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Posted: August 25, 2011

Five tips for better sleep—and results

Here's one: Learn to sleep in a storm

Theresa M. Szczurek

"How do you sleep at night?" That was a question a venture capitalist asked the soon-to-be CEO of our previous startup. The answer, "Pretty well, until I wake up at 3 a.m. and think about work and can't fall back to sleep." Too many business leaders and others with important responsibilities on their shoulders, including me, know this scenario and start the day sleep-deprived.

The Sleep Situation

If you don't get enough sleep, you're not alone. "Forty percent of Americans (100 million people) are moderately to severely sleep-deprived! High school and college students are among the most sleep-deprived people in our population. 60 percent are sleepy during the day and 30 percent fall asleep in class at least once a week," says Dr. James B. Maas in Power Sleep.

Sleep's Impact on Your Business

In his New York Times bestseller, Brainrules, Dr. John Medina shares, "Bad things happen when we don't get any sleep. Brainrule #7: Sleep well, think well."

Medina's book has had a significant impact on me and my sleep behavior. I always burned the candle at both ends, working hard and playing hard. With more demands at work, I just reduced my sleep hours without realizing the impact it was having. As Mitch Albom, New York Times Bestselling author of Tuesdays with Morrie explains in his new book, Have a Little Faith, "There was a stretch where I could not have worked more hours in a day without eliminating sleep altogether. I piled on accomplishments. I made money. I earned accolades. And the longer I went at it, the emptier I began to feel, like pumping air faster and faster into a torn tire."

Medina summarizes, "When people become sleep-deprived, their ability to utilize the food they are consuming falls by about one-third ... you appear to accelerate parts of the aging process. Sleep loss cripples thinking. Sleep loss hurts attention, executive function, immediate memory, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning ability, general math knowledge. Sleep is rather intimately involved in learning. Some kind of offline processing is occurring at night."

Medina asks, "What if businesses and schools took the sleep needs of their employees and students seriously?" Here are a few suggestions:

SLEEP IN A STORM. Albom shares a sermon from an 82-year-old rabbi in his book, Have a Little Faith. "My friend, if we tend to the things that are important in life, if we are right with those we love and behave in line with our faith, our lives will not be curses with the aching throb of unfulfilled business. Our words will always be sincere, our embraces will be tight. We will never wallow in the agony of 'I could have, I should have.' We can sleep in a storm."

Business leaders, consider what you can do to follow this advice so you can sleep through the night regardless of the challenging storms in your work. Does it include getting the right help, delegating, setting reasonable goals, letting go of control, and believing that things will work out?

NAP. Medina states, "People vary on how much sleep they need and when they prefer to get it, but the biological drive for an afternoon nap is universal. One NASA study showed that a 26-minute nap improved a pilot's performance by more than 34 percent." Why not treat a nap similar to addressing other biological needs such as having lunch or taking a bathroom break. Rather than having employees hide their naps in their cars, companies could provide a space for and encourage a daily half-hour nap.

SLEEP ON IT. When people are allowed 12 hours to pass from being given a challenge to providing a solution, they will have more insights. If they are allowed to get eight hours of regular sleep during this period, they perform even better. When presented with a problem, give employees a chance to get a good night's rest before presenting a solution.

HAVE A FLEXIBLE WORK SCHEDULE. Medina recommends allowing employees to choose their work hours so they can experience their major productivity peak. As explained in Kenneth Thomas' book, Intrinsic Motivation, four rewards ignite internal enthusiasm - a sense of meaningfulness, choice, competency and progress. Providing people the ability to choose is important. If people find meaning in their work, have choice over what or how they work, get feedback that they are competent at this work, and see progress being made, they are more intrinsically motivated and ultimately more productive. This is good for both the individual and the organization.

MEDITATE, JOURNAL, EXERCISE, TAKE A BREAK. When you can't sleep what helps you? All work and no play, makes you and me more stressed and sleep-deprived. The week is designed with a weekend for a purpose. Are you taking a break so you can recharge? If so, you may sleep better and think better as a result.

Radish Case Study.

Okay it's true, sometimes I do not sleep as I would like during this entrepreneurial storm. One day I might be up at 2:52 a.m, the next 3:48 and the third 4:18. The best thing I can do is get up immediately, write down my thoughts, and let insights flow, rather than twis.t and turn for hours in bed. I follow journaling with a half-hour meditation session and sometimes a walk. Then I get to work on one of those issues so that I can cross something off the list. That night, I go to bed early.

The world, and especially corporate leadership, needs better sleep. I wrote this article to help me, and hopefully you, sleep in a storm and ultimately improve performance.
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Theresa M. Szczurek, Ph.D., co-founder and CEO of Radish Systems, is a serial technology entrepreneur. The story of her last start-up, which sold for more than $40 million in less than six years, is included, along with her strategies for success, in the Amazon-bestseller Pursuit of Passionate Purpose: Success Strategies for a Rewarding Personal and Business Life. http://www.RadishSystems.com, www.radishsprouts.typepad.com, and @TheresaSzczurek on twitter.

 

Theresa M. Szczurek, Ph.D., co-founder and CEO of Radish Systems, is a serial technology entrepreneur. The story of her last start-up, which sold for more than $40 million in less than six years, is included, along with her strategies for success, in the Amazon-bestseller Pursuit of Passionate Purpose: Success Strategies for a Rewarding Personal and Business Life. www.RadishSystems.com, www.radishsprouts.typepad.com and @TheresaSzczurek on twitter.

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