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Patti Milligan

The hunt is on for the “perfect" night of sleep. More and more studies on sleep are showing up in the scientific literature, and the media is all over it. You can hardly read a magazine, skim a newspaper, or watch a news show without seeing something about how important a great night of sleep is. At the same time, you may be wearing a device that tracks your sleep, only waking up to be frustrated by the imperfections the data reveals.

Ironically, we have found that this strive for sleep perfection may actually prevent you from getting the recovery you need. The purpose of sleep is to allow your brain and body time to recover from the load you took on throughout the day, not to get a certain score on your wearable device. In fact, research has shown that through our history as humans we probably woke up multiple times throughout the night. Even our sleep architecture suggests that, like most mammals, we may have woken up, hunted or gathered a little (our old way of working), and returned to another 4 or 5 hours of sleep. It's true that sleeping through the night may be a relatively recent development in sleep pattern, likely stemming from the introduction of artificial light and the design of our biphasic (sleep all night/work all day) society.

The question we often ask our clients is, “What if looking at your sleep data in the morning actually shifts your mindset to worry and you begin storytelling about how poor your sleep was?” This low performance self-talk could certainly reduce your performance and impact throughout the day. When this becomes your norm, it's important to remember to focus on what you can control when it comes to getting a good night's sleep. One great way to do this is to create an individualized sleep routine before you go to bed and to monitor the changes in your sleep data. In this way, you are reviewing the thing you can control (your sleep ritual) and using the data more as an outcome of your routine than a predictive analysis of your upcoming energy.

A "good" sleep routine helps activate your parasympathetic nervous system and allows you to go into quality deep sleep. It also begins the shutdown process for your brain so that you can reduce or eliminate ruminating thoughts (those nagging thoughts of your problems and worries that block it from turning off). This is a common need for many of our executives when it comes to getting High Performance Recovery. Sleep rituals can be highly individualized, but they all include having multiple strategies in your toolbox so that you have a variety of ways to solve the problems of restlessness, ruminating thoughts, and waking up throughout the night.

Here are a few strategies to help build your sleep ritual and focus on what you can control when it comes to getting a good night's sleep:

_Go to bed and wake up at a consistent time. Consistently going to bed at the same time on weekdays and weekends will help you synchronize your circadian rhythms, establish consistent hormonal shifts, and get higher quality sleep. Even waking up at your normal weekday time on a weekend, going to the restroom, getting a quick glass of water, and going back to sleep can work.

_Use your breathing techniques, such as 4:7:8 breathing, to help you switch off your ruminating thoughts when you are struggling to fall asleep. Inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, then exhale for a count of 8. This stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system and helps your brain focus on your breathing instead of on ruminating thoughts.

_Read for fun to help take your mind off work and as a great transition from your busy day to high-quality sleep.

_Drink a non-caffeinated tea to help your brain and body relax. Chamomile tea is a great option due to its relaxing properties.

_Dim the lights in your room/house 30 minutes before sleep. This helps your brain begin the release of melatonin and helps lower your brain frequency.

_Take a hot bath or shower to relax your body before bed. This will slightly warm your core temperature so it can naturally fall when you enter your cool bedroom. It's also a trigger to begin your natural hormonal shift into a good night of sleep.

_Listen to soothing sounds and music (we like Pzizz) to relax your brain.

_Reflect on things you did well and/or appreciate from the day. This is a great way to optimize your brain plasticity during sleep and to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system.

Recovery is a critical part of high performance and Ruling Your Impact throughout your day, and that's how you should treat it. Perfectionism can destroy progress. Focusing on what you can control by establishing a sleep routine can help overcome the pressure of getting the "perfect" night's sleep. Creating a personal sleep ritual helps you get the “best” night of sleep you can. You might be surprised at how much more prepared you feel in the morning when you are able to let go of your quest for perfection (in all areas of your life but sleep is a great place to start).

As always, we'd love to hear your thoughts.

By Patti Milligan
Tignum Director of Nutrition