One day I received an email from a young woman who worked in corporate investment research (let's call her Chloe). The message read like this:
I have trouble sleeping and I feel like this has a huge impact on my productivity and motivation. I cannot even think right now because I am so exhausted. I have no idea what to do. I have tried so many things and the one thing that works consistently is sleep aids. I don't want to take them every night but the nights that I do not take them, I usually do not sleep the entire night. This has been going on for years.
So I reached out to Chloe and she agreed to speak with me on the phone to offer her some tips that evening after work. Unfortunately, we never made it that far because every time I called Chloe at our appointed time, she was still in the office catching up on work. Every call she would ask to reschedule one hour later, at which when I called, she would reschedule for the next hour again. This happened three times and even though I offered to reschedule for another day, she would defer and ask for "just one more hour."
Part of me wants to say maybe that one night Chloe really was busy, but part me believes that working late is normal for her. Now there could be many reasons why she struggles with sleep, but I'm willing to bet that working late is a contributing factor because I see how it affects many of my clients as well. So if you are struggling with getting a good night's sleep, here are some tips to help you do just that!
Prioritize "de-compress time"
This is actually the most important step. Make a conscious decision to really value your time to relax and unwind. If you skip this step, it will be very difficult to move forward. Because face it: have you ever have a good night's rest when your mind is still racing about things that need to be done at work? When you're at work, your energy is focused on accomplishing. When you're sleeping, you're in a state of being. So, preparing for sleep happens in the hours between leaving work and your head hitting the pillow. Your body and your mind need time to feel present. So make sure you leave work on time or have a defined leave time that gives you a few hours to decompress at home so that you don't have a working mindset in bed.
Treat your bedroom like a sacred space for sleep
Part of the trouble with falling asleep is when one associates the bed with work. When you regularly engage in work-like activities on your bed, the urge to reach for a computer when you're on the bed can be strong. Just like how you wouldn't eat while sitting on the toilet, try not to work on your bed.
Avoid eating at least three hours before bed
Sleep is also a time for your body to detox and reset. Whenever you eat, you're waking up your digestive system which clashes with the wind-down energy that comes with sleep and makes your body work overtime. It's like trying to exercise while eating -- the benefits of burning fuel and storing it cancel each other out. So make sure that when you eat, it's at a time that allows your body to digest it properly before you turn in to bed. This way, your mind and your body are in full rest mode.
Have a bedtime ritual
When we have a ritual that we associate with getting ready for bed, we're more likely to be ready for sleep. So pick an optimal time to designate as your bedtime and set an alarm for 45 minutes prior. Establish what "trigger actions" you're going to automatically do when your alarm goes off to prime you for bed. A trigger action could be brushing your teeth, taking a shower, or packing your gym bag to workout the next day. You can even do some light stretches, some calm breathing exercises or have a small hot cup of chamomile tea. By having a trigger action set, you're building the habit of putting your mind at ease and ready for bed.
Between making a conscious effort to separate your work life from home, not working on your bed, and being mindful of your activities before bed, over time you'll train your body to be sleep ready.
For those of you who have had chronic trouble sleeping, you may want to look into cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for insomnia. A friend of mine tried dozens of remedies for over 15 years with no success until he diligently followed a CBT treatment. His improvement was dramatic. You can start with this book recommended to him by a specialist in CBT for insomnia, if you are interested: Say Good Night to Insomnia: The Six-Week, Drug-Free Program Developed At Harvard Medical School.
Catherine Chen, Ph.D., is a Health Coach who supports high-octane women to achieve with ease. Prior launching her wellness practice, she worked in the management consulting industry and at one of the leading cancer research biotechnology companies. If you enjoyed this article, sign-up to get work-life balance tips from her at www.catherinechenwellness.com