ToC Tips for Sleep Wellness

Introduction

When we look up at the world, it’s not difficult to see how and why sleep wellness is reputed to be at its lowest point in terms of human priorities in all of modern history. We tend to try and find so many solutions to our physical, emotional, social, spiritual and psychological ailments during our waking day, when actually, the best solutions and remedies to these ailments occur naturally at night, when we sleep.

We need to wake up to the following facts:

  • Tiredness and fatigue are the primary cause of one in five (21%) GP consultations in the UK.[1]
  • The NHS in England is spending almost £50 million each year to ensure the nation gets a good night’s sleep and insomnia is a significant problem which now affects more than one in three adults.[2] 
  • Sleep deprivation in the UK workforce costed the economy £40.2 billion in loss of productivity in 2016 and it is estimated this will steadily rise to £47 billion by 2030.[3]
  • Workers who sleep less than six hours per day report on average about a 2.4 percentage point higher productivity loss due to absenteeism or presenteeism than workers sleeping between seven to nine hours per day.[4]

With all the things we would like to fit into our day, a really good starting point ought to be our sleep – since the quantity and the quality of it greatly influences our daily activity, energy levels and productivity, which in turn affects our daily achievements.

There is a multitude of techniques, methods, hints and tips on sleep wellness online. But here are my top tips for sleep wellness (learned from experience!).

 

Sleep Environment

Your Bed: Your mattress, your pillow, your bedding, it has to be right for you! It is really important to invest a good amount of your attention and time to getting the right bed and sleeping environment for yourself. Yes, it’s easier to buy beds and mattresses online, but how do you know it’s the right firmness for you and that you will be comfortable recuperating in it every day for the next 8-12 years? During this Covid-19 period, where we are seeing many shops closing down, one of the types of shops that I’m really praying doesn’t close down are bed stores – for the simple reason, that is very difficult for people to buy the right mattress and bed for them unless they’ve tried it out.

Bedding: We can be more flexible with bedding, but I’d say the main thing to consider the material that you choose. Cotton is a natural fabric. It is breathable, wicks moisture and stays comfortably cool against skin. Polyester, on the other hand, is a synthetic fabric and does not absorb water the way cotton does. It will trap moisture and heat in hot environments, which can make for sweaty and uncomfortable nights.

Room temperature: Another critical element to a good night’s sleep. In the summer we all know how difficult it can be to sleep well. If you don’t have an air conditioner in your bedroom, then we can learn about room-cooling techniques from the Mediterraneans. Provided you do not use the bedroom for any kind of daytime work, close the curtains and blinds during the day, as well as all the windows and any doors. In the evening, as it starts to get cooler, open curtains/blinds and windows wide to let air in to cool the room.

Light & Sound: Invest in real sturdy black-out curtains. If you’re choosing windows, opt for windows that not just look great, but block sound efficiently. Sometimes blocking out light and sound needs to become a priority, and extra measures need to be taken. My next door neighbour has the most enormous dog with arguably the most enormous bark, and if there’s a fox that sets him off at 02:30 in the morning, it instantly wakes me up. And I don’t mean snoozy kinda woken up. I mean really awake. So I know that if the dog hasn’t been taken to Richmond Park for a good workout that day, I know I have to stick earplugs in the ears. So… aids such as earplugs and blackout night masks can be most helpful sometimes. Note: Make it non-negotiable to pack these two things in your travel kit!!

It took me a month to find the perfect bed, mattress and pillow for me. That’s partly down to the fact that shops such as Dreams and Bensons for Beds exist! Thank you Dreams! And the other part is the fact that I did not want to regret my decision of beds further down the line. #JustSaying

 

Nutrition

Cut down on caffeinated drinks (note: green tea has caffeine in it). If possible eliminate caffeine from your diet except for treat days and special occasions.

Don’t eat 2 hours before going to bed, with the optional exception of an organic camomile-only or organic ginseng infusion around 60 mins before bedtime. Another thing that can be considered in your diet is an organic magnolia bark supplement, which affects your HPA nervous system and has been known to regulate cortisol spikes during sleep – please do not take supplements without speaking to your GP, Nutritionist or Eastern Medicine Specialist first, especially if you are on existing medication.

