For high performers, sleep is when our bodies recover from the tolls we put on it all day. Our muscles relax and regenerate, our organs work their hardest to achieve homeostasis and inflammation is decreased.
According to a study performed by the National Institute of Health, during your second REM cycle (the most frequently abandoned cycle by those not getting 7-8 hours of sleep) your brain flushes out all the toxins it has accumulated during the day. This includes the number one stress hormone cortisol, which has been linked to obesity, depression, hypertension and heart disease.
When we don’t get this last REM cycle and allow our bodies to fully detoxify, we’re beginning the next day full of toxins that don’t allow our minds and bodies to perform at their highest level. Essentially, we’re setting ourselves up for failure before our day even begins. This is why sleep is the most powerful performance tool we have.
Here are a few tips towards achieving higher performance through sleep.
• Give yourself 30 minutes to wind down
This means no computer, no checking emails, no reading online, no text messages or Instagram. Stimulation before bed doesn’t allow our brains to prepare for sleep. Just like our devices, our body and mind need time to power down.
• Leave all the screens out of your bedroom
This means TV, phones, tablets, etc. Light stimulates our visual cortex,which then activates other parts of our brains, including the pre-frontal cortex, which fuels our thought processes and creative abilities. This makes it more difficult to relax and prepare our bodies for rest. Personally, I keep my iPhone, which doubles as my alarm, outside of my bedroom this also forces me to physically get out of bed).
• You should only be doing two things bed
Sleeping and sex. End of discussion.
• Keep your bedroom cool
Ideal temperature is around 66-68 degrees. The National Institute of Health even found that sleeping in a cool room at night (66 degrees) could help raise your metabolic rate and burn more fat.
• Turn off all the lights
In your home, in your room and close the curtains. Our visual cortex is stimulated by light, even that little light creeping under our doors or seeping through your curtains. Invest in a set blackout curtains. They keep most light out and the thicker ones can even help decrease ambient noise. I’ve even gone as far as placing a black piece of electrical tape over the light on my smoke detector.
• Take a hot shower or bath
Immersing your body in hot water relaxes your muscles and is another great way to power down our bodies for rest.
• Wear the right clothes
If you wear clothes to bed, only wear clothes that are used for sleeping. Wearing gym clothes or clothes designed for other activities stimulates and confuses your brain, leading to restlessness. To put it simply, if you’re not engaging in most of these activities, you’re not getting the sleep you need to be the best you can be. Think all these tips are a bit too much?
Think about how we put children to bed: we turn down the lights, we give them a bath and we put their pajamas on. Sound familiar? I’m frequently jealous of how well kids sleep. They look so peaceful and carefree, so let’s do this for ourselves.
I’m not presuming that we can get eight hours of sleep every night but if we make sleep a priority, when the inevitable long night pops up, we’ll have sleep reserves to tap into. Over a short period of time, these reserves will help us consistently perform at our best.
Personally, I know that the first couple of extended hour days I’m still performing at a high level, but after three to four of these, I notice my mind not firing on all cylinders – just like my day last week – and have come to realize that sleep is the only way to correct this.
We inevitably know that these days are going to happen and we don’t always have control over our schedule, but we can prepare for them by taking care of ourselves during the times when we do have control.
This week, I challenge you to try at least three of these tips out and record the difference it makes in your performance.
The bottom line is that we need to reevaluate our sleep habits. Everything in our life will get better: focus, concentration, physical health, relationships, happiness, etc. Knowing this, we need to stop viewing sleep deprivation as a badge of honor, become more critical of our sleeping habits and ultimately realize that sleep is the most powerful performance tool we have.