No – I’m talking about actual sleep. Sufficient sleep is a necessity if we want to perform at our best. A decrease in our sleep can have dramatic effects on our ability to concentrate, retain information, make timely decisions, or exercise self-discipline and self-motivation. All functions that will impact our work capabilities, income production, spending habits, and financial decision making, either greatly assisting in our goals of Financial Freedom, or drastically impeding them.
But despite countless studies confirming the necessity for sufficient sleep, North American lifestyles and work habits have slowly eroded not just the quantity of sleep the average person gets per night, but also the quality. In our higher paced world with increasing stress and demands for our time the absolute worst thing we can do for our overall well being is to steal time from our sleep, but unfortunately it often seems our sleep hours are the easiest place to find that added time.
The funny thing about sleep is that as our sleep decreases so does our judgement and productivity, but because we habituate to the brain chemical that induces sleep (adenosine), we feel like everything is just fine. But even though we might feel like we are one of the special few that is successfully cheating our sleep for the benefit of increased productivity or to meet scheduling demands, chances are we would be further ahead on all fronts if we valued and protected those precious few hours of sleep.
If you doubt just how important sleep is in determining our financial success in life, just imagine having an in depth conversation about significant financial decisions with a parent of a newborn child. They probably won’t be able to offer much in the way of thought provoking content, critical analysis, or informed decision making. In fact they may be using all their energy to simply keep their eyes open. And although that scenario might represent an extreme sleep deficit in action, even a small degree of that effect experienced on a daily basis, can have wide reaching impacts on our ability to succeed.
And a lot more people are suffering from sleep deficits than you may think. Because sleep deficits often build over a long period of time, most people won’t even notice the slow development of the symptoms until they begin to have drastic impacts. By that time we often don’t even remember what it felt like to wake up completely refreshed and restored.
I know this to be true from personal experience. After years of slow building sleep debt, it was only when I started nodding off in front of my computer at work, and struggling to stay awake when driving, that I realized I should probably look into what was going on. I started talking to health professionals about my sleep issues, but because I was relatively fit and only in my late twenties I was told I didn’t have the typical markers indicative of a sleep disorder. I was redirected to try nighttime relaxation, slow down my work habits, and improve my overall sleep hygiene.
I tried it all. Completely changed my diet, eliminated screen time before bed, sleep meditation, tried acupuncture, massage therapy, chiropractic therapy, naturopaths. I even slowed down my work hours (a bit). You name it, I tried it. Some of the things I tried were certainly helpful in priming me for sleep, but I still wasn’t waking up feeling any better and my daytime sleepiness had hit all time highs.
I read book after book on sleep, and ultimately begged a doctor to refer me for an overnight sleep assessment. I was met with a lot of resistance, but my doctor took pity on me (or just wanted me to stop asking) and gave me the referral. When I was diagnosed with sleep apnea a few months later, the only people who were surprised were my doctors who had insisted for 5 years that I just didn’t meet the parameters of someone with a sleep disorder (primarily referencing apnea).
To be honest, I was relieved with the diagnosis. As much as I didn’t want to have sleep apnea, I wanted an answer to my sleep issues even more. At least with an answer I could look to fix things.
I didn’t experience an overnight relief of daytime sleepiness, like any debt, it took awhile to pay this one back. But after consistent treatment I began to feel more rested and more alert during the day. And the journey back to more restful sleep only served to highlight for me just how important sleep is to absolutely every aspect of day to day life.
But you don’t need to have sleep apnea to be experiencing the same symptoms. A sleep deficit of even 15 minutes per night can build up over time. Dulling your focus, concentration, causing daytime drowsiness, headaches and impacting your moods. Just to name a few of the effects.
But it doesn’t stop there, every symptom that pops up creates a downward spiral of effects. Headaches make you feel even more fatigued and more irritable, which impacts your concentration and ability to retain information, which can make you anxious about your work performance, which can create insomnia, so you sleep even less which makes you even more tired. Additional fatigue means your ability to self-motivate is in the toilet, so it gets harder and harder to exercise and find time for the hobbies, activities and relationships, all of which require energy. All of which translates to even less sleep, declining moods, and the downward spiral just continues.
There’s a reason that 7-8 hours of sleep are recommended for the average adult. That’s the amount of sleep required for us to remain healthy, and function optimally. Start cutting corners, and whether you recognize it or not you will experience that steady, spiralling, degradation of your mental and physical wellbeing.
Because our sleep is comprised of different cycles, of which we must travel through light stages in order to reach the deeper more restorative stages, disruptions to our sleep can also prevent us from obtaining enough, if any, deep stage sleep. So it’s not just about time in bed, the quality of sleep obtained during those hours is also of vital importance.
And you don’t even need to wake fully in order for sleep disruptions to occur. Minor disruptions can rouse us from our deep sleep into a lighter state, requiring us to start the cycle all over again. For instance, an ambulance going by in the night can rouse you from deep sleep, or even the ding of an incoming email or text message, all without you ever even being aware of it.
Fortunately there are many simple solutions to both protect our hours of sleep and help improve our sleep quality. For starters, schedule a bed time and a wake-up time and keep them consistent every day. By scheduling it in (even setting a reminder in your phone when it’s time to start getting ready for bed) will help you mentally protect those precious sleep hours from being slowly eroded. Consistency in sleep/wake times has also been shown to improve your overall sleep quality because your body can do a more efficient job of making and releasing the hormones needed for sleep when it knows what to expect.
In the same way, having a brief nightly routine can also send your body messages that you are gearing up for sleep. These habits are known as sleep associations, and while some sleep associations can be detrimental (like needing to watch a screen before you go to bed) others can help signal your body in productive ways to start winding down so you are primed for sleep BEFORE you even get into bed.
Eliminating screen time, limiting stimuli, and lowering the lights in the hour before you go to bed can also help prime your body for sleep and increase sleep quality. Bright lights, particularly the blue light emitted from many electronics (think cell phones, tablets, TV’s, and even your digital alarm clock) can suppress your bodies production of melatonin, effectively shifting your bodies natural circadian rhythms. A simple way to prevent this is to limit your exposure to screens in the hours just before bed. Even better, leave all electronics out of the bedroom, (easier said than done in a society where most people have a TV in the bedroom).
Investing in a noise machine or even just running a fan in your bedroom is also an excellent way to mask outside noises that may otherwise disrupt your sleep, instead giving you a nice steady state background noise to help keep you in a deep slumber.
Those are just a handful of easy steps anyone can implement to improve their chances of increased sleep quality and quantity, but recognizing the importance of sleep, and being willing to invest the time and effort to ensure you are obtaining sufficient sleep are really the most crucial steps to developing the sleep habits required to keep you performing at your best.