One of the hardest parts of working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic is figuring out how to keep productivity high. I did a search on barnesandnoble.com for “productivity” which resulted in 2,405 book titles. Clearly, the topic resonates with many people and has inspired the creation of dozens of time management systems. While no one system works for everyone, they all address basic elements, including task lists, timeblocking techniques, and results tracking.
As a coach, I’ve helped dozens of clients design schedules that produce results, and I’ve noticed that people tend to overlook one powerful ingredient that can make or break the effectiveness of any productivity system: sleep.
Every person’s need for sleep is different, and some may thrive with minimal sleep, but studies show that the average number of hours needed daily is between 6.5 and 8. During sleep, your brain maintains itself for optimal function. It actually shrinks about 20% while the synapses rest and the glial system removes the toxins that build up during the day. If the toxins aren’t removed, you could end up with “brain fog” — which as the name suggests is a cloud between you and your best thinking. In addition to inhibiting immediate performance, lack of sleep is a potential risk factor for long term cognitive decline and dementia.
The good news is that there is a lot you can do to get better sleep. You probably practice some good habits, like getting exercise, limiting caffeine and alcohol intake, and reducing stress. Here are three easy things you may not have heard about that can dramatically increase the quality of your sleep.
1) Manage exposure to blue light. Natural light is made of a broad spectrum of color. Blue light stimulates the brain, making it alert and active. Spending time in the sun in the morning will help you wake up and face the day. In the evening, there is more red than blue in natural light. Red light has a soporific effect on the body. In our modern society, we are bombarded with blue light from computers, TVs, smartphones and lightbulbs in the evenings, which stimulates the brain and makes it hard to fall asleep. Minimizing exposure can help — apps like f.lux that limit blue light from computer screens and red lightbulbs make the brain slow down. I wear blue blocking glasses about 2 hours before going to bed which dramatically increases the quality of my sleep.
2) Quiet your thoughts. Blocking blue light will help you fall asleep, but what about those racing thoughts that wake you up in the middle of the night? Next time you wake up at 2am with a churning mind, try this calming technique: Locate the place in your head where your thoughts are racing. For most people, it is around the eyes or in the middle of the forehead. Then, consciously move your thoughts from the front of your head to the back of your head. Think about looking at the thoughts from the base of your brain. You should notice that the thoughts go quiet. Keep the awareness in the back space for as long as possible and drop back into that place if you notice your mind racing again.
3) Have a teaspoon of raw honey before bed. Your brain uses a lot of energy at night to do the clean-up work. Some people run out of energy and wake up because their brain is asking for more fuel. Having a bit of honey right before sleep can boost the amount of energy available to the brain and prevent it from waking you up.
Good quality sleep will give you energy and stamina to boost your productivity, and help you deliver your ingenious best.