Need Some Sleep?
It goes without saying that being a busy and successful entrepreneur requires having a lot of different strategies in place. Among some of the most important are arguably strategies for marketing, selling and self care.
Many entrepreneurs neglect their sleep in favour of staying up late or trying to join the ‘5am club’ to get more done – procrastinating on their sleep needs. Or they are so stressed out by trying to build their audience, flat sales and up and down income that they can’t get good sleep when they actually want it.
Having some sound evidence based strategies for sleep can support the rest of your self care and help you have a thriving business that you love to work in.
The research – and loads of our own personal experience – shows us that good sleep helps support concentration on the finer details, as well as helps us to be more creative and to think laterally about solutions to our business and personal challenges.
Without it, we miss things – we mess up – and we can fall flat emotionally and mentally as we try to navigate the challenges being an entrepreneur brings us. To help support improved sleep, try out these three strategies for improving your sleep.
“Stop Trying And Let Sleep Look After Itself” – Tracy Hannigan
In this article I’m going to talk you through 3 strategies for sleep and how to overcome insomnia naturally.
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1. Setting Boundaries Helps Sleep
Entrepreneurs are almost by definition people with a lot going on in their heads, and it’s very likely you are the same. Especially in recent times when many people are working from home, the boundaries between ‘work time’, ‘play time’ and ‘adulting time’ have become very blurred.
You know how it is….you say you are going to ‘practice self care’ or ‘take a break’ – you grab your glass of wine or tea – and you head to the bubble filled bathtub. All good so far.
Then you get out after an hour, having done some business networking on LinkedIn or chatting in the DMs with potential clients or ‘doing engagement’ on Instagram to try to swing the algorithm.
Or you sit up in bed late, grabbing a few minutes to check emails…and an hour later you are still there.
Having boundaries around work time and work related thinking can be critical to getting good sleep!
Some tips to sleep well:
- Brain dump any projects/ideas and todos that are rattling around in your head before dinnertime (and ideally shut your laptop for the night afterward). Putting them on paper (or typing them out) externalises them and helps start to calm your mind and make the shift toward ‘non work time’ easier. Even better, time block your non-client time to deal with these, even if it means reaching forward into the future and scheduling backwards. Look at it like ‘launching’!
- Delegate your worries. If you find you are worrying about something, decide then and there if it is something you can do something about. If you can – write down what you’re going to do/who you’re going to speak to to find out what to do. If you can’t do something about it, write it down on a different piece of paper to get it out of your head – and then sit down for 15 minutes in the afternoon and dedicate this time to worrying about it. It might sound silly but it’s very powerful. First you get the worry out and more tangible by writing it down. Next, you are starting to train your brain that the thoughts that are whirling around in your head don’t need to drive your day – you can still acknowledge them, work on the issues – but at a better time. Build that mental muscle!
- Create physical and mental connections that signal the end of your working day. For example, getting into the habit of choosing a time when you close the laptop can be a ‘cue’ that the workday is over, even if it’s sitting on the kitchen table. You can do the same with your phone. An hour or two before bedtime, flip it over and put it on charge in a different room to signal it’s time to be done with socials for the day.
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2. If you have trouble sleeping, spend less time in bed
Sounds bonkers, right? Usually if people don’t sleep well for some reason, they spend MORE time in bed. You know. Just in case they might fall to sleep again. Catch a few extra winks. Been there too, right?
The reality of this is that we ALL will have things in life that will mess with our sleep. Stressful things – like taxes and divorces. Exciting things – like new relationships or new adventures. It’s a natural and normal response to stressful situations to not sleep so well.
The problem comes when we begin to fear that lack of sleep and start to respond to it in a way that creates a vicious circle of sleeplessness – which can end in insomnia, a self perpetuating sleep problem. When we fear lack of sleep and ‘stay in bed to catch extra minutes’, we are weakening our sleep drive by being inactive for longer periods of the day. We are also beginning the dangerous trend of associating our bed with wakefulness (rather than sleep) and with ‘trying hard’ to force sleep to happen.
