I discovered at age 37 what I actually do for a living. I help people sleep better by educating them on how to be awake. Everyone knows they are supposed to get eight hours of sleep a night. You have likely been told by your parents, caregivers, doctors, teachers, and probably now your employer the looming effects of not getting a good night’s sleep. For most, it is the fear and anxiety that comes from knowing that you will wake up depleted and unable to function at your best the next day. The truth is they are absolutely correct, but the irony is that most everyone who insists you get those zzz’s can’t tell you how. You could be like the thousands of others who lay your head on your pillow and close your eyes, but between waking up throughout the night, tossing and turning, or simply not being able to fall asleep, those 8 hours aren’t creating the rejuvenation that sleep should offer. With our world caught in an ever-increasing distress cycle, it's time to figure out how we all can achieve those effective hours of rest and renewal.
We need to understand wakefulness impacts our chances of getting a good night’s sleep. It begins the moment you wake up, not when your head hits the pillow. You wake up feeling like you are already out of time. You reach for your cell phone and are alerted to today’s schedule. Bombarded with emails, you immediately jump on the sprint-paced treadmill to ensure that you can simply “keep up” with your daily demands. Alongside your desperate attempt to make coffee somewhere in there, you race through your day tackling your “to do’s” and then expect to jump off, be still and sleep for eight restful hours. Easy enough, right?
We know we live in a fast-paced world, but have you even stopped to consider the hidden influences that impact your hectic day? If you are like most, you walk around in a trance packed with last week’s conversations, this week’s “to-dos”, today's responsibilities, tomorrow's fears, and a lifetime of thinking things should be different. You subconsciously carry old news in the present moment. You blindly cycle through thousands of thoughts, emotions, and physical feelings on any given day. When it’s time to take the daily off-ramp, you expect to slow down from 60 miles an hour to a “chill zero,” but you are still bombarded with the cumulative effects of these past exposures. Somehow, we believe we can do this, and yet if I told you to give a child a pint of ice cream and then put him down for a nap, you would laugh in my face and say -“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
How does one wake up refreshed for a new day, when they never actually experienced rest? And better yet, how exactly do you get those effective 8 hours of sleep?
I focus on helping people reduce their stress by befriending their stress in the corporate setting. Stress is a part of life and so rather than call it "bad" or try to get rid of it, I help people shift their perspective. The effects of stress are cumulative, which means when you wake up today with yesterday’s baggage, you contribute to your very own stress cycle. When you go throughout your day unaware of the day’s impact on your nervous system, the good stress that helps get you up in the morning, be productive during the day, and be alert to important matters quickly turns into distress where one feels fatigued, sick, depleted, short tempered, irritable, etc. We must first learn how to wake up, become conscious, and get clear on how we are showing up to our day.
For one day, notice your patterns. Notice what side of the bed you wake up on, what you do first, when your body tenses, your stomach tightens, when you feel at ease, which people lift you up, which environments bring you down. At this point, there is no need to change it or fix it, all I am asking you to do is to start waking up to your life through mindful awareness.
Second, notice how often you try to control, fix, or change the conditions of your day. This is a big one for us. We just want things to be “perfect” and yet the more we resist, the more they persist. After years of working in this industry, I have realized that when you actually embrace the “chaos” you call life, you free yourself from the chronic cycle of willing things to be different. Pushing against your conditions only leads to more stress. I applaud you for wanting to participate 100%, but I am encouraging you to work smarter not harder.
Let’s reframe your stress cycle by trying something. Step into your day and consciously observe yourself a few times in the morning. When you notice trying to control a situation, let your shoulders relax from your ears and say, “I don’t need to try so hard.”
In your afternoon, commit to a sincere pause. Remember to step off the treadmill, slow down, and know you will still get everything done.
For your evening, before getting home, acknowledge your whole day- all the interactions, conversations, communications, and everything in between. Then, “drop the load”. Let it wash off of you. There are some things you definitely don’t need to carry with you tomorrow. Weed through the unnecessary lingering moments of the day and go enjoy your night.
We are complex beings and our minds love to trick us into thinking the solutions to our problems are harder than they are, that if we slow down or ease up we are “missing something.” When your mind questions these simple concepts, just trust the process and see for yourself. Give it a try. You’ve got this.