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This pandemic has done more than simply create a blanket of uncertainty. According to a study by Sleep Standards, it has also negatively affected the sleep patterns of more than 50% of Americans over the past few months. If my math is correct, that works out to a minimum of 164 million people — so it’s no wonder we’re feeling a sort of collective exhaustion.
Most of this has to do with the brain. When you spend the day thinking about COVID-19 — even if it’s only periodically — you’re asking it to process much more than usual during sleep. Add stress into the mix, and it’s near impossible to get some shut-eye. After all, stress causes the body to release cortisol, a hormone known to affect sleeping patterns.
From my personal experience, the current state of things hasn’t been conducive to sleep. It’s like you’re living in a feedback loop where increased anxiety impacts the quality of your sleep, sleep deprivation adds to your anxiety level, and you face even more sleepless nights.
The goal is to find ways to prioritize self-care, and one method that seems beneficial is something called passive recovery.
The Power of Passivity
Long story short, passive recovery is all about looking for opportunities to recharge the body without extra effort or work. If you create more time for passive recovery, it’s going to help reduce your stress load — and interestingly enough, sleep is an ideal passive recovery method.
Some experts will tell you it’s the “greatest performance-enhancing drug” that too few people use, especially in the entrepreneurial space. However, I can’t even count how many entrepreneurs have bragged about how little sleep they get at night.
You obviously can’t make stress magically disappear, nor can you change what’s happening with COVID-19. What you can do is control your response to the situation and try to put things into a better perspective. Examine how stress is affecting your body, find ways to coexist with this new state of being, and help others do the same.
If you don’t, you might as well count your business as one of the American organizations that lose a collective $411 billion annually due to sleep-deprived employees, according to researchers from Rand Corporation. At the same time, research shows that entrepreneurs who fail to prioritize sleep are actually less effective at weighing business opportunities (and more likely to make mistakes during that process).
“Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.” – Thomas Dekker
Although managing stress and making room for sleep can be difficult right now, there are some factors within your power. Here are some ways you can regain control of your sleep patterns:
1. Minimize your stress load
Sleep can become almost an afterthought when you let your itinerary take on a life of its own. Still write down tasks for a later date, of course. But with only so many hours in the day, you need to spend less time on mundane work. Otherwise, you’ll just keep yourself in that vicious cycle of borrowing an hour or two from those forty winks.
As you add each task to your schedule, determine whether it’s something that could wait until tomorrow — or the next day, for that matter. This should give you the room to prioritize sleep so it can grow into a sacred activity.
2. Reframe your perception of wakefulness
Consider an ideal 24-hour day where you’re awake 16 hours and asleep for eight: That’s a 2-to-1 wakefulness versus sleep ratio.
Let’s say you actually get seven hours of slumber, though. On the surface, that’s one less hour at bedtime. But it’s more than that: You’ve added an extra hour of burden to the wakeful brain. Your delta — or difference between two values — is no longer eight. It’s now 10, with 17 hours awake and seven hours of sleep. That extra hour being awake is actually costing you two hours of restfulness.
Now, let’s say you receive just six hours of sleep per night and spend 18 hours awake. Your wakefulness versus sleep ratio is 3-to-1. That’s 50% more stress on your body just by getting two fewer hours of sleep per night — but it’s only a 25% difference from the ideal eight-hour sleep block.
Given enough time, that’ll tap your reserves. Allow your brain the necessary hours to be idle so you can wake energized each day.
“Happiness consists of getting enough sleep. Just that, nothing more.” – Robert A. Heinlein
3. Optimize bedtime habits
If you’re not getting a good night’s sleep, the first thing to examine is your bedtime routine. I’m a strong proponent of unplugging well before bed. After all, wrapping up a two-hour call before climbing into bed simply isn’t a good recipe for a restful night. Make time to unwind instead. Likewise, put that charging station in another room so you’re not tempted to pick up your phone at night when it’s left on the bedside table.
Overall, blurring the line between spaces for work and rest can make it difficult to switch off at the end of the day and can eventually affect your circadian rhythms. Medical professionals recommend setting clear boundaries to give you a chance to wind down before bedtime.
4. Talk to others in your household
You need some level of communication around sleep with those in your household. If someone is more of a night owl but their partner needs to get up early, for example, sleeping arrangements should be negotiated. The same applies to snoring, tossing and turning, middle-of-the-night snacking, and so on.
When the plan is to prioritize sleep — and you have a sleeping partner — make sure you understand and are respectful of each other’s needs. Whenever I have my 5-year-old with me, for instance, rest is an entirely different experience.
Sleep is like the foundation of your home: Build it on a sandlot, and it’ll quickly sink. Instead, be sure to understand the context of your individual sleep situation. Examine your sleep-related behaviors holistically to find long-term solutions that support a healthy lifestyle.