Week 34: Vol. 34. Strategic Disengagement

04 Sep

VOL. 34

“Sleep is the best meditation”


-- Dalai Lama

Ann Perkins, Dr. R. Christopher Barden, and Dr. Bruce H. Jackson
(3 of 3 articles designed to provide a deeper dive into the nutritional and fitness strategies of peak performers)

flow dimension shaded. physical

In addition to mastering optimal habits of nutrition and physical fitness, it is essential that we learn and maintain optimal rest, recovery and sleep patterns.

Like the other performance strategies we’ve discussed, an endless array of books, articles, and methods are available for study. However, to facilitate efficient progress we will focus on some very simple and useful principles, methods, and information that will maximize physical energy, rest, recovery, and sleep habits.

There is a HUGE difference between the amount of sleep you can survive on and the amount you need to function optimally. Just because you’re able to operate on 6 hours of sleep doesn’t mean you wouldn’t feel a lot better and get more done if you spent an extra hour or two sleeping. The best way to figure out if you’re meeting your sleep needs is to experiment with how you feel as you go about your day. If you’re logging enough hours, you’ll feel energetic and alert all day long, from the moment you wake up until your regular bedtime. If you are dragging through the day– get more sleep!

Our main goal in this article is to convince you to make sleep a priority. Just as you schedule time for work and other commitments, you should schedule enough time for sleep. Instead of cutting back on sleep in order to tackle the rest of your daily tasks, put sleep at the top of your to-do list. It is important that you EXPERIMENT and find the sleep strategies that work best for you.

Science Note: Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco discovered that some people have a gene that enables them to do well on 6 hours of sleep a night. But the gene is very rare, appearing in less than 3% of the population. For the other 97% of us, six hours doesn’t cut it.

Too many of us want to sleep as little as possible. Other tasks often seem more interesting or important than getting a few more hours of sleep. But just as exercise and nutrition are essential for optimal health, happiness, and performance, so too is sleep. The quality of your sleep directly affects the quality of your waking life, including your mental sharpness, productivity, emotional balance, creativity, physical vitality, and even your weight. No other activity delivers so many benefits with so little effort!

The Key to ending sleep difficulties and daytime fatigue is the quality of your Optimal Sleep Habits –your daily routine. Your sleep schedule, bedtime habits, and day–to–day lifestyle choices make an enormous difference in the quality of your nightly rest. The following sleep tips and information will help you optimize your nightly rest, minimize insomnia, and lay the foundation for all-day energy and peak performance.

Along with eating and breathing, sleeping is essential in our lives!”

The most frequent question: What does sleep do for us?

  • Renews energy levels
  • Repairs and updates the nervous system
  • Maximizes immune responses to fight off illnesses
  • Hormones are released to improve growth and development
  • Supports proper weight management

How much sleep do I need each night?

In today’s fast-paced society, 6 or 7 hours of sleep per night may sound pretty good. In reality, it’s a recipe for chronic sleep deprivation. While sleep requirements vary slightly from person to person, most healthy adults need between 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function at their best. Children and teens need more. Despite folk myths to the contrary, older folks continue to need 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep each night. When people have trouble sleeping this long at night, daytime naps can help fill in the gap.

Lack of Sleep is a Major Public Health Problem [1]

  • It is estimated that only 39% of Americans get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep consistently.
  • Lost productivity due to sleepiness has been estimated to cost the national economy as much as $100 billion annually.
  • 7 out of 10 Americans said they experience frequent sleep problems

Major Health Problems are Associated with a Lack of Sleep including:[2]

  • Obesity – Insufficient sleep increases the risk of unhealthy weight gain.
  • Diabetes –Insufficient sleep can reduce the body’s ability to use insulin properly thus increasing the risk of diabetes.
  • Hypertension – Interrupted or ineffective sleep habits can increase the risk of hypertension and cardiovascular problems.
  • Depression – Chronic sleep debt increases the risk of depression. Optimal sleep habits protect against a range of emotional disturbances.

How do we build Optimal Sleep Habits for maximum health and energy?

Step One: Establish a bedtime routine that includes relaxing activities.

a) The MOST important habit is to become very skilled in the use OPS/PPE relaxation/meditation habits and skills including Deep Breathing, Visualizing Pleasant Scenes, Muscle Relaxation, etc. (See, Session 11 in the PPE program). Remember that RELAXATION IS THE CONTROLLABLE GOAL – NOT SLEEPING.

b) Protect the hour prior to sleep from stressful work

c) Avoid coffee, chocolate, or other energizing substances

d) Avoid large meals so digestion and sleep are not competing against each other

e) Go to sleep and wake up at the SAME TIME every day (including weekends) if possible. Continuity counts!

Step Two: Create a quality, habitual sleep environment (dark, quiet, no jarring noise, turn off the TV, etc.).

a) Consider a Sound machine - $15-20 or a Fan- $5-20 or even Earplugs - $2-3 [3]

b) Sleep only in your bed (as opposed to the couch, floor, etc.) to develop predictable, consistent sleep habits.

Step Three: Avoid eating, drinking, behaviors that conflict with sleeping… [4]

a) Finish eating 2-3 hours before bed. It is best to avoid a heavy meal too close to bedtime. Also, spicy foods may cause heartburn, which leads to difficulty falling asleep and discomfort during the night.

b) Restrict fluids close to bedtime to prevent nighttime awakenings to go to the bathroom.

c) Exercise regularly but complete your workout at least 2-3 hours before bedtime. Exercising right before going to bed will make falling asleep more difficult. In addition to making us more alert, our body temperature rises during exercise and takes as much as 6 hours to begin to drop.

d) Avoid caffeine (coffee, cola, or chocolate) close to bedtime. Caffeine can remain in the body for 3 to 5 hours, but it can affect some people up to 12 hours later. Even if you do not think caffeine affects you, it may be disrupting and changing the quality of your sleep. Avoiding caffeine within 6-8 hours of going to bed can help improve sleep quality.

e) Quit smoking. Smoking is a dangerous and unhealthy habit. To add to all the troubles caused by smoking, it also causes sleep troubles in numerous ways. Nicotine is a stimulant, which disrupts sleep. Additionally, smokers actually experience nicotine withdrawal as the night progresses, making it hard to sleep.