 

De-Stimulation Techniques

Don’t look at a screen of any kind (including tv) at least 30 mins before bed to reduce visual stimuli. A Lumie clock is great for gradual de-stimulation of your optic nerves through the technique of light reduction. Another light-reducing technique is to focus on the flame of a single candle 5 minutes before you sleep without any other lights on, inhaling and exhaling in deeply and slowly. These techniques will help you fall asleep easier.

 

Rest-Inducing Techniques

Build into your routine (aim for fall-asleep time to be between 21:30-22:30) a relaxation ritual. Something like a self-massage (on feet, hands, neck, shoulders, arms & legs) or a 30 min hot bath will do wonders. You could soak unscented bath salts in some of the suggested essential oils in point 6 to increase the relaxing effects of bathing, preparing you for a good night’s sleep.

 

Consistent Routines

To be frank, all the above and below suggestions can be built into a consistent routine. But there is one routine that requires extra special attention: that of your wake up time. Try to wake up every morning at the same time. I know the thought of weekend lie-ins seems absolutely glorious, but the effect of a lie-in on your circadian rhythm can be brutal as you head into the weekdays. Take a nap during the day if you need to try to make up for some sleep deficit, but try to stick to the same wake up time. Irregularity in this will affect your hormone balance, which in turn effects your immunity and your metabolism. Homeostasis is greatly disturbed when sleep regularity is disturbed, which is why quality of sleep is as important as quantity of sleep.

 

Physical Exertion

Aim to ‘spend’ built-up energy caused by stress on a physically demanding activity at some point during the day. Human stress response is most naturally impacted by the secretion of cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine (although other hormones also impact stress responses) into the blood stream – and these can be regulated by exercise. Even something as simple as a 10 min hard plié workout (and example of a load-bearing, strengthening exercise) or a HIIT workout (which promotes supramaximal expenditure of energy /or anaerobic exercise) will help you re-balance, and work toward physiological homeostasis.

 

Natural Therapies & Remedies

Aromatherapy solutions work wonders! I recommend an ultrasonic diffuser or nebuliser to release the oil fragrances for up to 4 hours into your sleep without burning the properties out. If you don’t use equipment, you could blend with carrier oils and massage the mixed oil onto your skin (use only therapeutic grade essential oils for this), or dab the oils onto a tissue that you have close to your nose when you are sleeping.

Calmative Oils (C): Calms and sedates the nervous system, mind, and reduces anxiety

Soporific Oils (S): Induces sleep

Hormonal balancing Oils (H): Motivates the endocrine system or balances hormone levels.

OILS: Valerian (S/C), Lavender (all), Sweet Orange (C), Petitgrain (C), Mandarin (C), Sandalwood (C), Clary Sage (C/H), Chamomile Roman (C/H), Neroli (C), Sweet Marjoram (So), Maracuja (C – not an essential oil, but a great sedating carrier oil for massage).

Important: Please seek professional advice from an aromatherapist if you are on medication, are pregnant, have sun sensitivity or have serious underlying issues as the effects of essential oils have an impact on the effectiveness of medication and pregnancy.

 

Pre-Sleep Release Techniques

Activities that help you to recollect yourself, your feelings and your mind may help you let go of the weight/burdens of that day. Meditation / Prayer, reading and spiritual moments or activities will help you to achieve this. The practice of examination of conscience helps me to find peace, and to also learn to accept my humanity in all its wonders and imperfections.

Brain dumping for the day – get all the last vestiges of the day’s worries, struggles and pains onto paper, and then throw the paper away, symbolising that you’ve let go of the day’s burdens and anxieties, and allow yourself to be at peace with who you are that very moment you fall asleep. Alternatively, journaling allows you to store those thoughts and feelings somewhere other than your head!

 

Understand your Sleep Wellness

Monitor your sleep activity every night using a Sleep app. I’ve been using the Sleep as Android sleep cycle app for at least 7-8 years now, and it gives me a lot of helpful information that helps me to monitor my sleep wellness.

 

Sleep Retreats

Particularly if you’re close to burnout, please, just STOP! Book yourself into a hotel and make a sleep retreat for yourself. Approximately every 2 years, I book myself into a sea-view hotel room for 7 days with the intention of recuperating physically and mentally, in order that I don’t burnout! About 50% of the focus of these 7 days is my sleep. If you have an interest in the programme I set for myself, please do get in touch with me and I would be delighted to share that with you. It would make this post too bulky to include it here, and there is a lot of wellbeing practice in it that needs thorough explanation. Note: I make other retreats that focus on other dimensions like my spiritual and emotional wellbeing. My point being that I don’t try to cram too much or set too many goals into one retreat.

