How to Improve Your Days by Improving Your Nights

I remember it like it was yesterday. There I was, tossing and turning, occasionally squinting at the alarm clock and struggling to shut off my mind. By the next morning, I’d hardly slept at all. This isn’t normal for me. Typically I’m out of bed while my alarm is still sleeping and shutting it off before it has a chance to do its job. That one important morning, however, it beat me, and I woke up to the shrill alarm. I remember switching it off and laying there for several minutes, groggier than usual.

Before I stood up, it hit me. My mind was racing, thinking of all that would unfold that day. For the past ten years, I had been building a business around my passion for the outdoors. Today was the big day that I would pass it on to a larger company.

Everything was set after months of exhaustive negotiation with the buyers and their (too detailed) attorneys. It was a complex deal, but it looked like everything was finally going to fall into place. The arrangement was great for everyone involved, even the end users—the outdoors enthusiasts who would benefit from the larger company’s better distribution.

I had a two and a half hour drive to Tulsa before the closing, which was set for 10:00 a.m. For such a climactic day, it was a pretty relaxed schedule. After a workout, shower, and a good luck kiss from wife, I set off with a (much needed) coffee for the road.

On the way, I drove with the radio off, and my mind searched through all the previous deliberations and concerns of the buyers and their attorneys. I had contemplated and re-contemplated every possible scenario looking for answers to any questions that might pop up. I knew that I was ready.

As I neared the familiar cityscape of Tulsa, my excitement grew, but suddenly I began to feel drained, as if I was coming down with a cold. The timing was terrible, but I had no choice but to tough it out in the meetings, even though I did so without much energy or focus.

Then I realized the problem. I was feeling the effects of a restless night’s sleep. All the thinking and worrying was taking its toll on me, mentally and physically. On what could be the biggest day of my career, I wasn’t on my game at all!

We’ve all been there, and we all know the effects of a sleepless night. Simply getting through the next day can be miserable, and you’re guaranteed to be less productive. At worst, a lack of sleep can cause us to fall short of work and personal expectations. Without rest, we can’t be the same leaders, parents, spouses, and friends.

Before modern medicine, doctors dismissed the problems of those who couldn’t sleep. Today, however, if a person tells their physician they often feel uncommonly tired, doctors are quick to test for sleep disorders. Waking up tired may sound like no more than an annoyance, but it can be a sign of more serious, even potentially fatal, disorders.

The consequences of restless sleep aren’t just in your head. A lack of sleep has been proven to lead to higher rates of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and depression. While you should be aware of the potential for these long term problems, you will certainly feel the short term side-effects when you wake up after a night of poor sleep. These short term effects include aching muscles, headaches, irritability, ADD/ADHD symptoms, memory loss and the general sense of not being up to par. After a sleepless night, the quality of your work will suffer, especially when it comes to problem solving, resourcefulness and creativity.

While some of your sleep issues may come from acute stress, as mine did from the sale of my business, a chronic inability to sleep may have more serious—and urgent—origins. Fortunately, there are solutions.

With over thirty years of experience in the medical supply industry, I’ve been around for a lot of innovation. One of the most interesting and rapidly growing subsections of the medical industry involves a powerful sleep aid, the CPAP machine (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure).

If you’re unfamiliar, the CPAP machine is a small air compressor connected to tubing which channels air through a mask worn while sleeping. The principle behind the technology is to open airways by forcing air through them and into the lungs.

If you have problems with restricted airways (due to genetics or being overweight), you may want to look into a CPAP machine. Heavy snoring may be a sign of obstructed airways. The vibrations of snoring cause swelling of the airways, which worsens the snoring; it can turn into a destructive, self-perpetuating cycle. If you don’t take measures against this effect, it may eventually cause apnea, when breathing actually stops for short periods.

However, most of us miss sleep or otherwise sleep poorly due to the stress of everyday life. We find ourselves contemplating all of the things we failed to accomplish that day, worrying about office politics or family obligations, stressing about the future. Instead, we should be anticipating the comfort of our cozy beds and the total relaxation and rejuvenation which accompanies a good night’s sleep.

When your mind’s racing and you can’t sleep, what’s happening—assuming you didn’t just down a 5-hour Energy drink—is hormonal response to anxiety. Stress causes our bodies to release small doses of the hormones cortisol and adrenalin that are primitive fight or flight aids.

While your body thinks it’s doing you a favor by releasing hormones to keep you up (because, for primitive men, sleeping at the wrong time meant you might get eaten by a lion), your lack of sleep makes you even more anxious. Your thoughts race faster and faster as you think about how little sleep you’ll get. With every minute, you get more stressed—and more awake. How can you break this cycle and get some much needed sleep?

There are thousands of books, medications and products on the market to help remedy sleeplessness. However, very few cut to the core of the problem’s source.

Despite what the advertisers on late night TV would have you believe, the problem is not that we have a sleeping pill deficiency. Rather, the real problem is our overactive minds, and their pursuit to solve problems which don’t even exist yet. If we don’t consciously guide our minds, they frequently come up with their own agenda of minor issues to stress over. And they have no problem working overtime to make sure this gets done.

When I was laying in bed the night before my sale, irrelevant problems popped into my mind. I worried about each minute detail of the sale. What would I do if they want to change the contract? What do I do if the whole deal falls through? Does my car have enough gas to get to Tulsa?

The cause of much of our sleeplessness—including my sleeplessness years ago—is our own thoughts. Knowing that, we can treat the source. The secret to falling asleep quickly and staying asleep is calming your mind. Close your eyes, breathe deeply and smile. Concentrate lightly on the simple pleasures in life. Slowly, let your thoughts go and begin to focus more and more on your breath. As you inhale and exhale, focus your mind on the sound, feeling, and experience of your own breath. Feel the calmness come rushing into your mind.

Even if you do have a legitimate problem worthy of concern, you know, logically, that you’re better off getting a good night’s sleep. That way, you can attack the problem tomorrow from a resourceful, creative mindset instead of an exhausted one.

When you can relax and sleep easier, you will be able to wake up earlier and make your day more productive. You’ll rise each morning with vigor and purpose. Soon, you’ll see the benefits of peaceful sleep in all corners of your life. Your productivity at work will improve and so will your relationships with family, friends, and your spouse.

The next time you’re squinting at your alarm clock in the middle of the night, tossing and turning, just remember one thing: clear your mind. Let calmness replace your worried thoughts, and you’ll wake up refreshed and ready.

[About the Author: Scott Whitlock is a serial entrepreneur and is in the process of selling another business, this time in the medical industry. A two-time attendee of the Early to Rise Mastermind events, Scott is also building an online business showing people just like you how to fall into a deep restful sleep in 11 minutes or less.