"Sleep. Definitely sleep!” This was the answer my client gave, confidently, when I asked what had changed in the past 4 days.
The bare minimum: Rest as a cure to burnout and stress
4 days ago, Remi* (*name changed for privacy) was overwhelmed, stressed, and experiencing a lot of self-doubts. She’d had one of the most difficult years of her life and the previous week had been the most challenging she could remember. Most of this stress came from the pressures of being the CEO of her business Reaching out for an impromptu session with me, Remi was at a very low point. She shared with me challenges she was having making confident decisions, clearly expressing her vision, and managing conflict with significant stakeholders. In summary, she didn’t trust herself and could not see a way out.
Fast forward 4 days and during a follow-up session, Remi sounded like a totally different person. She was energised, and sounded more confident than I’d heard her sound in weeks!
“Sleep! I was previously averaging 2-3 hours of sleep per night because of all the stress. Prioritising getting more rest has been the biggest change. My mind is clearer. I am more focused. And on a scale of 1 to 10, my confidence level has shot up to an 8”.
Remi’s experience is unlikely to be a surprise to anyone who has experienced the effects that sleep can have on your stress and vice-versa. Sleep is a significant part of how we rest, and lack of sleep affects our ability to lead our lives the way we want to. When our sleep starts to significantly suffer, the effects can be huge - exhaustion, fuzziness, impaired performance, and even illness. Conversely, as Remi experienced, improving your sleep can be a remedial solution to getting back your energy, clarity, performance, and health.
But why get to that stage in the first place?
The prudent: Rest as a preventative measure
This is the bucket most of us live in. Using rest as part of our daily lives to stay on top of things. It’s part of the process of our existence. We wake-up, work, play, sleep, repeat.
“I only need 4-5 hours of sleep to function.”
“I should be able to manage on less sleep. After All, others can.”
“I have too much to do. I’ll rest over the weekend.”
High-achievers regularly face an internal conflict between ambition and self-care. After all, if you are hitting your targets and still able to function, then it must be a sign that you can and should keep going, right? If others are doing it, so should you. And the fact that you can push through the pain is surely a sign of strength and dedication, isn’t it? This is what leads many to use sleep as a preventative measure to avoid burnout. This is ok, but it is not optimal. “Need”, “should”, and “have to” are signs of survival mentality, as opposed to a thriving one. They are words that indicate a person who is living to get by, as opposed to someone who is living to excel. So the question I often ask is: What do you want?
If you want to perform, lead, and succeed to your optimal potential, that includes sleeping optimally.
Self-aware leaders and high-achievers know what they need to hit their average performance level. However, if you want to perform at your peak, consistently and systematically, try taking a more strategic approach. An approach that is used by elite athletes at the very top of their game.
The peak-performer: Rest as a critical performance strategy
Leaders and high-achievers in fast-paced, high-pressure environments are very similar to athletes - you push yourself to perform better, everyday, so that you can excel in all areas of your life - career, business, finances, health, even enjoyment!
However, the difference between the average successful athlete and truly elite athletes is that elite athletes understand the full impact of what they do to their bodies and minds on their performance. They use that knowledge to their advantage by creating strategies and introducing proven actions that enable them to hit peak performance consistently. For elite athletes, rest is not remedial. It is not seen as just a preventative measure. It is prioritised as a source of competitive advantage.
Sleep studies like those on Stanford University’s basketball team and Major League Baseball athletes show significant improvements on performance metrics such as speed and accuracy, as well as happiness. And we know that the elite athletes at the top of their game are bought in:
Venus Williams get 10 hours of sleep per night
Roger Federer sleeps 11–12 hours per night. He’s so serious about it that it’s reported that he rents two houses during Wimbledon — one for him, one for his family - to ensure he gets his much needed rest.
LeBron James sleeps for an average of 12 hours a night
Usain Bolt gets 10 hours a night
Tom Brady goes to bed as early as 8:30 pm, saying that the consistent bedtime routine allows him to be his best, both on and off the field: “I want to be the best I can be every day..”
Peak-performing business professionals do the same. Instead of seeing burnout and stress as a badge of honour, they take care of their minds and bodies so that they can hit their A-game at will. They can then be focused, alert, and truly great in every moment, in order to accelerate towards their next level of success.
"Sleep is probably the greatest legal enhancing performance drug that few athletes are abusing enough" - said Matthew Walker (Neuroscientist)”
The exceptional: Rest as a competitive advantage
None of the above is new knowledge. Athletes know this. Corporate and business leaders, like McKinsey who attract the best in the world, know this and have been telling us again, and again, and again.
Unfortunately, they (and we) don’t always follow our own advice. The same attributes that enable us to succeed is also our achilles heel, holding us back. We equate ambition, drive, and success with constant busyness. We want to serve our clients, community and people to the best of our ability and at all costs. Frankly, we sometimes believe we are superhuman and want to prove it. There is not enough time to do all that we want to to have the type of impact we want on this world. But how true is that really? If you could improve your performance significantly, would that not enable you to hit more of your goals?
Given that everyone knows this “secret” but aren’t implementing it and there is evidence that those who do implement it see significant results, what if you could get past the unconstructive voice in your head and actually implement this performance-enhancing strategy? How much of a competitive advantage would you have in your career, business, and life?
Simple measures you can put in place, today, improve your performance, through rest:
Introduce a routine that supports your optimal sleep cycle. To enjoy the type of sleep that will boost your performance, both quantity and quality matters. Shifting to your optimal quantity of sleep may be a journey, so start where you are. Try sticking to a consistent time to sleep and wake-up. Maybe aim to get to bed an hour earlier than you usually do and wake up half an hour later. For better quality sleep, focus on what helps you relax. This may be as simple as decluttering your space and creating a wind-down process that gets your body and mind conditioned for sleep. Meditation, light exercise, and no screens, and reading a physical book or magazine are all great options.
Be prepared for the inevitable push-back. It takes time to create new habits. Notice what’s really difficult and address it one step at a time. If you find you’re waking up in the middle of the night reflecting on the past or feeling anxious about what’s to come, maybe try writing down a to-do list before you sleep to get all your worries out, knowing that working through them during precious sleeping hours is not ideal and you will get back to them when you wake up. If Netflix prevents you from sticking to your early bedtime, bring out your inner high-achiever to remind you of your ultimate end-goal.
Find moments to rest throughout the day. Sleep is often the starting point, but it’s not the end. Maybe take a nap, go for a short walk, or play the piano. Love painting and don’t have time to do it anymore? Get painting. Rest is more than just sleep. And doing more of what helps you to rest will help you build the habit and therefore help you perform better.
Notice the impact of more sleep and rest on you. As with everything, measuring success is important to both achieving more and staying motivated to do so. Therefore, notice the positive impact more sleep and rest is having on you physically (energy, strength, health), mentally (focus, alertness, memory, clarity), emotionally (joy, peace), spiritually (connectedness), and socially (enjoyment). And if something isn’t working, stop it or tweak it - it’s all in your control.
OTITO Challenge: Not sure where to start?
Run a 2-week Experimental Challenge.
Pick 3 new actions that will help you improve your overall sleep and rest and measure the impact on yourself. This is a great opportunity to do it! And for all you parents and guardians with young kids, who are worried about doing all that with your family responsibilities, get the kids involved and turn it into a competition. Add on a reward for the winner and experience
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