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Hello Sleep, My Old Friend

Updated: May 17

Sleep Is Fast Becoming My Number One Health Goal

Last week I received some test results.

I’ve always hated doing badly on tests. Now, in my 50’s, things are no different.

Before you panic, I’m not sick, but still, it wasn’t great news.

Although related to performance, this was quite a different test to what you might be thinking.

It was a Sleep Test.

The actual process of testing was incredibly involved, with the overnight assessment requiring me to be hooked up to numerous electrical diodes stuck to my head and body, a heart rate monitor strapped to my chest, a tube stuck up my nose to measure my breathing and a machine connected to my finger to measure oxygen levels.

The report I received showed a mix of variables, including sleep position, sleep state (awake, light sleep, mid-level sleep or deep sleep), heart rate, oxygen saturation, periods of non-breathing (apnea) and snore levels.

My results showed that the quality of my sleep is quite poor, with regular periods of wakefulness, long periods of light sleep and low levels of deep sleep (the important part of our sleep associated with rejuvenation and repair of the brain). It showed that I moved about a lot, and indicated a fair amount of muscle twitching. I was also diagnosed with low level insomnia.

I can’t remember my last really rewarding, full night of sleep. I used to be such a good sleeper, but there’s certainly no denying, my sleep quality has declined a lot in the last year.

Part of my session with the Sleep Therapist involved investigating contributing factors, such as changes to sleep times and environment (I’ve moved in with my partner), increased stress/excitement (more about the interplay of these 2 later), interruption to my exercise regime, diet and just the general challenges of getting older.

There is absolutely no escaping that the biggest factor affecting my sleep is work and the associated responsibilities.

Does that sound familiar?

On some days, a lack of sleep leaves me feeling less alert, less productive and less motivated. On occasion (not often, thankfully) I’ve been so sleep deprived that it feels like I’m suffering from a massive hangover (without the fun of the night before).

Aside from the immediate impact on my day to day quality of life, I’m highly aware of the long term effects that poor sleep can have on my physical and mental health.

It’s reported that lack of sleep is linked to chronic physical health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, strokes and weight gain, and also contributes to mental health conditions including anxiety and depression. Regularly missing out on good sleep lowers our immunity and can negatively impact short and long term memory.

Well, aren’t they a bunch of fun facts?

I’m really aware of how much sleep is a problem for society in general, but particularly for our members, the majority of whom (like me) run a small business. Poor sleep is now one of the most negative influences on our health and wellbeing in our county. Around 40% of Australians suffer from some form of sleep condition (*1) ranging from Insomnia and Restless Leg Syndrome to Sleep Apnea.

As part of the TDC 12 Areas of Life Balance Self-Assessment form, we ask members to rate the quality of their sleep. With over 3,500 responses submitted from people around the world so far, the results don’t lie:

  • 32.2% of test participants report that they experience poor sleep quality.

  • 53.3% of participants report that their sleep quality is average.

  • Only 14.5% of participants report that their sleep quality is great.

That’s a whopping 85% of people who aren’t getting quality levels of sleep.

Initially this made me feel a bit better, and not so alone, but when I considered the collective health toll on our society, it’s absolutely frightening.

In a Blog Article on Sleep that we published in 2022, we share a lot of startling statistics around sleep; the impacts it’s having on our productivity at work, and the effects that sleep deprivation is having on our wellbeing.

One of the biggest challenges (which I know is the same for many of you) that really affects my sleep quality is my inability to leave work behind.

I’m always “on”. Work follows me home at night, and on weekends. It creeps into my time with family and friends, and can often interrupt my holidays.

It even appears in my dreams!

For small business owners, this can be exacerbated by a number of factors, from incessant emails, meetings outside work hours, phone calls at inappropriate times, to constant awareness of long lists of “To Do” items that need to be actioned.

The common perception is that it’s all linked to the “bad” stress of work, but for me, it’s much more involved than that.

Often (for me anyway) it’s connected to excitement about wonderful opportunities in my businesses. Where negative stress drives higher levels of Cortisol (the “fight or flight” hormone), excitement can release excessive levels of Dopamine. Both hormones can have adverse effects on our sleep.

I’m sure many of you can relate to the buzz you get from delivering a knockout presentation, or successfully completing a major milestone of a project, or getting a dream job proposal over the line. Sometimes that buzz can last for hours, or even days.

I’m coming to understand that “switching off” is just as much about disconnecting from the good bits of my work day, as it is about leaving behind the day’s challenges.

THE GOOD NEWS

The meeting with my Sleep Therapist wasn’t all bad news. Fortunately for me, my insomnia is treatable, and has been caught well before it’s developed into a chronic condition.

