The Single Most Important Action You Can Take to Increase Resilience and Performance

ResilienceI recently attended a teleclass presented by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) on resilience and brain science. They talked about stress as being the health epidemic of this century and many of the negative effects of stress on our brains and performance. On the up-side, they shared that we can be trained to change our brains and learn to become more resilient through brain practices. They also provided information on several resilience behaviors to help counteract the negative effects of stress, which I teach in my “Conquer Stress” workshop. However, they focused on one behavior that I haven’t emphasized nearly enough in my workshop that research has shown to be the single most important factor in increasing resilience, performance and overall health – sleep.

Most of us need 7-8 hours of sleep to perform at our best; some need more and some need less. Most of us are not getting the amount of sleep that we require each night due to stress, exposure to “screen time” too close to bedtime, and mental rumination. Sleep deprivation negatively affects our concentration, reaction time, memory, motivation, decision-making, creativity and emotional regulation. One way to get more sleep is a concept CCL presented as “smart sleep” – getting just 20 more minutes of sleep. This can be by getting to sleep 10 minutes earlier and sleeping 10 minutes later, or by taking short naps in the afternoon (even 10-12 minutes of quiet time is beneficial). If we got 20 more minutes of sleep just 3 times per week, that would equal an additional 52 hours of sleep a year.

Here are some tips for better sleep:

  • Drink earlier – drink an hour earlier; stop drinking all fluids, especially alcohol, at least 2 hours before going to bed. Alcohol is the #1 sleep aid. It helps you fall asleep, but negatively impacts the quality of your sleep.
  • Eat earlier. Stop eating at least an hour before going to bed.
  • Institute bedtime rituals – start winding down an hour before going to sleep by taking a bath, reading a book, or doing some meditation/relaxation exercises. Our brains like consistency and predictability.
  • Turn off electronic devices (phones, PCs, tablets, TVs, etc.) an hour before going to sleep.
  • Lavender contributes to sleep. Here are 50 ways to use lavender.
  • Dim the lights in your house 2-3 hours before going to bed. Make your bedroom as dark as possible by covering up displays (clocks) or wear a mask to bed. The lights tell your brain that it’s time to wake up which prohibits restful sleep.
  • Don’t consume caffeine after noon.
  • Exercise at least 3-4 hours before going to bed.
  • Use a fan, white noise machine, or ear plugs to drown out noise.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Keep your children and pets out of your bed.
  • Use caution with sleeping pills. They can prevent sound sleep, become habit-forming, and cause other side effects.
  • See your doctor for causes of sleeplessness lasting more than a month such medical conditions or medications.

For more tips on stress reduction, please see my newsletters on Worry: a Useless and Deadly Emotion, Doing Too Much, Feeling Out of Control, Why Stress Makes Us Stupid, and the Ultimate Stress Buster.

 For every hour of sleep we lose, we are also losing an IQ point, and those points can only be replenished through sleep. – Stanley Coren, University of British Columbia

 “Whether you realize it or not, how you sleep each night probably has a bigger impact on your life than what you decide to eat, how much money you make, or where you live.” – David K. Randall, Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep

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