This month it has been hard to miss the plethora of articles and blogs about Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Option B; not to mention the movement on social media of people courageously sharing their stories, their pain, their grief and connecting in new ways, to re-find joy and healing. The other focus I caught earlier this month was the ten-year anniversary of Arianna Huffington’s collapse that led to her life re-direction focused on sleep and thriving.
I find both of these women’s lives, their stories, books and insights, as well as many other influencers in this space, both helpful and inspiring. I am almost addict-like in my fascination with their lives’ lessons, and tips for building resilience, for thriving. Nevertheless, I find that pursuing balance and finding peace, contentment and joy an ongoing, daily challenge. A challenge well worth taking on, after all, it’s all about the journey, not the destination. Or as Leo Babauta says, “It is a journey with no destination, that we are on, my friends.”
For me, finding joy in the ordinary moments is truly what makes it all worthwhile. But it isn’t always easy to find or to appreciate simple joys in the rush of the busy, ‘every day’ of our modern, fast-paced lives.
A lesson I have learned, more than once, more than twice, is that the foundation for finding joy, being resilient and being able to be my best and contribute in the best way I can – is sleep.
Arianna Huffington first appeared on my radar, in a real sense, five years ago. At that stage, she was already five years into her Thrive journey, but for me, I was just starting to become aware of my own sleep deprivation and the real effects it was having on my life. I was forty years old.
I collapsed at work. Unlike Arianna, there was no blood. But a stern lecture from a co-worker and finally a real recognition that physically falling onto the floor meant I had reached some critical limit, even I couldn’t continue to ignore what was happening to me. I sought professional help and learned about sleep hygiene, I got my hands on lots of resources (including Arianna’s Thrive) and found a pathway back to some semblance of normalcy, with a lot more sleep. It worked out, sort of. At least, things got a lot better.
While that was the first time I had reached that critical limit and physically collapsed, my balance seeking mania had started several years earlier when I was just 32. Sitting here, writing this now seems at once ludicrous and sad … how could an independent, intelligent and capable woman struggle to manage finding balance still, at 45 and after (at least) 13 years of being aware and focused on it?
I am not sure I have all of the answers, I do have some theories, and I have some of my own tips that have proven out for me, although, I am certainly still on my own journey of discovery. And I believe there are lots of others working to figure this out too.
In the past three weeks I have made a breakthrough. It wasn’t something I didn’t already know, nor was it complicated. But sometimes breaking the smallest of habits can be both the most difficult thing to achieve and yet, have the most amazing results.
Here is what I did – I stopped taking my phones to bed with me. Simple. Easy. You already know this, right?
We’ve all read and know that blue light (or short-wavelength enriched light) emitted from our phones, our tablets, our laptops affects our melatonin production and in turn our circadian rhythms and all of the natural restoration that happens in our bodies and brains while asleep. None of us want to increase our potential for weight gain, Alzheimer’s, brain fog or exhaustion. So why do we do it? Why do we read our phones in bed, keep them on our bedside tables, check them as soon as we wake up, or as I had started doing, checking email in the middle of the night during bouts of jetlag and insomnia.
For me, it wasn’t just the physical, I was literally responding to emails at 2am, and again at 4am. My brain wasn’t switching off at all and my sleeplessness was taking over. I spent most of February and March this year alternating between adrenaline junkie and walking zombie.
Due to various circumstances, I had slipped into a frenzied state earlier this year, sleeping about 4-5 hours per night only for about 8 weeks. Twenty-five year old me, even thirty-five year old me could probably have coped, but forty-five year old me was beginning to fray at the edges, and I was in grave danger of starting to demonstrate behaviors that I detest – and unthinkable for me given the kind of leader I practice and aspire to be.
After re-introducing discipline on several other sleep hygiene fronts, but still fighting wakefulness through out the night, I decided I needed to leave my phones downstairs at night. I couldn’t do it! How could I do that, they served as my alarm clock, and with my level of exhaustion, I couldn’t rely on waking on-time naturally. I made every excuse, fighting my own good sense. I procrastinated doing anything about it for a few more days before finally taking a leap and purchasing an $8 alarm clock online.
It arrived two days later. I didn’t open the box for another day or two. If you can believe, I then still waited one more day before plugging it in, and that first night, I still took my phones to bed as a back-up alarm clock. (Meanwhile, I was still looking at my phones and responding to emails throughout the night!)
So surprisingly enough the alarm clock worked that first morning, I was out of excuses. The next night, I left my phones downstairs in my kitchen. Reluctantly, I took my final look at email (both work and personal), did a last minute check of facebook and my words with friends games, and also made sure I didn’t have any unviewed snapchats. Dragging myself away, I went upstairs to bed. It was about 10 pm – it seemed very early to be disconnecting from the world. I went to bed and to sleep. I woke at 2am. I desperately wanted to check my phones, but told myself that was ridiculous. At 2:45am, after fretting for 45 minutes, I got up, went downstairs and checked both my personal and work email inboxes. I admit, I laughed out loud at myself, but with my curiosity satisfied, I was able to drift back to sleep once I returned to bed upstairs.
I got up to check my email in the middle of the night two more nights after that. I figured it was insane, but I also knew that satisfying that need was more likely to allow me to get back to sleep. On the fourth night, I didn’t wake up until 5am (30 minutes before my alarm). I got up early, but felt impressed to have slept through the night for the first time in a couple of months.
In the two weeks since then, I have gone from strength to strength – I am slowly weaning myself off my email and anxiety addiction. I am now sleeping a solid eight hours per night. I am calmer, more collected, and it shows! I have gotten to a place where I am heading out for my morning exercise without even looking at my phones!
I am truly amazed at what a difference this is making and to my level of calmness, not just in the morning, but throughout the day. And I suspect that I am sleeping better than I have in a long time. I am getting just as much achieved, but not in such a frenzied, anxious fashion. While I am not sure I wasn’t thinking clearly before, I do believe that I am able to think clearly for longer during the day, with a sort of increased brain-power stamina. I am also tapping into my creative side more and practicing good emotional intelligence with my work colleagues is feeling more effortless.
I have finally found the courage and discipline to start this blog, and I have been daydreaming about this for months now!
Too early to call victory perhaps, but the power of one simple change, one you know you should make, can be transformational. Get through those first few days of resistance and the breakthrough result may just well be worth it.