Sound mad? Well they can induce insomnia experimentally in completely healthy sleepers by asking them to stay in bed for hours more than they are actually sleeping. It then creates problems with falling asleep and staying asleep and turns formerly good sleepers into broken sleepers. And when we strategically remove parts of this awake time, we see healthy sleep restored.
So how does this get reversed? And how do they reverse it in these experiments?
There is a methodological way to do this with a sleep therapist, but here are the basics to get you started:
- Set a fixed time to get up in the morning, no matter how much or how little sleep you’ve gotten.
- THEN – don’t stay in bed if you’re not sleeping. That means if you’re not falling asleep within a reasonable time, go to bed later (still getting up at the same time).
- Or if you wake up early, don’t toss and turn hoping for a few extra minutes. Those two extra minutes of light sleep are a poor investment compared to laying in bed awake for 58 more minutes. Get up and start building sleep pressure by being active and awake for more of the day.
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3. Awake in the night? Frustrated? Get up and do something!
You can’t force sleep to happen. It’s one of the counterintuitive things in life. In all other areas of life, the harder you try the more likely you are to achieve your goals. But – the harder you try to get back to sleep, the more that ‘trying energy’ will get in the way of sleep.
How is that? Well, you are ‘trying to sleep’ because you are fearing not being asleep, usually because of what you think will happen if you don’t get a few more zzzz. That tells your ‘safety brain’ that the situation is a harmful one, which raises your alert level and arousal. (We like this safety brain because it keeps us safe when the bears are chasing us….but it’s not so useful in this situation).
If you lay awake for two hours in the night ‘trying to sleep’, you’re creating an association with your bed that is one of wakefulness (see the previous tip!) AND you are slowly changing your relationship with your bed to one of ‘sometimes I sleep here, but more and more this is the place where I am worried about XYZ, ABC and sleep too…’.
This breaks our previous unconscious healthy relationship with our bed. We never created it consciously but it was there – we’d get sleepy, and go to sleep in bed. Repeat that for years and our bed is a cue for sleep. Laying in bed awake and worried transforms the bed into a scene of struggle, striving, dissatisfaction, and worrying about sleep. This generates a lot of psychological and physical ‘arousal’ and ‘danger energy’. Sometimes people’s arousal gets so ‘conditioned’ to the bed that they fear going to sleep – or they ‘wake up’ and begin having whirling thoughts as soon as their head hits the pillow.
To avoid this happening to you, try these tips for sleeping:
- Instead of laying in bed hoping sleep will come, if you haven’t fallen back to sleep for a while after your trip to the loo, get out of bed. This helps you start the process of retraining your body and mind: being awake is for someplace else.
- Do something relaxing and enjoyable! This is an investment in YOU and your future sleep, not a punishment! Don’t focus on ‘avoiding excitement and fun’ because you are ‘afraid to wake up more’. That turns it into a negative. (And the flip side of being a bit more awake one night is INCREASED SLEEP DRIVE the next night!).
- When you get sleepy again, head back to the bed. This is part of retraining the ‘bed/sleep’ association: awake is for elsewhere, and the bed is for sleepy feelings.
- If you’ve had issues with nighttime wakings for a while, you may not fall back to sleep immediately because you are wired for wakefulness in bed. But over time this is one of the most evidence based behavioural sleep medicine approaches, even all on it’s own.
Sleeping issues are very common with entrepreneurs, in part because of the juggling we all do to run our business – and in part because we have busy and creative brains.
Setting boundaries is one of the best sets of strategies for supporting good sleep. Some of this relates to creating better boundaries around our work and learning how to prevent our busy brains from disrupting our sleep, and some of it is creating boundaries around our bed so that we can support healthy associations with the place we sleep in.
These three core strategies for sleep help form the foundation of cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia, the most evidence based approach for reversing insomnia according to all the major medical and sleep associations. They can be put into place even in healthy sleepers during times of stress and excitement, to help prevent the slippery slope of longer term sleeplessness from setting in.
Tracy Hannigan is a qualified sleep therapist who runs courses and bespoke one to one coaching sessions for adults with insomnia around the world.
You can find her at https://tracythesleepcoach.co.uk