Without a doubt, poor sleep has become one of the executive epidemics of our time. In fact, the data we collect on our clients indicates that over 60% of the executives we work with get 6 or less hours of sleep on the average work night.
While some feel they sleep great but just not enough, many are struggling to fall asleep, frequently waking up during the night, and too often waking up not feeling rejuvenated. With research revealing that we can have up to a 25% productivity boost with a single extra hour of sleep, it would be crazy to not explore the little things that can have such a biological impact on our primary source of recovery.
Interestingly enough, championship sports teams such as the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, and baseball World Champions the San Fransisco Giants have all consulted with sleep researchers over the last several seasons in order to optimize their athletes’ sleep and ultimately their Sustainable High Performance game after game.
Many of our clients reveal that staying up after 10:30pm is actually their way to finally get around to some of the things they enjoy. Whether it be personal emails, social media, reading articles of interest, or even spending some time watching TV with their spouse. Their whole day has been focused on either work and perhaps the family after work, and now this is finally ‘their' time. All seems harmless enough, and this is an easy habit to fall into.
However, one of the major reasons that so many executives are struggling to switch off and fall asleep is the overstimulation from excess light after sunset. Our circadian rhythm is controlled by our Suprachiasmatic Nuclei (our brain clock) which is especially sensitive to light of short wavelengths—in particular, blue light (in the 460-nanometer range of the electromagnetic spectrum). Unsurprisingly, this blue light is the exact light emitted from our backlit displays such as laptops, cell phones, and tablets. This light triggers the brain’s pineal gland to prevent or subdue the release of our sleep hormone melatonin. Normally, melatonin levels begin to rise after sunset, remain high for most of our night, and then drop in the early morning hours. This is a contributing factor to why some of our clients from more northern located countries (that can have very short days in the winter months) can often suffer from a condition known as Seasonal Mood Disorder (aka the Winter Blues).
Melatonin is a crucial component of homeostasis over our 24-hour day. Not only does it have a mild hypnotic effect but it is also linked to lowering our core body temperature. Some recent studies even suggest that this drop in core body temperature may assist with the normal melatonin release. Additionally, this fall in core body temperature helps us not only fall asleep but also to stay asleep. For these reasons it is no surprise that when I ask our clients for a show of hands of who finds it easier to sleep in the winter months compared to the summer months, I am never surprised to see about 95% of people state winter.
This raises two questions - should I exercise late at night and is a hot shower before bed detrimental?
As far as exercise, many of our clients report that light exercise before bed, especially if they can breathe comfortably and reflect on their day, can be extremely beneficial. After sitting all day they report that this is quite relaxing and helps them release any tension from their day. However intense exercise that raises core body temperature (often for up to several hours) should be avoided. It should be noted, however, that this is quite individual.
As far as taking a hot shower, the response is interesting. Sports Scientists are now encouraging their athletes post late night games to have a hot shower, but then enter into a cool environment - either a cool team bus, cool airplane, or cool hotel room. While the optimal temperature varies per individual, somewhere between 62 degrees F/16 degrees C is commonly optimal. This drop in core body temperature helps the athlete fall into their stage 3 and stage 4 sleep where the majority of their physiological recovery occurs. So therefore the impetus shouldn’t be placed on the hot shower, but more on the environment that we step into after showering.
To help you improve the quality of your sleep, here is a quick summary of strategies:
BEFORE BED //
_Build short recovery breaks into your work day, especially towards the end of your day.
_Try to have some ‘me time’ earlier in the night.
_Use low wattage light bulbs or even light some candles in the later hours
_Give yourself at least one hour of tech-free time before heading to bed.
_Invest in great bedroom blinds or curtains. Your sleep is worth it.
_Get the television out of the bedroom if you can.
_If traveling, be sure to close your laptop completely, throw a spare hotel washcloth over the alarm clock, or use the hotel compendium to cover the small lights on the TV - you’ll be surprised how even the smallest of lights can have an impact.
UPON WAKING //
_Pull back the blinds early to get some early morning sunlight.
_Even better, get outdoors as early as you can.
_Increase your body temperature and alertness by doing our Daily Prep exercises. Once learned, these simple movements can be done in 10-12 minutes and have enormous value for both our brain and body.
Like all our strategies, it’s always a study of one. Try to utilize some of these in the next week and see what works for you.
Like always, we’d love to hear about your experience.
By Chris Males
Director of Performance Coaching