September often feels like the beginning of the work year. Kids return to school after the summer holidays. Here in Canada, adults also get back down to business after a vacation (or just a slower period while others were away!). The weather is cooling, signalling that playtime is over and work time has arrived. It’s a busy period and you need to be firing on all cylinders to keep up.
Are you getting the rest you need to operate at peak capacity?
Many of us are “on the electronic go” until we lie down in bed. Just minutes before our heads hit our pillows, we’ve been surfing Facebook, answering emails, and/or doing a host of other e-tasks on our computers, iPads or smart phones.
Now, although our devices may be powered down, our brains are still powered up. Our bodies and minds need some time to switch off before we can relax into a restful state that slips into sleep.
Also, light from electronic communication devices provides a signal to our brains that it’s daytime. If you’re sitting in bed with your laptop, it will take longer to fall asleep. Several phases of sleep are essential for brain functioning. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is associated with learning, while theta brain waves are linked with creativity. In fact, sleeping only four or five hours a night for a week has been shown to induce impairment similar to a blood alcohol level of 0.1 per cent.
In the U.K., The Sleep Council has put together an article full of useful information about this issue. Created by a group of British bed manufacturers, The Sleep Council’s article, entitled “Sleeptember”, gives five practical tips for getting a good night’s sleep. (Due to the usefulness of the other four, I think we can forgive them that one of their tips is to get a new bed!) Here is a recap of what they suggest:
- Environment: Your sleeping area should be “cool, quiet and dark”.
- Routine: Get into a sleep habit. As much as possible, bedtimes and waking times should be consistent. Staying up late to finish a work assignment may have a short-term payoff, but will only have a negative impact on your performance in the days to come.
- Electronic-free: No gadgets, even T.V. Especially, nothing that glows. Experts recommend a “blackout period” from brightly lit electronics — including the TV — for at least an hour before bed.
- Relax: Before turning in, take time to wind down. Engage in a quiet activity like reading a book, listening to music, meditating or writing in a journal. If incomplete tasks are still cluttering your mind, write a to-do list. This will help you put them aside so you won’t ruminate over them at night. If you start to stress about your workload in bed, remind yourself that you’ve already made a plan for tomorrow to deal with these unresolved tasks.
“But wait!” I hear you say. “I’ve just got so much on my mind that by the time I remember to relax, it’s already time to go to sleep.”
You are not alone. In fact, you are SO not alone that a New York hotel has begun offering “work-down” calls. Just as a “wake-up” call tells you when you need to get out of bed, a “work down” call tells you when you need to get ready for bed.
Manhattan’s Benjamin Hotel started the work-down call program to help its business travellers. These travellers kept complaining that they were not getting enough sleep. It was hard for them to resist checking their emails or text messages “one last time”. The hotel encourages people to book work-down calls for one hour before bedtime.
You can make your own version of a work-down call by setting your phone alarm for one hour prior to bedtime to remind you that the e-day has come to a close.
Consider also, the impact that you are having on your team if you email them late at night. Companies are starting to instruct their employees to ignore “after hours” emails. This includes weekends. An article in The Washington Post said surveys show that about 1 in 4 companies have such policies in place.
Volkswagen has taken this one step further. The company and workforce have agreed not to even send emails between shifts. An article in The Toronto Star reported that these “emails stop flowing a half-hour after end of a shift, and resume 30 minutes before a shift starts.”
This month, I’m taking my own advice. I’m switching off all my devices an hour before bed. Apart from my Kindle, that is! For me, reading fiction in bed is a relaxing, sleep-promoting habit. As the Kindle has e-ink, it’s not bright like my phone, iPad or laptop.
Good night, sleep tight!