The next series of blog posts has been inspired by some of my Christmas reading.
I happened to read ‘Night School’ by Richard Wiseman. Richard is the UK’s only professor of public understanding of psychology and has written a number of engaging books on various aspects of psychology. In ‘Night School’, he focuses on the mysteries of what happens when we’re asleep and why sleep is so important. His book has been the starting point for me examining the effects of sleep has on my life. It’s a free solution that requires a little time to read into it, but only after 4 weeks the impact has been noticeable; I’m training better, working better, there is less procrastination, and fewer moments of ‘I know I shouldn’t do this but…’ moments. Another influential resource has been Nick Littlehales, also known as Sports sleep coach who has worked with numerous Olympic and professional athletes such as Ronaldo.
Over the next 3 posts, we’re going to look at how sleep may be the missing element in:
- helping you stick to your goals/New Year’s resolutions
- learning a new skill
- improving your performance.
Please note: our posts are about getting you to ‘think differently’ about how your sleep could improve these areas rather than telling you how to do it. For that we’d say to check out our references, and what the professionals say, in order to work out the best solution for you because everyone is different.
1) New Year’s resolutions/Goals
Somehow, it is nearly the end of January. If your New Year’s resolutions are already looking like a distant memory (according to the BBC website only 10% of us stick to them), fear not! We’re going to suggest something that could help you stick to them or your goals and that is SLEEP!
Sleep is something that we probably don’t spend much time thinking about, yet we spend approximately a third of day doing it! Think about how much time you spend thinking about work, which is probably a similar amount of time to that which we spend asleep and then compare it with the amount we think about sleep…
It is also probably one of the first things that we reduce in order to optimise our busy lives. For example if your NY resolution or aim this year is to swim an extra time a week, how do most of us find extra time? Get up earlier and go for a swim before work? Add an extra hour in after work and go to bed later?
As seen from Richard’s book and Dr Jeremy Dean’s PsyBlog, there various affects of sleep deprivation. For the purposes of this post the interesting ones are:
- cognitive function
- re-stablishing new habits/breaking old ones
- become stressed more easily
Imagine, the impact that one of these could have on your motivation to go for a swim?
- Mood – ‘I can’t be bother’ ‘I’m tired’ , it’s dark/raining (or insert your favourite excuse here)
- Cognitive function – e.g. in a dash to leave the house ‘I’ve forgotten my swimsuit/goggles/towel/post-swim snack’,
- planning – adding in new things involves changes to planning, if you’re like me, you pack your bag the night before, packed breakfast/lunch/dinner is in the fridge, if you’re tired, you might have less effective planning, or you might not be bothered to put in the extra effort to plan (it seems a lot when you’re tired).
- Habits take over -if you’re trying to go for an extra swim a week – does the existing habit of going straight home from work win? Is the call of the sofa too strong?
Then think how they all intertwine and interact with one another…
Imagine that moment where you battle with yourself and then decide not to go for a swim, how you feel, where you are, how you justify not going to yourself…
Then add in the fact that sleep deprivation affects your will power… That’s right, it has an impact on your motivation to:
- Consistently implement your goal when other things are vying for your attention
- go for a swim/run/ gym instead of having that glass of wine/beer/G+T
- saying no to your boss to stay late/come into work early and forego your swim
- give in to the sofa
- eat that extra biscuit/chocolate/cake
So, how do you go about improving this? Richard and Sports Sleep coach get you to examine how you’re approaching sleep, from length of time asleep to the topping up night-time hours with naps (something in the UK that we are quick to dismiss – think how integral the Spanish Siesta is in their culture). There’s a great bit in Richard’s book where he discusses the benefits of naps ranging from 5 to 90 mins and how they each have their own benefit. He also talks about napping at your desk and how to justify it to your boss…They have slightly different approaches and I’d say it’s best to read about how each of them could fit in with your lifestyle.
The other good news is that exercise has been shown to help you to sleep, so if you do make it for that swim, you’ll sleep better and then perform better in everyday life too!
It’s not just sleep deprivation that may affect sticking to your goal, but what you do before going to sleep. Richard cites an study that he conducted with 400 participants comparing pre-bedtime visualisation and he found those that visualised their goal behaviour before going to bed, were more likely to dream about it and in turn, 10% more likely to achieve their goal-orientated behaviour during their waking hours too. Illustrating that sleep is also important for helping you to process and learn things that you’ve done during the day.
Hopefully this post has helped you to see how ‘thinking differently’ about your sleep could help you improve your ability to stick to your New Year’s Resolution or goal! For further reading, check out the references below:
Richard Wiseman, Night School – thought provoking book that presents different research studies into what happens when we go to sleep
Nick Littlehales, Sleepsportscoach.com – some great blog posts on how sleep boosts performance plus more info on his sleep model
Zestology podcast available on iTunes with Nick Littlehales (20th sept 2015) – Nick talks to Tony Wrighton about how his model of sleep can fit in with everyday life.
From Jeremy Dean’s PsyBlog – 10 most profound effects of sleep deprivation