How is bragging about lack of sleep a thing that happens in the workplace? Heaven knows I did plenty of this in college. I would study for an exam up until the absolute last minute and then show up to my classes running on only a couple of hours of sleep, totally useless. As adults, we should not be glorifying our poor choices. If someone is in a situation that forces sleep deprivation upon them (small children, insomnia, neighbors from hell, etc.), then we should sympathize, not glorify. However, when we are continuously burning the candle at both ends for work, we cannot bring our full value to any aspect of our lives, including work. So, to demonstrate how much we value our work, let’s recraft how we talk about sleep.
I value my work enough to bring a functioning brain.
Do you know what takes a toll when we are sleep deprived? Yeah… pretty much everything. We lose focus. We are more irritable. It is harder to retain information. Our communication skills tank (fellow engineers, we cannot afford this!). Also, our ability to problem solve diminishes. When we are sleep-deprived, we risk our relationships with coworkers and customers, and our functioning is subpar. Even if we put everything else aside, diminished problem-solving can be a cyclical problem. Because our problem-solving is diminished, we have to work harder, not smarter. When we allow working harder to cut into our sleep, we continue to have to work harder and again get less sleep. Break the cycle. Get some rest, solve those problems, and work smarter.
I value my work enough to invest in my health.
Shocking news, sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on our immune system. Ok, yes, we all know this, but we go through our day-to-day life acting like we don’t. We act like we are sacrificing a luxury to “show up” today. Sleep is not a luxury, and if we shortchange it now, it can affect our ability to be present in the future. Doctor visits due to mental health issues, diabetes, heart attack, or stroke make it hard to be at work, and chronic sleep deprivation increases our risk for all these health issues. Today we are making the choices our future selves must pay for. So, make the choice that will let you show up today… and all of those tomorrows, too.
I value my work enough to try to improve my sleep habits.
Once we decide that our sleep is worth the investment, we might need to rework some habits. If poor sleep was an active choice rather than insomnia, we might have to fight against insomnia as we reintroduce our bodies to proper sleep. While it can be tempting to seek the help of medication to knock you out quickly, the best course if we truly think long-term is to retrain our bodies. Here are some tips and tools for doing just that.
- Establish a routine – Far too often, we rebel against routine for the sake of rebelling. But when it comes to good sleep, routine is so effective. Set an established bedtime routine that starts about 30 min before bed and ends at a set bedtime. If bedtime is at 10, the routine starts at 9:30. Perhaps 15 minutes of light cleaning, five minutes of stretching and 10 minutes of bedtime hygiene.
- Lose the screen – Phones, computers and TV do not mesh with sleep. Some of us have made habits of scrolling on our phones or watching TV before we fall asleep. However, experts recommend ditching screens at least 30 minutes before we fall asleep, as it stimulates your brain and delays REM sleep. Audiobooks or meditation guides can be useful tools if you need help turning off your brain. Harry Potter is a go-to audiobook for me, so I don’t get caught up in an unfamiliar storyline and stay awake.
- Consider natural forms of help – While we don’t want to rely on medications to get us to sleep, there are other sleep aids that we can look to. Regular sun exposure is a great way to get a solid hit of melatonin, but melatonin tablets can provide an extra boost when needed. Spraying pillows with lavender essential oil is not only an excellent relaxer, but it can be a great pavlovian cue to the body that it is time to relax. Also, herbs like valerian root, chamomile or mint can help move the body towards sleep. My favorite sleep-inducing nightcap is warm milk with a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg, and honey. Yum! (Of course, if you are taking any medications or are pregnant or breastfeeding, be sure to contact your doctor before you start taking any herbal supplements.)
- Limit caffeine and alcohol – It is best to stop caffeine consumption in the early afternoon. Additionally, while it feels like alcohol can help you unwind initially, it also serves as a REM disruptor.
To wrap this up, let me confess: I knew almost all of this before writing this article. Do I make good sleep choices every day? I certainly do not. I am a work in progress, but I’ll repeat it: I want to show up today and all of the tomorrows. I don’t want to try to work with a fried brain and lousy communication skills. I want more for myself and more for you, too, and part of that starts with recognizing that sleep is not a luxury.