a waste of energy and time.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, a proper night’s sleep for adults is 7-9 hours. HA! I don’t know about you, but when I’m in that racing mindset, even 6 hours sleep is impossible. According to Sleep in America, about 20% of Americans say that they get less than 6 hours of sleep on average. It affects our whole life.
When your mind is in gear, it’s a constant battle of these swirling thoughts of past and future. For the most part, when this happens, your thoughts fall into 3 categories:
1. What should I have done today – You go over and over all those things that you wish you’d accomplished but didn’t have the time or energy. Oftentimes, this leads to a negative emotional state where you beat yourself up for not getting enough done. Control issues are forefront here. Go easy on yourself!
2. What I need to get done tomorrow- This, of course, doesn’t just encompass your workload, though that’s often the lead stressor. It’s a hodge-podge of everything that turns your tomorrow into a daunting pile. And the temptation can be to jump up and get a head start. But that will only leave you exhausted and far less productive.
3. Losing Sleep over Sleep – That frustration and feeling of defeat when you realize how much worse your day will be tomorrow when you don’t get any sleep tonight. You keep looking at your clock. Your thoughts start to focus on, “Crap! I should really be asleep right now!” “Why am I not falling asleep?” “If I fall asleep in the next 10 minutes, that will give me a good 3 hours sleep.” Uh….yeah. Planning when you’ll sleep doesn’t work.
5 Ways of Quieting Your Mind When You Can’t Sleep
While there are a lot of resources out there for people who struggle with racing thoughts or an inability to sleep well, here are a couple ways that you might find particularly helpful.
1. Practice being “here”– It’s really helpful to bring your attention fully to the present when you’re trying to get to sleep. You can do this in a few ways. I like the obvious way. When my mind starts to focus (read ‘become obsessed’) on something, I literally say to myself, “I’m right here. I’m right here. In my bedroom, with my dog at my bedside, under the covers…” and I continue to describe exactly where I am, who I’m with and what my circumstances are right then and there. It gives your mind a rest and lets you relax more.
2. Create inward focus – Focus on the physical world that you can control. Focus on your own body. Start by turning your attention to the top of your head and really thinking about what it feels like to the exclusion of all else. When that begins to work, move to your face and ears and continue down your entire body. The idea here is to focus so much on your body that your thoughts begin to fade. It will leave your body relaxed and ready for sleep.
3. Breathe – Try taking deep breathes in through your nose and out through your mouth, holding each breathe for 3 seconds. Breathe in to a count of 4 and after holding, release to a count of 7. Yes, the exhale is longer than the inhale. Notice the tension leaving your body on each exhale.
4. Cultivate quiet activities – Think about activities that calm you and put you in a more open minded or relaxed state. For some people, it’s painting, reading, knitting, or puzzle books. The activity shouldn’t be overly physical or mental. Start making it a habit of this activity being the last thing you do before you go to bed. This does NOT include watching TV, being on your computer or on your phones! The blue light from them screws with your body clock. If your mind starts to race after you finish your book or puzzle, focus on how much fun you had with activity you just completed.
5. Recount your successes and disappointments – Buy a journal and before you lay down, make a list of your successes from the day or the moments which you were grateful for. This will slow down your thoughts and send out off to sleep in a positive mindset. You can also journal all the stuff that stressed you out! Studies have shown physically writing things down gets them out of your head and you’ll rest easier. So, vent on that paper!! Break a pencil point, go ahead! (Buy pencils if you don’t have them)
There are other great ways to help sleep-from relaxing baths with lavender or vanilla (aromatherapy works, and these are just 2 of many relaxing scents) to petting your animal if you have one.
And if you stumble across a different one that works for you, feel free to comment and share it.