 

Conclusion

So I have given you some techniques, methods and concepts that work for me. I’m of course also open to any thoughts you might have on this subject too! Feel free to leave comments below. I’m always learning new things, and love to learn about sleep. But I leave you with these words from The Sleep Council & The Sleep Charity:

“While diet and exercise have their parts to play in a healthier Britain, SLEEP is the catalyst that makes diet and exercise more effective – whilst also delivering significant additional health benefits. Clinicians are already ‘prescribing’ exercise, it is now time to ‘prescribe sleep’ to the nation.

A good night’s rest is essential to a healthy lifestyle – protecting you physically and mentally as well as boosting your quality of living.” ~ The Sleep Council & The Sleep Charity

 


[1] National Hydration Council. GPs reveal UK ‘tired all the time’. https:/www.naturalhydrationcouncil.org.uk/press/gps-reveal-uk-tired-all- the-time/#footnotes1 (accessed December 2019)

[2] Daily Telegraph (2012). https:/www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/ news/9257191/Sleeping-pill-cost-to-NHS-almost-50m.html (accessed December 2019)

[3] Hafner M, Stepanek M, Taylor J, Troxel WM, Van Stolk C. (2016) Why sleep matters — the economic costs of insufficient sleep: A cross- country comparative.

[4] The Sleep Council & The Sleep Charity, 2020 Sleep Manifesto. Sleepcouncil.org.uk

Dear leader, use positive assertiveness at all times. When necessary, use ‘no’.

When I was 13 years old, I went on a retreat. At the start of the retreat, we were put into the same group and had to remain in that same group throughout. In our final group exercise, we had to come together with our group leaders. One person would be asked to leave the room so that the rest of the group could pick an animal that he or she could be compared with, and to explain why. Believe it or not, I still use this as a team-building exercise for already existing teams if I deem the individuals in the team to be mature enough to see the analogousness of it, because I appreciated what it did for my confidence and for my trust in my little group. It’s surprisingly effective! When it came time for me to be compared with an animal, I was not expecting the comparison I received! I was compared to a nightingale. The group listed many reasons for the comparison, but the one word that really stood out for me was ‘optimistic’. In some mystical way, that word has shaped my life; my beliefs, my attitudes, my behaviour. Until I first entered the corporate world, I was as liberated in my ‘yes-ness’ and optimism as I was in my creativity. And then… I learned all about risk.

About positive assertive communication and the ‘NO’

What has this story got to do with positive assertiveness or saying ‘no’? Let us first establish what they are. Assertive Communication is a style of communication in which a person stands up for and respects their own needs and wants, whilst also taking into consideration the needs and wants of others, without behaving passively or aggressively. Positive Assertive Communication is about framing your thinking in a way that inspires a movement of love in your heart – so that your ‘no’ doesn’t close you off, but opens and frees you up to something (or someone) else! When you look at all the definitions on the web for the word NO, you’ll find the key word that stands out is negative (e.g. a negative vote or decision; an act or instance of refusing or denying… etc). These acts essentially block and close up – not just the other person, but yourself as well. As a natural ‘yes’ person, I have had to learn how and more importantly when to say ‘no’. We find ‘no’ more so in the corporate sector than in the charity sector, where there is naturally more generosity and spirit to serve within the organisational culture, and desire to make a difference.

Positive assertiveness is now something that more and more people are looking to assimilate into their personal and working lives. That’s why I am launching my first positive assertiveness & boundary setting workshop on Saturday 27th June 2020 at 3pm on Zoom. It will be an interactive opportunity to explore practical ways of positive assertiveness, as well as the ‘why’ for it all. The purpose of this blog is to speak a little more about the ‘no’ in relation to leadership, and when it is necessary to use it. This is where I say: Dear leader, use positive assertiveness at all times. When necessary, use ‘no’.

When is it appropriate to use ‘no’, then?

