4 Steps to Improve your Sleep

At IESE this week, Steven MacGregor ran 3 sessions on “Sustaining Executive Performance”.  Keeping healthy is one aspect of successful executives.  The human being functions best under conditions of stress followed by recovery.  Too much stress leads to breakdown.  Too much recovery leads to atrophy.  The best form of recovery is sleep.  How can you improve your sleep?

What is Sleep?

Photo Credit: Erik K Veland
Photo Credit: Erik K Veland

Sleep is a natural occurring state characterized by reduced or absent consciousness, suspended sensory activity and inactivity of voluntary muscles.  Sleep is divided into two stages: Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM).

“Sleep is the primary mode of recovery and repair from stress” Steven MacGregor

The majority of people need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep.  You can know you are getting enough sleep when you don’t feel sleepy during the day.  Sleep is most effective when appropriately timed for your circadian rhythm.  Optimally, one should be asleep for at least 6 hours before minimum core body temperature.  (How to determine human circadian rhythm?)

The Danger of Accumulated Sleep Debt

You can choose to sacrifice sleep in the short term, but accumulated sleep debt results in diminished high-level cognitive function.  You will not deliver peak performance in a condition of accumulated sleep debt.  Lack of sleep has been shown to reduce healing of wounds, reduce immune system performance, reduce memory performance.  In short, it is not great for enjoying life.

The arrival of artificial light has led to big changes in sleep patterns.  In many nomadic societies people sleep on and off throughout the day and night depending on what is happening.

You can improve your sleep

4 ways to improve your sleep:

  1. Get fit – When your level of fitness increases you will:
    1. fall asleep faster,
    2. have a higher percentage of deep sleep,
    3. awaken less often during night.
  2. Create the right environment – No TV in the bedroom.  Sound proof the room if necessary. Comfortable bed.
  3. Gradual wind-down over an hour – Do not check email just before bed. Reduce stimulus in the hour before bed – no TV, films; no caffeine.
  4. Change your primary mode of breathing – Breathe from the stomach (the main mode of breathing when asleep), rather than through the top of the chest (our natural mode of breathing when awake).

Sweet dreams.

Any thoughts?  Do you have an accumulated sleep debt?  How many hours do you need for optimal function?

Further Resources

8 responses to “4 Steps to Improve your Sleep”

  1. Hi Conor. This is a very important post. Too many adults are sleep deprived. They go to work with very little sleep in them and express that they wish they could sleep better. We now have the terms “techno stress” and “continuous partial attention” where people are partly tuned into everything while never being completely tuned into anything. We also have “email apnea” where people hold their breath for short periods of time while reading emails and this is also causing stress related symptoms leading to insomnia. And then, since I’m a mother of two and I teach teenagers, I’m concerned about sleep deprivation among adolescents. It seems to be more than ever. I remember sleeping a lot when I was a teenager and perhaps less in my adult years. It’s a concern. Lots of work to be done in the area of stress reduction and work life balance…will we ever get it right!?

    1. I read your comment as a currently sleep deprived traveller… I feel like I was sleeping like a baby over the 2 weeks of Christmas (when I had no alarm clock to wake up to) and now that I have early morning starts I seem to be unable to fall asleep, and then stay asleep when I do! Annoying… I do know that reading email before bed is not helping… I need to get away from tech in the evenings.

  2. […] of your Health – Include physical activity in your day. Find a night time pattern that allows for good sleep. Eat […]

  3. Thanks, Cornor! I enjoyed reading your posts.

    Recently, I heard from a talk that meditation could be more effective than sleeping. I am not sure if anyone here knows more about that.

    1. More effective: depends on the intended outcome. A 10 minute pause in the middle of my day doing my own form of meditation can give me 2 benefits – a feeling of rest, and clarity in objectives for the rest of the day. However, nothing (in my case) beats a great night’s sleep for feeling good next day 😉

  4. Rosa Maria Cuadros Avatar
    Rosa Maria Cuadros

    8 hours at least… and by the way once I fall assleep after doing too much exercise… next day my boss wouldn’t aloud me to go to work one hour later…
    No more working out since then but I think you should be consistent, right?

    1. Yep. In fact I remember something that a rise in body temperature can cause you to sleep deeper – ie a long exercise can increase body core temperature – so exercise and then a night’s sleep can give a deeper sleep.
      Keep up the exercise 😉

  5. […] Take proper breaks – Walk away from the computer.  More on rest and sleep here. […]

What are your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.