There are definitely some things I can do immediately to help move me towards a better quality of sleep.

Some of these practices aren’t new, but I really want to share them again, as the statistics indicate that, as an intelligent society, we’re not really listening to the warnings or advice that are being provided by our healthcare specialists. Our sleep continues to deteriorate and if we don’t start to make a change, the collective consequences are likely to be rather huge.

Together with Linda, my Sleep Therapist, I’ve identified the following key practices to move me toward a better night’s sleep.

PRACTICE #1: END OF DAY ROUTINE

To help me leave the office behind, Linda has recommended finishing each day by creating a list of priorities for the following day, noting any opportunities or challenges that might linger in my mind after I’ve come home. They’re the little things that pop into my head in the middle of the night, and getting them out of my head and into a list will (hopefully) help stop that happening.

The other important factor here is actually finishing work when I leave the office, not continuing to check emails throughout the course of the night. Now, sometimes we have deadlines to meet, or work events to attend, but the majority of the time, it’s just an ingrained habit that makes us pick up our phone and check our emails.

PRACTICE #2: CREATE A BEDTIME RITUAL

A ritual is a kind of ceremony, made up of a series of repeated actions that are performed as part of a predetermined order. They can be cemented in our daily routines by repeating them daily and making them as attractive and enjoyable as possible.

Linda has recommended I create a new Bedtime Ritual that focuses on limiting stimulation, and maximising relaxation.

TV is an easy way to distract myself from the noise of the day. Whilst a bit of Netflix or SBS On Demand every now and then is great, watching TV is still a stimulant and can work against our end-of-day wind down.

Even though I’m reasonably good at meditating in the morning, Linda recommends introducing a meditation practice into my evenings also. She suggested starting with a 5 - 10 minute meditation to calm my mind about half an hour before lights out.

As an avid reader, I also like to finish the day with my nose in a book for at least half an hour. Linda is more than happy for this to happen before or after the meditation, as reading actually uses a different part of the brain that doesn’t over-stimulate.

Even though it sounds simple, the ritual I'm implementing is a simple meditation followed by half an hour of reading, every night.

PRACTICE #3: REGULAR EXERCISE

I’ve always been good with setting and maintaining a regular exercise routine, but sometimes life (or work) gets in the way.

When I moved in with Brendan, I moved away from my gym of 8 years, and found it hard to find another one close by that felt like a good fit.

Linda was quite clear in stressing the importance of maintaining a regular exercise routine, even when it feels like I can’t fit it in. Deep down, we all know it, right? However, it’s great to be reminded that this is a priority that can’t be overlooked.

I’ve since found my new gym and while I’m still adjusting to the new environment, and making new gym friends, I’m back into a routine, and it’s already paying off with improvements to my sleep quality.

PRACTICE #4: LIMITING STIMULANTS

The biggest, most obvious stimulant that we all carry everywhere we go are our phones.

The facts don’t lie - our addiction to our phones is severely impacting our sleep quality. Whether it’s incessant night time scrolling, or checking emails before turning out the lights, the blue light of our phones is a known stimulant that fights against our natural circadian rhythms.

Having a screen time of 8 hours or more has been positively correlated with sleep disturbances and a decrease in the length of actual sleeping time (*2).

Linda has recommended having a cut-off of mobile device screen time of at least an hour before bed, preferably more. She also recommends switching your device to Airplane mode, and ideally installing some sort of app to manage screen time.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

After 24 years of running a design practice, I know that we can't separate our work from our health. They're inextricably intertwined.

There is absolutely no denying that the essential qualities of our work, including our creativity, efficiency and accuracy, are all immediately affected by the quality of our wellbeing.

And sleep could not be any more critical to the core of our health and wellbeing.

I've taken dramatic steps to ensure that I'm not allowing sleep to disappear from my priorities. Some might think that seeing a Sleep Therapist is a bit over the top, but I can't think of anything more important.

What about you?

Do you struggle with the quality of your sleep? Will you join me on my quest to make sleep my #1 health priority in 2024? My lovely Sleep Therapist Linda has offered to speak to our members to provide some actionable tips for maximising sleep quality.

Let me know if you'd be interested by shooting me a quick email and I'll see what I can do!

Until next week, stay well and always be kind.

Regards,

Andrew

REFERENCES

(*1) : SBS Australia “4 in 10 Australians battling sleep issues as nation’s sleep crisis grows” February 2024

(*2) : National Library of Medicine “Effects of Mobile Use on Subjective Sleep Quality” October 2024

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