The leadership styles (I won’t go into leadership or management styles in this blog post) in which we would most frequently see ‘no’ is in the authoritative and bureaucratic styles of leadership. The best leaders in the world know how to use all 5 styles of leadership to suit the situation and the people, and have nailed their communication styles in order to implement the best courses of action in their team. Of course, this isn’t a step-by-step formula that leaders learn. They learned this through experience and decent self-knowledge! In management training, managers identify the two most common ‘no’ styles of management in the ‘tell’ or ‘sell’ management styles. Again, the best managers in the world master all 5 styles of management to suit the situation and the stakeholders involved. So when ought the ‘no’ come into ones leadership or management? Here are 3 key moments when the invitation of positive assertiveness needs to be put aside and a ‘no’ steps up:

  1. When there is a high risk of danger or severe hurt to yourself or to others. So many people knock health and safety. But guys, it’s a no-brainer. This shouldn’t be classed as a ‘duty of care’ exercise at all. It should be built into our intrinsic nature to care for and protect each other from danger or hurt for the due reason that we are human beings. When I’m driving on the road, I seriously appreciate ‘no’ signage – because it’s a prevention and deterrent to me putting myself in danger. This ‘no’ is a crisis prevention or crisis management measure. If a leader/manager sees a catastrophe or a crisis impending (i.e. it will happen, and it’s not speculative), they will rightly start putting on the breaks. What’s important here is that the good leader/manager will brief their team, ensuring that the team are fully communicated with and feel a part of the crisis prevention.
  2. When positive assertiveness has been exhausted. I get it. Sometimes, there is only so much positive assertiveness that can be applied until a ‘no’ must kick in. Someone who has set a boundary and now needs to make sure the other person understands and respects that boundary must do so by communicating that with them. My workshop explores how to do that positively in more detail. But what happens if the recipient isn’t responding as you would like to the positive assertiveness? There are two further courses of action. The first course could be to use a slightly more aggressive assertiveness. At no stage should the assertiveness be passive. One ought always to be aware of and sensitised to their impact on the other person. To be passive assertive is to allow oneself to be indifferent to their impact on the other. This is neither caring nor emotionally intelligent! Slightly aggressive assertiveness pushes on the firmest edge of ‘firm’ and the most uncomfortable end of ‘comfort’. The second course could be to put in the strict ‘no’. Just remember two main things if this option is the last recourse to action: a) The ‘no’ must come from a place of goodwill for others and the main people involved, not from an abuse of manipulation, control and/or power, and; b) it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. It’s worth thinking how the other person would best respond before jumping into this last resort.
  3. Compliance. We touched on this briefly with health and safety in point 1. When it comes to compliance, there is no airy-fairy way of ensuring legislation is complied with, unless there is clarity on the boundary. These sets of rules are not optional. Most people will see the benefit of the rules quite naturally, but some people do like to consider themselves as ‘rule-breakers’, and get a kick out of pushing their limits. At some point, the ‘no’ kicks in here. If you are a parent, this balance is one you will already be familiar with. The only difference is that you’re not parenting a toddler, but managing/leading grown ups. Having said that, some of the best leaders and managers in the world are looked up to as ‘father-figures’ and ‘mother-figures’, and there is something very beautiful and life-giving about that.

Risk management plays a big part in the ‘no’ word or action. Good leaders and managers have superhero risk mitigation and management skills – either learned through study, experience or naturally developed whilst growing up. It is for this reason that ‘no’ can and should be used, when necessary.

What if I’m the person used to being told ‘no’, and it really gets to me?

Flip the other side of the coin… if you are the recipient of the ‘no’, then the method I use to give the other person the benefit of the doubt as to whether his/her ‘no’ was personal (on either side) or not, is to think about all the risks that the ‘no’ was preventing. Undertaking this small analysis tells you much more about the priorities of the leader and any underlying issues than most outward communication from the leader would. That is, unless your leader or manager is very open and very honest (I appreciate these leaders very much!). The reason why I brought up the ‘no’ as a personal affront or defence, is because in some cases, a manager might feel threatened in some way by their direct report, and so they develop a habit of saying ‘no’ to their direct report; even if the direct report’s suggestion or action is actually good for the team and the organisational mission. This is personal. On the other extreme, the direct report is constantly being told ‘no’ without any clear business justification. This is likely to be personal. A key example of this latter one would be racism or any other form of discrimination in a team. If any of these are you, then I recommend coaching to address those issues and to help you make the right decisions for yourself moving forward.

 


I’m Claz, a Professional Career Coach based in West London, accredited in the UK. I am also a Life & Wellbeing Coach, working with individuals as well as organisations. You can contact me through my website www.touchofclarity.com. Sign up to my first positive assertiveness & boundary-setting workshop on Saturday 27th June 2020 at 15:00 on Zoom to learn more about the fundamentals alluded to in this post.

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