Enough good quality sleep is critical to our physical and mental health. It's hardly a profound statement. But too many of us in the business community lead an 'always on', connected lifestyle that is not conductive to good sleep. Ariana Huffington is one of the most high profile authors to have tackled this topic in her best-selling book, Thrive.
There are plenty of people who suffer from sleep deprivation, whether by choice or circumstance. In the UK, 60% of people get less than 7 hours of sleep a night, and 25% get interrupted sleep. This could be due to noisy neighbours, busy minds, young children waking up at night or simply working and/or playing too hard. And sometimes you just can't do anything about it, at least in the short term.
It may be a more permanent feature of family life for those of us with caring responsibilities for children with special needs or disabilities (which is 320,000 (8% of the 4m) in the UK). 93% of parents with disabled children are up at night, which leads to a number of negative health effects: "Parental health is hugely affected by lack of sleep. Sheer exhaustion causes problems with mental health, physical health, memory and esteem."
Whatever the definition, it's clear that sleep deprivation is a big issue in society, business and family life. Some seem to thrive, if not cope, with significantly less sleep than the average at least in the short-term; there's plenty of medical evidence that suggests that it can have negative health effects later on in life. Famous leaders - notably Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill - survived on as little as four hours sleep. Over half of Inc. 500 CEOs sleep less than six hours a night.
In my case, sleep deprivation is a feature of life, as I try to help my son get a good night's sleep. I know that when I get in to bed I will probably be up in an hour's time, and sometimes not get back to my own bed at all before having to go to work. Or I start getting some sleep just a couple of hours before I have to get up for work. My body aches from insufficient rest, not a hard gym session. The world around me feels rather smaller than it did before. A good night's rest trumps any birthday present or evening out.
Along the way, I've thought long and hard about what to do to survive, and live a reasonable life when sleep deprivation is part of daily life.
Here are ten suggestions which may help you too:
1. Don't set any expectation for being able to carry on with other parts of your life that you used to do. Don't compare yourself with anyone else who is getting normal sleep. You will simply have to do less - it's pretty obvious when you have less 'fuel' going in to your system - or you will quickly move in to 'burnout' territory. Think of how the best drivers manage the performance of their cars in Formula 1; sometimes even they have to slow down to preserve their tyres and engines in order to finish the race.
2. Be even more flexible in when you go to sleep. Go to sleep much earlier if you need to. Forget any of the routines you used to stick to until you get back to more normal sleep patterns.
3. Take breaks more regularly: think of your day as a series of fast runs, or even sprints, where you focus your attention on something or someone and then recharge (for example, by moving or going outside) and then start again. You wouldn't race
4. Recognise that you will be short with some people, most often the ones you love. Your body and mind is more sensitised than normal and so any actual or perceived criticism, however small, feels like something far more substantial. Take a big, big deep breathe, listen carefully and don't respond if you don't need to.
5. Look after your face: cleansing, toning and moisturising your face has a disproportionately positive feeling not only for your face but the rest of your mind and body. I'm no beautician clearly but I can testify to its effects.
6. Be ruthless in managing your diet: it's too easy to load up on carbohydrates and sugary foods just to keep going at all times of the night.
7. Get outside even if the weather is bad (as is often the case in the UK). It changes your perspective.
8. Exercise at the right time to create some necessary energy but time it carefully. It can be hard to go to the gym or for a run in the morning after a difficult night's rest.
9. Keep moving: find different working environments, with different people. I find that shift of focus gives me energy to keep going.
10. Keep a 'grateful' diary to capture your successes, which are even more amazing when you haven't been sleeping.
These will be short-term fixes for many people. For others they will be essential ingredients in a life of interrupted sleep, or just tips for managing energy in busy lives. But they're no substitute for some important reflection and then action on what you should change to create a better environment for yourself or the person you are caring for. I wish you well in your journey.