Take a Leaf from the Politicians – in a Good Way

Fifth Key: Prepare to sleep

9 MinutesIn Change, Self Management

Plan for going to sleep as much as for waking up. Revel in it.

What are the chances that most of us reading this set an alarm to wake up this morning?

In comparison, how many of us set an alarm to go to sleep last night?

Why can’t we find the time to sleep anymore?

Is it because when we arrive home, we are still working, checking and responding to email, and that can go on all night?

That we can watch Netflix or Amazon, hundreds of TV channels and Catch Up and box sets, many of which are set up to “play the next episode”?

That we have the ability to buy anything from the touch of a screen, regardless that the shops have closed?

That we have social media streams and push notifications from websites? That we will still be receiving and sending messages of various types from friends and family, in the “Group Chat”?

And on top of all these activities, we have our caring and loving responsibilities, food to cook, admin, and exercise/clubs/activities of our own or others to go to and from.

Until around 20 years ago, once we arrived at home, these list of things in the previous paragraph were the only activities: work was confined to reading whatever we brought home; the only home entertainment was whatever was on a limited number of TV channels. We couldn’t buy anything in the UK much after 5.30pm…. except on “late night” Thursdays. We could only read whatever books or newspapers we had in our house. We could only phone people in their home phone to speak to them, one person at a time, or go out and meet them, but otherwise we were not in touch with anyone we couldn’t physically be with.

The big difference between today and 20 years ago is that then, there were a finite amount of things to do. Today, it is infinite. We will never have enough time to read everything we might want to read, or watch, or go to; before, we just didn’t know that all these things were available, or have the ability to access them.

Today, companies all over the world need us to stay awake so that they can make money from us. And apps and sites are programmed to help this money making: “the next episode starts in 15 seconds”; we can refresh the news feed to get “more” and “new” views and ideas; sales websites are open 24/7/365.There is no closing of the TV stations programming, prompting us to go to bed. And forgetting about other companies, the business models of many of the companies we work in rely on us generating income or activity, when we get home from work.

Sleep is not something we are generally thinking about, nor is it promoted… other than by mattress companies. We may well be thinking about how tired we are. But not necessarily about going to bed and sleeping.

Unsurprisingly, getting enough sleep – or put a different way, how not to stay on a phone or tablet late into the night – is a common theme in my exec coaching practice and in the team building workshops I run. The good news is it seems to be socially acceptable to share the problem we have with switching off and going to sleep.

The kicker is that, I guess similar to exercise and healthy eating, we know what the issues are. Doing something about them though….

if we have a job, we do not set ourselves a vague notion of the time we will wake up, with plus or minus a couple of hours… Yet, we often seem to “just see” what time we will go to sleep. And often, this time doesn’t feel in our control but is done to us.

We have discovered that the Key is to prepare to sleep in the same way we prepare to get up

For most of us, preparing to sleep means identifying two appointments for our evenings: the time we will get into bed, and the time we will turn the lights out/go to sleep. These two times can be the same, but for many of us, they wouldn’t ideally be. If we go straight to turning out the light, after the activities listed at the outset, this is likely to lead to a period of time before sleep will come. Our mind needs time to decompress.

Steps to take each week

1. Identify our ideal “lights out” time and the evenings this week we can achieve that.

2. What is the latest we want to turn the lights out this week.

Putting an official “long stop” time on yourself will help your brain make better “lights out” decisions.If you share your bed with someone, share these times with them/agree them with them, depending on your relationship.

3. Work back from there to identify our “get into bed” time.

Whether for reading or loving, we need to give ourselves the time we need between getting into bed and turning the lights out, for our brain to decompress. We all know that screens in bed (TV rather than tablets being a potential exception) will likely mean our brain will take longer to decompress and for sleep to come when the lights go out.

4. Work back from there to identify how long we have for everything else and be realistic about planning for it.

What times will we walk into our home this week? What other things are there to get done between then and getting into bed? Any screen time takes place before our “get into bed” time: how many episodes will we watch? When will we turn email and messaging off? If we want to spend time on social media or gaming, how long do we want to spend and when.

The more intentional we can be about these timings, the less we will be influenced by the brilliant manipulation and marketing of the on line world, as well as our brain’s desire to keep us doing what we have always done. Commit to the times and see how we get on. Not committing or being intentional about these timings gives our brain freedom to be influenced by the world. We give up our agency and control.

5. Ideally make space for gratitude practice or evening reflection or meditation.

This could take place before bed or in bed. It is signalling to our brain that the day is ending, that it is time to close down. It can also help to address any unconscious anxiousness about the day.

Identify the time we are going to go to bed, just as we identify the time we will get up. Plan for it. Enjoy it. Going to sleep can be something we look forward to, something we welcome. Sleep is a critical factor in deciding how much energy we will have in our battery for the next day; let’s not leave it to chance.


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