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Leadership Thought #200 – Pay Attention To What’s Hindering Your Sleep

August 22, 2011

Free Girl in Blue White and Red Plaid Shirt Lying on Bed Stock Photo

It has become quite common for me to have a conversation where a lack of sleep at some point enters the discussion.  I know many people who sleep intermittently and get significantly less than the recommended 8 hours of rest.  I know from my own experience that any prolonged period of sleep deprivation manifests itself in unclear thinking, forgetfulness, and physical issues.  The body needs to rest and be repaired.  The brain needs downtime.   If you are not sleeping well, I guarantee that you are performing at less-than-optimal levels.  Caffeine and energy drinks may be used as artificial stimulants during the day, but they are no substitute for being well rested and clear headed.

There are many reasons why people have sleep issues including health issues, bad eating and drinking habits, medication side effects, not enough physical exercise during the day, lack of a proper sleep routine, too much stimulation before bed, noise and light distractions, and a bad bedroom set-up.  Thankfully, many of these issues can be addressed with focused effort.

A much more challenging problem is what you are thinking (worrying) about.  It has been a rough few years for many people both personally and professionally.   Job worries, financial difficulties, relationship problems and a general concern over national and world events abound. Even if your own economic situation is okay, odds are someone close to you is struggling.   It is certainly not an easy time to be middle or working class in America.

As the saying goes, “It’s not about what happens to do; it’s what you do about it that counts.”  All of us will encounter periods of adversity in our lives.  How we choose to let these moments define us is a choice.  Fretting and worrying about something but not taking affirmative action is a choice.  Avoidance or procrastination never makes things better.  It will also keep you up at night.  All problems have solutions.  These solutions may not always be ideal or easy to accept but they exist, nonetheless.

The first step is to f, including taking responsibility for resolving the issue.  You may need help and that’s okay.  Help can come in the form of a therapist who is skilled at guiding you through your response to what’s going on and developing effective coping mechanisms.  It can also be your priest, pastor or rabbi who advises you spiritually.   You may also need to consult experts in certain areas like law and finance to get their professional opinion. Thankfully, there are many nonprofit organizations out there to help those in need.  You just need to swallow your pride and ask for and accept assistance.

The next step is to take concrete actions every day to make things better.  It can be as simple as creating a household budget and sticking to it or making incremental changes to your diet.   If radical change is needed, then you need to “bite the bullet” and make the decision to change.  For example, you may need to move and cut back expenses dramatically or completely change your attitude towards food and exercise.  Ask those closest to you to hold you accountable and be there for you with support when needed.  You already know the results of the status quo.

Finally, journal and capture your feelings and chart your progress as you work through the issue.  Your brain needs an outlet.  I keep my journal by my bed so there is easy access when I can’t sleep.  You’ll be surprised by how adequate reflection and writing about something makes it easier to deal with.  It also is closely correlated with seeing things through to resolution if you develop the habit of doing it on a regular basis.  An added benefit is that when you look back and review past situations in your journal, you’ll find that you have great capacity for personal change and deep pools of emotional and physical resolve when needed.  You’ll also realize how blessed you are with people who genuinely care about you.

I’ve always believed that an inability to sleep well is your body trying to tell you something.  It is clearly a warning sign.  If you go on too long without listening, there will be consequences.  Pay attention to what’s keeping you up at night and then do something about it.  Don’t assume the role of victim and become hapless in the face of adversity.  Take control of your life and your need for rest.  Sleep isn’t a luxury; it’s a requirement if you are going to live a happy, healthy, and productive life.