We’re tired, so we sleep. But is sleep always a response to fatigue, or can we be more strategic about it? Dr. Imran Khawaja, Medical Director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center at Hennepin County Medical Center, explains why we should consider “sleeping for success.”
“We know that sleep improves cognition,” says Dr. Khawaja. “If someone is a good sleeper, he or she tends to have better alertness, thinking and concentration during the daytime. This means that they will perform better, and if they are learning something, they will understand concepts better and be able to apply them to their careers. They will have more energy to take care of things and be more efficient. All of these benefits ultimately translate into being more successful.”
There are many examples of famous people who used sleep to advance their careers and achieve major success in life. Thomas Edison, for example, did not like to sleep much and often used to boast that he didn’t need much sleep, but in fact he used to take many naps during the daytime, and he would often “sleep on a problem” and wake up with the answer. He also kept a small bed in his lab and was once found sleeping in his closet.
August Kekule, a German chemist who is famous for discovering benzene’s ring structure, claims that he received the information about benzene’s structure in a dream. He said, “I was sitting writing at my textbook but the work did not progress; my thoughts were elsewhere. I turned my chair to the fire and dozed… atoms were gamboling before my eyes. This time the smaller groups kept modestly in the background. My mental eye, rendered more acute by the repeated visions of the kind, could now distinguish larger structures of manifold confirmation: long rows, sometimes more closely fitted together all twining and twisting in snake like motion. But look! What was that? One of the snakes had seized hold of its own tail, and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes. As if by a flash of lightning I awoke; and this time also I spent the rest of the night in working out the rest of the hypothesis.”
“Our lifestyles have changed,” explains Dr. Khawaja. “We now have a 24-hour day, and we do business with the rest of the world. And with the invention of the light bulb more than a century ago, our sleep patterns changed dramatically. Today, drinking energy drinks and coffee to stay awake and productive has become the norm.”
But real productivity and success comes from adequate sleep, asserts Dr. Khawaja. He says there is no substitute for it, and it’s the key to staying alert, focused, and having sustainable energy to accomplish everyday tasks and challenges. It’s really not a new concept, he says:
“Just take an example of an infant. Ask any mother and she will tell you how important sleep is for babies. When an infant gets sleepy, he or she gets very irritable. So what happens when babies grow old and don’t sleep? They get crabby – and it shows.”
Scientists have studied the effects of sleep and sleep loss deprivation on our brains, our cognition and our performance. Good quality sleep helps with memory, attitudes and good decision-making. Sleep deprivation has even been used in wars to one’s advantage. There are numerous examples of armies letting their soldiers sleep during the daytime and attacking the sleep-deprived enemy to their advantage. General George Patton rightfully said, “Fatigue makes coward of us all.”
So what happens when we sleep? “At a very simple level, our stress response switch is turned off, helping the brain get some ‘recovery’ and when we dream, it processes and organizes information,” says Dr. Khawaja. “Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is thought to reduce affective tone of our negative memories, thus enabling us to have a more balanced perspective on events in our lives.”
One study, published in 2010, concluded that fatigue- related productivity losses were approximately $2000/year per employee in an organization.
So how do we sleep well so we can obtain the most benefit out of our sleep and be successful in our lives? Dr. Khawaja recommends the following:
- Keeping a consistent sleep/wake schedule even on the weekends
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Take a warm bath, meditate or read to make it easier to relax, but do it outside the bedroom. Limit the bed for sleeping and sex
- Create a relaxing atmosphere in the bedroom. Don’t have TV, electronics and phone in your bedroom
- Get regular exercise, but not too close to bedtime
- Avoid clock watching and if you need an alarm, turn the face of the clock backwards
- If you cannot fall asleep, get out of bed. Don’t lie in bed awake, get up and go to another room to read, relax, or listen to soft music until you feel sleepy. Do not check emails or watch television as these activities might rev you up
- Identify any barriers to good night sleep. Sleep apnea, inadequate sleep or insomnia, restless legs syndrome all compromise daytime alertness. If daytime sleepiness or fatigue is affecting functioning, it’s important to talk to your doctor and see a sleep disorders expert who can help diagnose and treat the problem.
- Avoiding stimulants and eliminate alcohol and caffeine
- Limit daytime naps
Don’t let anything get in your way of successful sleeping. Every human being needs it – and it may unlock your best potential you never even dreamed of.
“Let us learn to dream, gentlemen, then perhaps we shall find the truth… But let us beware of publishing our dreams till they have been tested by waking understanding.” – August Kekule
To schedule an appointment at the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center at HCMC, call 612.873.6963.
Listen to Dr. Khawaja talking about sleeping for success on the March 30 broadcast of Healthy Matters.