Are you a "good" sleeper, able to fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, or to take a nap at a moment’s notice? As it turns out, if this describes you, it is almost certainly a sign that you are severely sleep deprived, to the point that it is adversely impacting your alertness in client meetings!
During my recent travels, I have been reading the book "Power Sleep" by Dr. James Maas, a generous gift that I received from San Rafael financial planner Kian Nobari after a comment I made about my own sleeping habits. Dr. Maas is one of the country’s leading experts on sleep and sleep research, and the book provides an excellent summary of our current understanding of sleep, its importance, and its impact in our daily lives.
The book itself was a light but fascinating read about sleep that dispels a tremendous number of common myths about sleep behavior and habits, and in the process provides a sound series of basic tips and guidance about how to ensure that you get enough sleep (and how important it is to be well rested!).
First, the book makes the point that most of us are sleep deprived. In fact, it is so common that many of the standard signs of sleep deprivation are actually things that many of us assume are normal – but they’re not! Just a few examples from the book – warning signs of sleep deprivation – include: falling asleep within five minutes of getting into bed (it should take about 15 minutes on average); needing an alarm clock to wake up at the appropriate time in the morning (if you follow the Golden Rules of Sleep, noted below, alarm clocks shouldn’t be necessary!); sleeping extra hours on weekend mornings (both a sign of sleep deprivation, and a terrible sleep habit!); feeling drowsy in boring meetings in warm rooms or after heavy meals (if you’re sleep deprived, you get drowsy in these situations, but they actually do NOT cause drowsiness themselves!). Does any of this sound like it describes you?
If so, you might consider focusing more on the four Golden Rules of Sleep prescribed by Dr. Maas. First and foremost, get an adequate amount of sleep every night – and although this amount of time does vary by the individual, for the overwhelming majority of us, it really is at least 8 hours per night. Getting less means you may be depriving yourself of sufficient sleep; again, did any of those earlier symptoms seem a little too familiar? Second, establish a regular sleep schedule – which means going to bed at the same time every night, allowing for a full 8 hours of sleep, and waking up without an alarm clock at the same time every morning (including the weekends!). Third, get continuous sleep – make sure you’re sleeping at a time, and in an environment, where you can maintain your sleep throughout the night. Because of how our sleep cycles operate, for most of us getting one continuous block of sleep is radically more effective than sleeping a few hours at a time here and there (even if the latter still adds up to 8 hours). And fourth, make up for lost sleep. When you get less than your full night’s rest, your body actually accumulates a so-called "sleep deficit" or "sleep debt" which impacts your performance and alertness – and the only way to pay back your debt in this case, is to get extra sleep to make up for it!
The research shows that the consequences of sleep deprivation are remarkably severe. It affects everything from the growth and regeneration of our body tissue, to our immune system, to memory formation and learning, and more. And a lack of sleep can also adversely affect us through the waking day – from being far less focused and capable of active listening in a client meeting, up to the risk of falling asleep while driving! Sleeping "just" 7 hours per night – and accumulating a 1 hour per night sleep debt – produces measurable declines in performance after just a few days of failure to repay the sleep debt! One study showed that people who drive after being awake for 18 hours actually perform worse than those who have a blood alcohol level above .05 (the legal limit for drunk driving in most states)!
In the meantime, if you’re feeling really exhausted before your next client meeting (or before you get behind the wheel!), at least consider closing the door to your office and taking a 20 minute power nap (Dr. Maas was the one who first coined that term). As the book reveals, napping is a terrible long-term sleeping habit to rely upon, but it’s actually a great way to temporarily restore some of your alertness before an important meeting!
To say the least, Dr. Maas makes a strong case that we underestimate how much sleep we need, and the importance of getting it. And while it may be a challenge in our lives to figure out how to get caught up on all the sleep we need, I hope you’ll at least start by getting caught up on the rules of sleep and being more educated about sleep by getting a copy of the book.