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One topic that is trending in the business world is how to relax and find enough calm to improve productivity and sustainability as a leader. This increased interest is not surprising: a 2019 Rand report citing the global economic impact of sleep deprivation found that the US is suffering by far the largest economic losses (up to $ 411 billion per year).
Sleep deprivation is associated with lower productivity at work, resulting in a significant loss of working days per year. Research also shows that productivity is lost due to "presenteeism" (people who show up for work but work at below average levels).
Insufficient sleep is also the most common contributor to symptoms of stress and anxiety, such as fatigue, brain fog, and mood swings. The resulting irritability creates friction in our relationships, both at work and at home, and becomes a vicious circle. As our stress levels rise, so do our cortisol levels – which puts us in fight or flight mode – and as a result, we have difficulty relaxing into a good night's sleep. In our desperation of feeling rested and not repeating the cycle again tomorrow, we often look for simple, quick solutions.
Unfortunately, the “remedies” most commonly used in our culture only continue this cycle. Here are three common nighttime points of contact, how their side effects can cause the opposite of your desired result, and some alternatives to trying to relax and sleep more deeply tonight.
Related Topics: How To Maximize Your Productivity By Focusing On Daily Activities Like Sleep
1. Sleep pills
Some prescription sleep aids, such as Ativan (Lorazepam) and Restoril (Temazepam), can cause a person to become dependent on the medication for sleep. These and others (like Ambien and Lunesta) can also cause daytime sleepiness, which defeats the main purpose of a good night's sleep.
Other prescription drugs like Xanax and Valium are also used because they cause drowsiness. The problem is that they are anti-anxiety drugs and their intended use is unrelated to sleep. These drugs can short out people in the deep, slow-wave sleep we need to repair our bodies and brains. Without enough of this sleep phase, we wake up dazed in the morning.
Added to this is the overwhelming selection of OTC (over-the-counter) options. Some are actually intended as sleep aids, while others only involve drowsiness as a side effect. Benadryl, Tylenol PM, and Nyquil fall into this category. (I was enlightened but not too surprised when I found out in my research that Nyquil addiction was a thing, and its creators developed ZzzQuil, which is marketed as a sleep aid.)
While these are generally considered safe for casual use, problems can arise when people rely on them to get adequate sleep. Similar to the anti-anxiety drugs, they also cause morning sleepiness or even the feeling of being "hungover".
Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and all over-the-counter drugs that contain it (almost every sleep aid in drugstores) can also damage alertness and short-term memory as you get older, especially with repeated or consistent use.
We all know how stressful life feels on those days when we miss our memories, our brains feel foggy, or we have trouble concentrating. It is difficult to stay on work or complete projects within a reasonable time frame. We get lagged behind and behind schedule all day. Deadlines can be missed. Instead of resolving these symptoms and their consequences, prolonged use of sleeping pills actually aggravates them.
Instead, try one of these natural alternatives: chamomile tea, passion flower tea, valerian root extract, hot cherry juice.
Do you ever pour a glass of wine, beer, or brandy to relax and sleep enough at night? If so, you are not alone: approximately 20% of American adults do this. It is considered by most to be an effective, low risk solution.
Alcohol consumption leads to relaxation and drowsiness in most people, but as the night progresses, our overall quantity and quality of sleep are disrupted. If you've ever woken up at 3 a.m. after an evening of cocktails and had trouble drifting, you've had an alcohol-related sleep disorder. The calming effect of alcohol naturally wears off after a few hours, which leads to the so-called "metabolic rebound effect" and directly interrupts the restorative sleep cycles.
According to a study by Nature of Science & Sleep, the numerous consequences of sleep disorders include increased stress reactivity, somatic pain, reduced quality of life, emotional stress and mood disorders as well as cognitive, memory and performance deficits.
If you're looking for a non-alcoholic stress reliever that will help you feel really well cared for and support your restful sleep, try a hot mineral salt bath. Epsom salt baths are the body's most effective way of absorbing magnesium – through the skin. Magnesium is an essential mineral that instantly and directly releases tense muscles and soothes frayed nerves. Aromatherapy enhances this calm effect. Sprinkle in a few drops of lavender or sage essential oils, or add a scent that feels soothing to you.
If enjoying a special evening drink is a treat you don't want to give up, then don't! You can replace your nightcap with one of the sleep inducing teas mentioned above or even one of the popular alcohol-free botanical cocktails on the market. In addition to the calming ritual of relaxing with a drink, some of them even offer additional stress relief benefits through adaptogens and nootropics (put simply: natural brain enhancers and pacifiers of the nervous system).
See Also: 18 Science-Driven Sleep Tips That Will Make You More Productive (Infographic)
3. Screen time (TV, social media scrolling, etc.)
This is one of the most common nightly rituals my clients use when they come to see me. In fact, 90% of Americans regularly use some type of electronics within an hour of bedtime. Whether you choose to participate in this activity on purpose because you really believe it will help you relax, or whether it just becomes an autopilot habit, the hard truth is that this practice will harm your relaxation more than it will aid.
First of all, blue light from any type of screen suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone that affects the circadian rhythm and induces sleepiness. This is especially dangerous in the hour or two before we say goodnight. One study showed that people exposed to blue light by reading on a screen before bed took longer to fall asleep, had less REM sleep (the dream phase), and had more alertness before bed. It was also found that those who read on a light-emitting device felt more sleepy and took longer to wake up, even after eight hours of sleep.
Second, watching TV or filming high-intensity action, drama, or violence can trigger emotional or visceral feelings that trigger our natural stress or fear responses. Social media exposure or pre-bed engagement can do the same thing, and none of that adds to real relaxation in the moment, no matter how pointless and relaxing it may be. Even if we are able to calm our pounding hearts and racing minds enough to finally fall asleep, the quality of our rest can suffer.
A screen-free relaxation method that is sure to help you turn into a peaceful sleep will take some time to write on a gratitude journal. If you purposely focus on what went well today, you will develop a positive attitude that will inspire mental bliss before bed and carry over to the next morning.
You can also try restorative yoga poses to shut down your nervous system at night. (They are very effective for relieving stress and tension even during the work day).
Related: 3 Surprising Productivity Benefits Of A Consistent Night Routine
As leaders, it's our responsibility to set an example, and as entrepreneurs, it's especially important that we take care of ourselves. Ultimately, it's important to pay attention to what we've done, which just doesn't work in both business and personal life. Sometimes “the way it's always done” is not a productive or effective approach.
Self-awareness is power, and once we recognize the ruts we've gotten into, it's much easier to embark on a new path to the relaxation and rest we deserve.