What if I can’t sleep at night? [5]

a) Increase your exercise levels – if you are working out several hours a day it is very difficult to stay awake at night!

b) Get up and try to do a simple, relaxing, productive activity (e.g. reading, journaling)

c) Maintain a regular bed and wake time schedule (including weekends) to build consistent Optimal Sleep Habits.

d) Avoid negative, stressful, irrational thinking (See Session 14 in the PPE program).

Are naps helpful? How long is the recommended time for a nap? What are the best times for a nap?

a) There is a great deal of individual variability with regard to optimal napping. Experiment! Try 20-30 minute naps (optimal for many people) or 90-minute “power naps” (optimal for others). See what works best for you.

b) Try not to take a nap anytime after 3:00 p.m. or it can make it difficult to get to sleep.

c) Note that sleeping too much during the day is a sign you aren’t getting enough sleep at night. [6]

Should I use medication to help me sleep? [7]

a) Check with your physician (we offer no medical advice); if your sleep troubles are caused by a medical condition proper diagnosis and treatment is essential.

b) If your sleep difficulties are not medical, then why use medication as Optimal Sleep Habits could be far more beneficial without side effects?

c) Sleep medications can sometimes create more trouble (drug addiction, failure to focus on improving sleep habits, damage to self-image, etc) than benefit.

d) If you do take sleep meds, many experts recommend taking them for no longer than four weeks to avoid creating a drug habit.

e) Reasons to consider short-term medications for sleep disturbances:

i. If the sleep problem is so severe as to cause severe work or relationship problems.

ii. If exercise, nutrition, relaxation, meditation, and other habits are already excellent. (We have never seen such a person have sleep troubles!).

What if I sleep well but still feel tired throughout the day?

a) Get a physical from your physician. Make sure to have them assess 1) snoring and 2) sleep apnea – two common causes of poor sleep quality.

b) Take work breaks – for uplifting mental training, visualizing memories of success, walking, stretching, classical music, etc. every 90-120 minutes.

c) Drink water. When you become dehydrated one of the first symptoms is fatigue.

d) Eat every 2 ½ to 3 hours. This helps your blood sugar stay stable so you are less tired (don’t eat too much!). See PPE Session

e) Exercise regularly. At least 20-30 minutes of exercise will help you stay more alert, awake, fresh, and energetic!

Myths and Facts about Sleep [8]

  • Myth 1: Getting 1 hour less sleep per night won’t affect your daytime functioning. You may not be noticeably sleepy during the day. But even slightly less sleep can affect your ability to think properly and respond quickly, and compromise your cardiovascular health, energy balance, and ability to fight infections.
  • Myth 2: Extra sleep at night can cure you of problems linked to excessive daytime fatigue. Not only is the quantity of sleep important but also the quality of sleep. Some people sleep 8 or 9 hours a night but don’t feel well rested when they wake up because the quality of their sleep is poor or they are actually sleeping TOO MUCH. Experiment and find your own optimal levels of sleep.
  • Myth 3: You can make up for lost sleep during the week by sleeping more on the weekends. Although this sleeping pattern will help relieve part of sleep debt, it will not completely make up for the lack of sleep. Furthermore, sleeping later on the weekends can affect your sleep-wake cycle so that it is much harder to go to sleep at the right time on Sunday nights and get up early on Monday mornings.

Strategic Breaks

In addition to a consistent sleep regimen, taking strategic breaks throughout the day is also very important.

Just like a high performing athlete, your mind and body need time to recover throughout the day—not just at night. Therefore, consider taking a 5-10 minute break every 60 – 90 minutes. Strategies for this ritual include:

a) Take a short walk around the block and observe the outdoors

b) Find a quiet place and practice your deep breathing and relaxation training

c) Stay right where you are and listen to classical or soothing music

Congratulations! You have learned that fundamental rest, recovery and sleep strategies will help you increase your energy, re-establish your mindset and help you find more flow in your daily challenges.

Remember, working without breaks is not a heroic act: it is an inefficient act. Make sure to break your day up into 60-90 minute blocks and use your strategic disengagement time to relax, reflect, and renew.

[1] National Sleep Foundation 2005 Poll & Research report

[2] National Sleep Foundation, American Academy of Sleep Medicine

[3] National Sleep Foundation, American Academy of Sleep Medicine

[4] National Sleep Foundation, American Academy of Sleep Medicine

[5] National Sleep Foundation, Department of Health & Human Services

[6] Department of Health & Human Services, National Sleep Foundation

[7] National Sleep Foundation, American Academy of Sleep Medicine

[8] Your Guide to Healthy Sleep (PDF) - The National Institutes of Health


  • Make a commitment to take 5-10 minute breaks every 60-90 minutes for the next two weeks. Notice the impact of this daily ritual on your energy level and work cadence. Consider how you would integrate this practice daily for life!
  • Identify at least three ways you can enjoy a short break.
    • Take a short walk
    • Find a favorite place to sit, close your eyes, and breathe
    • Listen to a favorite song
  • Identify a specific sleep time and set a goal to achieve that time at least 80% of the time. Notice the impact of this vital behavior.
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