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Energy and Sleep

My current project has recently been at a critical point. We have all been very busy and I have had to focus hard and maintain a high level of productivity

Last year I stumbled across the Energy Project. I did the quiz then read the book, which explained what I have always felt (perhaps it reinforced some of my prejudices) – that the typical work day doesn’t lend itself to getting much done. In particular it drew my attention to the significance of our bodies’ natural rhythms, especially understanding the importance of the work/recovery cycle both within the day as well as the more obvious daily one.

A lot of this is either obvious really, not least the need for adequate sleep. Margaret Thatcher reputedly needed little more than four hours’ sleep per night when Prime Minister, but she was the exception. In today’s 24/7 society there are so many calls on our time, something has to give, so sleep loses out. This is especially true in a macho business culture (I don’t think it’s as bad today as it was) – I bet I’m not alone in getting emails from colleagues at midnight to prove how hard-working they are. Yet we fool ourselves. I always feel the effects of a late night or a bad night’s sleep on my productivity the next day. I doubt many of my colleagues are different.

I’ve always noticed that I have a strong body clock. I’m a morning person and I’ve never liked late nights (even as a student). I always wake up at the same time every morning regardless of what time I went to bed. In fact I never use an alarm clock; I’m always awake within a few minutes of 6:30. So I’ve never been inclined to work late into the evenings. But time runs out in the evening before I’ve finished what I had planned to do, and I sometimes used to keep going otherwise it would be next week before I could carry on with it. And I’ve also often found it difficult to switch off and get to sleep straight away when I do go to bed.

Reading the Energy Project encouraged me to pay some attention to my sleep patterns. I already knew that I needed a good seven and a half hours sleep per night, so to be sure I get it I ought to allow eight – which means in bed by 10:30. This year I have been much more rigorous about it and feel better for it. I noticed that, counter intuitively, I get to sleep more quickly when I go to bed early, rather than later. It also works best if I go to bed regularly at the same time. Both may be due to the body’s natural 90-minute ultradian rhythm – if I miss the right point in one cycle I have to wait for the next one. l

The other key thing is to allow time to wind down, by gradually relaxing both brain and body. I now try to limit computer use to before 9:30 (I tried 9:00 originally, but found that didn’t leave enough time in the evening to do anything at all, by the time dinner and family routine was out of the way). So now rather than switching off the computer and going straight to bed, I now try to relax, and also to get everything ready for breakfast and work the next day, which also helps me to get off to a quick start in the morning.

Making these small changes to my routine has made a clear difference to my energy levels, and my performance.

More

Some suggestions on how to get a good night’s sleep.

A short article on the effects of sleep deprivation.

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