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

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

Author: Conor Neill

Hi, I’m Conor Neill, an Entrepreneur and Teacher at IESE Business School. I speak about Moving People to Action.

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