Have you written a plan for today? What’s top of your ‘to do’ list?
The first thing I planned this morning is what time I’m going to bed! Does that make me sound lazy? Well perhaps I am. But if someone told you that there was one thing you could put on your daily plan that would make everything else seem easier; would make you feel energised; could reduce your risk of developing cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, and might even help you to lose weight, you’d do it – right?
I’ve always been a fan of ‘to do’ lists. I’ve written one daily for many a year. In the good old days B.C. (Before Children) I could enjoy the smug satisfaction of ticking almost everything off my list most days. However, whilst becoming a working parent has brought me immeasurable joy, it’s also brought a ‘to do’ list to rival War and Peace in length.
We all have so much to do these days. Often we believe that if we could just find a few more hours in the day we could achieve that little bit more.
The truth is there are only 24 hours in each day no matter how we arrange our lives. So if we need some extra time to plough through all the tasks on our ‘to do’ list where does that time come from?
Invariably we ‘borrow’ that time from our sleeping hours. We stay up later and we wake up earlier. We relegate the very thing that should be top of the ‘to do’ list to the bottom.
The problem is – we don’t really achieve more. We may spend longer working but when we are exhausted those hours are invariably less productive. It’s easy to confuse working long with working hard.
As any competitive athlete will tell you, the best results come from a periods of intensive training interspersed by periods of rest – and the rest is just as important as the training.
Sleep deprivation has significant implications for individuals and for companies. Lack of sleep has been linked with increased risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Research has found that employees who suffer with insomnia were almost twice as likely to be absent from work over a period of 1 year than those who slept well. Compared with their well-rested peers the insomniacs were 5 almost five times as likely to report reduced productivity at work.
It has been estimated that sleep deprived workers cost the UK economy up to £40 billion per year.
As a GP, I’m used to doling out advice about sleep hygiene including all the usual chestnuts like avoiding caffeine before bedtime, having a screen time curfew, avoiding an alcoholic nightcap etc. I’m reasonably good at following my own advice on these points but the one piece of advice I’ve never been able to follow myself is to go to bed and wake up at the same time each night.
Until very recently my own bedtime was an arbitrary point reached either when I’d completed enough of my ‘to do’ list to feel justified in hitting the sack or when I was too exhausted to stand up – which ever happened earlier.
However, inspired by the publicity around World Sleep Day (today) and convinced by the compelling evidence on the importance of sleep, I made the decision a few weeks back to plan my sleep in much the same way as I plan my work schedule or my exercise. I now include bedtime as part of the day’s plan and work backwards from there.
I still don’t go to bed at the same time each day – I often work night shifts and I can’t resist the lure of the occasional ‘prosecco night’ with the girls. I have, however, used my knowledge of sleep physiology to devise a flexible sleep schedule to enable me to cope with life’s irregularities whilst still feeling alert and energised most of the time. I’ll be sharing details of this in my next blog. So far it’s working really well for me so hopefully some of it will be useful for you too.
Napoleon Hill said ‘A goal is a dream with a deadline’.
Set a deadline for those night–time dreams and you’ll wake up ready to crush your daytime goals too.