Business of Well-being

Sleep Well

It's 3 pm, and there a giant pile of work on your desk, but you can't think clearly enough to tackle it. Your eyes are getting heavy, your thoughts are jumbled and your keyboard is suddenly looking like a nice place to rest your head. You are fading fast. Maybe just a quick power nap. We've all been there. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, sleepiness affects 93% of working employees.

Whether it's in the morning, during the afternoon lull or late in the day, if we are tired, we are not at our best. Sleep deprivation, of varying degrees, affects us physically, mentally, and emotionally. The physical effects are obvious: lack of energy, strength and stamina. On the mental end, poor sleep reduces memory, problem-solving ability and mental acuity.

Emotionally speaking, sleep issues cause irritability, anxiety and even clinical depression. Our jobs are stressful enough without adding these problems into the mix. When we're not sleeping well, we're not able to do our jobs to the best of our ability and our performance suffers. When this is the case, it's typically only a matter of time before someone notices.

To put it bluntly, the outcome of poor sleep could be unemployment. On the other hand, recent research from the University of California, San Diego indicates that people who sleep better are more successful and make more money. It's clear that daytime fatigue is an issue, what's not so clear is what we should do about it.

For about 80% of the population, daytime fatigue is simply a matter of poor sleep quality. For the remaining 20%, the issue is potentially more serious. For now, let's focus on the former and we'll get to back to the latter. In order for sleep to be truly effective, we must spend quality time every night in the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep.

This is the deepest stage of sleep and the stage where high-level mental processing and dreams occur. The problem is, many people spend time in the lower sleep stages and not in the REM stage. So how do we get more REM sleep?

Here are ten suggestions:

  • Exercise daily - For adults, this means at least 30 minutes of legitimate, heart-rate-increasing exercise. No, walking around your office or up a flight of stairs doesn't count. Sorry.
  • Avoid alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine - All three are stimulants and therefore not conducive to sleep. Caffeine actually has an unusually long half-life and can remain in your system for as long as 12 hours.
  • Avoid naps - Naps, especially long ones, can throw off your sleep cycle, thereby preventing you from getting quality sleep at night, when you need it most.
  • Stick to a sleep schedule, even on weekends - It only takes a few days for our bodies to adjust to a new sleep schedule. If you sleep late on Saturdays and Sundays, it may take several days to re-adjust to a normal weekday schedule.
  • Avoid high-carbohydrate snacks in the evening - The body uses carbohydrates for quick energy so when you eat high-carb snacks before bed, your body says, "Hey! Thanks for the energy! Let's put it to good use!" And then you're wide awake.
  • If you can't sleep, get up - Take a walk, get some air, etc. If you stay in bed feeling anxious about your lack of sleep, that's only going to exacerbate the problem.
  • Maintain a quiet, dark, cool environment - The human body is "programmed" to sleep when it's dark and quiet (ie. at night.) And since temperatures tend to drop at night, we're accustomed to that as well.
  • Reduce screen time before bedtime (TV, phone, tablets, etc.) - Modern digital screens emit a "blue" spectrum of light that triggers the brain to be more alert and awake... neither of which are helpful for sleeping.
  • Have a pre-sleep ritual - Condition your mind to associate certain activities with sleep. Take a shower, read a book, or do something calming right before you go to bed. This will help create a helpful sleep pattern.
  • Use natural sleep remedies - Before you resort to prescription sleep medications, try some natural remedies first. They're less dangerous and less addictive than drugs like Ambien or Lunesta. Some effective natural remedies include melatonin, valerian root, and chamomile tea.

So what about actual sleep disorders? What are they and what can we do about them? The three most common sleep disorders are Insomnia (acute or chronic), Restless Legs Syndrome, and Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Insomnia is, quite simply, the inability to achieve adequate sleep. This manifests in either the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep.

If it is Acute (temporary) Insomnia, it is usually caused by difficult life circumstances and will thus dissipate when circumstances improve. Chronic Insomnia is more severe, ongoing, and warrants treatment by a certified sleep physician. Restless Legs Syndrome is characterized by an unpleasant tickling or twitching sensation in the legs which is only relieved by moving them.

It's a very annoying condition that can cause the sufferer to lose sleep. A doctor can prescribe therapy or medicines that may alleviate the symptoms. The most dangerous sleep disorder is, by far, Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), a condition in which one's airway is obstructed during sleep and oxygen to the brain is restricted dozens of times an hour.

It affects somewhere between 12-20% of the population, and it can literally kill you. By some estimates, OSA raises your risk for stroke by 300%, your risk for heart attack by 250%, and your risk for all types of cancer by 70%. It causes excessive daytime fatigue, high blood pressure, headaches, weight-gain, depression and on and on. It's no joke.

If you snore loudly, stop breathing at times, and find yourself exhausted at inappropriate times (such as 3pm at work), you might have OSA and you should immediately consult your physician or seek out an online screening. Testing for OSA these days can be a fairly simple and painless procedure involving a digital home sleep test as opposed to an in-lab sleep study.

Treatment for OSA can be administered with nearly 100% effectiveness through a CPAP (Constant Positive Airway Pressure Device) or, occasionally, through an oral appliance.To recap:

1) Sleep is important.

2) Not sleeping well is bad.

3) If you're not sleeping well, there are some things you can do TODAY to change that.

About the Author

Brandon Walker is a professional speaker and wellness expert with over 10 years of experience in the wellness arena. Over the last decade, he has spoken to over a million people on topics ranging from leadership development to health and fitness.

He is the author of the book INERTIA : Seven Principles of Leadership in Motion, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Baylor University as well as a CI-CPT personal trainer certification from The Cooper Institute in Dallas. He is currently serving as the Director of Business Development for SleepCor, a sleep wellness company in Dallas, TX.

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