Leadership Thought #437 – Why Can’t You Sleep?

Strategies to promote better sleep in these uncertain times - Harvard  Health Blog - Harvard Health Publishing

I have a sneaking suspicion that most people are like me when it comes to sleep.  You read countless articles telling you of the importance of sleep and that you need 8 hours of rest each night and you wonder who the lucky people are who actually achieve this objective on a consistent basis.  I know I feel lucky if I get 6 hours of uninterrupted slumber (which is rare).  For the most part, I get by with much less rest than is recommended.  Moreover, the sleep I do get is often in batches rather than one long episode.   I have tried many different things including sticking to a regular schedule, increasing my exercise, limiting my drinking, etc. and nothing really seems to work.  I guess that at some point you have to accept your own biological clock rather than fight it.  So far, I have done okay in my 48 years being below average in the sleep category.

However, I do pay attention to what keeps me up at night.  Is it my normal routine or something different?  There are nights when my mind is racing and I have learned to pay attention to this signal.  My brain is processing something I need to deal with and until I do something about it, there is no rest.  Rather than begrudge the fact I have to get out of bed, I simply embrace it and try to put my thoughts in writing and/or simply sit and think for a while.  There is something peaceful about the early morning hours that create the conditions for a different level of clarity.  I can always get back to sleep after I have done something about what is keeping me up.  Sleepytime tea also helps put me in the right state of mind to properly unwind.  There is definitely something special about herbal tea…it’s here for a reason.

We all have “crosses to bear” and stressful paths to navigate.  No one is immune from some level of insomnia related to the rigors of normal human existence.  Secretly, I think if you sleep too well you must be missing something, although I have a friend who tells me this comes from a guilt free existence – good luck with that. What’s important is that you pay attention to what’s keeping you up at night.  Are you not living in alignment with your core values?  Have you compromised your integrity?  Are you avoiding something you should not be avoiding?  Is there a big decision you need to think through a bit more?  Are you struggling trying to solve a problem at work or home?  Have you not given yourself enough time to get something done?  Have you backed yourself into an emotional or financial corner that you can’t seem to escape from?  Are you not being truthful with someone?  Are you attending to the key relationships in your life properly or taking others for granted?  Are you lacking the courage to take the necessary risks to be happy?  Are you being too carefree and reckless and ignoring the consequences? Is your internal dialogue regularly talking you out of success and limiting your possibilities? Is the window of opportunity closing on something you always wanted to do?  Do you have a dream or passion that should be more fully realized?  I could go on and on but I imagine you get the point.

The brain is a powerful and complex organ although some people refer to it as the muscle of thinking.  It won’t be ignored for any extended period of time.  What is troubling you will continually resurface until you do something about it.  Once you work towards resolution on whatever is bothering you, it’s interesting how that thought seems to fade into the background.  Rest usually follows progress.  I have no grand illusions that I will ever be an 8-hour sleeper.  I am fine with that.  I’ve had some wonderful late night/early morning moments.  I just want to make sure I separate the experiences that are the natural course of aging and personal biology from those that are my conscious or subconscious mind pushing me to pay attention and take action.  I encourage you to do the same.

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