Character Creates Opportunity® – Sleep: Thursday, May 29, 2014

There is no getting around the fact that our world continues to grow in complexity and intensity.  Even though there are incredible statistics on the human brain’s ability to process information (billions of bits of information per second), we still find ourselves barely keeping our heads above a sea of information, moving rapidly through extremes of emotion, and enduring a level of stress as individuals and society that seems to exceed our systems to manage it.

One often downplayed coping mechanism in this age of coffee shops on every corner, super-charged soft-drinks, and shot-glass sized energy drinks that seem trendy to guzzle, is our simple need for sleep.  Whether it is the hyper-caffeinated world we live in or the superhero image we strive for, we still cannot escape our need for sleep.

Many of us have experienced a series of all-nighters for major work projects, year-end exams in college, young children at home, and the occasional out of control social function.  There are times in our lives when short burst of little or no sleep can be muscled through, but the sustainability of a less than optimal amount of sleep can bring about a number of significant health and relationship problems.

The superhero image of doing everything and not taking the time to sleep will eventually hinder us from reaching our full potential.  Charles A. Czeisler, the Baldino Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, once described sleep deficit as the “performance killer.”  His research indicates that sleep deprivation hinders performance in a number of ways.

With an abundance of research demonstrating the importance of sleep, there is an opportunity to build and strengthen our character as we effectively respond to our need for sleep.  As we look at being intentional about getting an adequate amount of sleep, there are two additional insights to share:

(1) “Veg’ing out” or “chillin’ out” or whatever generational term you may use for spending a little too much time watching TV, surfing the internet, or clicking through numerous social media sites, has been proven to not offset the need for an adequate amount of sleep.  Most research suggests that these types of activities do little to create the true rest that only sleep can provide.  In addition, a more practical and honest assessment of our habits on these activities would probably conclude that these activities most likely keep us from doing the harder work of building relationships, creating the capacity to think, and completing that much needed project.

(2) Playing catch up by sleeping longer on weekends does meet our bodies need for a more consistent pattern of sleep.  Cramming may have work during school, but research shows that it won’t work for sleep just like cramming won’t work to reap an abundant harvest on a farm.  We need a consistent approach, delivered over time to get adequate sleep and to reap an abundant harvest.

Most of the studies done on sleep would describe an adequate amount of sleep to be in the range of 7-8 hours per day.  There maybe a few on the fringes of that average, but for most healthy adults, 7-8 hours is the optimal amount.  Our process to ensure adequate sleep is no different than the process to develop any other worthy habit. We need to (a) set clear goals (b) develop a simple plan (c) eliminate as many potential barriers as possible and (d) exercise some discipline to muscle through the painful beginning until the “feel good” outcome of the habit locks into our brain and we could not imagine going back to the state of our sleep deprived past.

With something as unique and personal as an individual’s sleep schedule, I do not want to put forth too much of a road map.  My intent with this blog is to pass along a reminder of the importance, a few hints to get started, and a little encouragement to make it a priority otherwise we will fall short of our potential.

As for the hints to get started, determine a wake-up time that works for your schedule and then do the simple math to get the rest of the plan together.  Establishing a consistent time to wake-up is one of the keys to a solid sleep plan.  In addition, eliminate or set up some serious barriers to our chosen “veg’ing out” method in the evening as that will help us shut down in a timely manner to make the math work on hours of sleep.

As for encouragement, research clearly indicates that our overall health, emotional state, and performance is significantly improved when we get an adequate amount of sleep.  When we exercise the discipline to get enough sleep, we will build and strengthen our character through prioritizing what is important, but not necessarily urgent and Character Creates Opportunity® to set a great example for those around us.  Those closest to us will see us healthy with the right amount of sleep and our example will be contagious.

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