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How to Get Deep Sleep and Recharge As an Innovator (And Help Your Team Get Rest Too)

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I had a month of insomnia in June and it was an awful feeling. I couldn’t sleep. What perplexed me even more was that I marked this time for rest, since I wanted to recharge after a busy season of working. What I didn’t realize was how much my body was still unconsciously anxious, stressed, and in need of  time for healing. After waking up at 3:00 a.m. feeling confused and frustrated for weeks, I channeled my frustration with sleep into curiosity – How can you get better sleep everyday and recharge when you are feeling so tired and not able to get it?

And I’m not alone. Thanks to science we’re all learning about the importance of sleep but it’s another matter to learn how to manifest that into our daily routines when we feel so overworked and tired. About 25% of U.S. adults suffer from insomnia. And with entrepreneurs, the statistics are worse. And as innovators who love being busy innovating, building and leading so many of us forget to take enough good care of ourselves and take the time to get good sleep.

“When we are well rested, it seems that our creative functions are flowing just as well as our physical and mental functions, and the same goes for the fall in creative flow when we do not get enough sleep.”

But the real bigger stress is, even if I do know why it’s important, how can I get that good sleep when I’m still waking up? That’s how I felt, which is why I started researching and wondering. What habits am I supposed to build? How can I get better at getting good sleep? It led me to creating Dreaming Abundance, our innovative music project with our partner, to help innovators get deep sleep and mindfulness. We wrote this blog to aggregate resources for other innovators who are also struggling to get deep sleep like me. Good news is you can get better at it and here are some that I found helpful. Let me know what else can help and let’s continue to help one another.

First, develop and practice sticking to an evening routine

Sticking to sleep routines, even if just for the weekend, maintains the timing of the body’s internal clock (circadian rhythms) and can help you fall asleep and wake up more easily, according to Harvard Med

Here are some scientifically proven ways to improve a sleep routine:

  1. Go to bed and wake up around the same time
  2. Reduce caffeine consumption approximately 6 hours before bedtime
  3. Reduce alcohol consumption before bed
  4. Put away smart devices — and try a non-screen wind down activity like reading (your phone screen will literally trick your body into thinking it’s still day-time and try to stay up longer!)

No matter how small it is, it’s the routine that permits your body to relax and get into a sleep routine. This is where mindfulness can help. Insomnia is essentially a state of constant activity in the mind, preventing relaxation. Mindfulness is the act of removing those mental distractions and entering a state of intentional relaxation, and can help people better prepare for sleep and reduce feelings of insomnia. Studies on people with fibromyalgia, a musculoskeletal condition often accompanied by insomnia, have found that mindfulness helps patients sleep better by managing worry, anxiety, and even feelings of anger and frustration. 

Also, mindfulness can help us be more self-aware and be mindful of how we are fully feeling. Am I feeling stressed because of an unfinished task? Am I feeling stressed because I’m not able to fall asleep? The routine can empower you to find a relaxed state of mind.

The second key then is to explore and identify what helps you find ease and feel relaxed consistently

Is it having a warm cup of water? Was it music? Was it creating the checklist? You want to be curious and cautious of understanding why certain actions and behaviors make you feel at ease and rest. 

For me, music was one way I found to be powerful to relax my mind. This is how I feel deeply in love with lo-fi music and meditation sound and got into wanting to create something also at InnovatorsBox Studios to empower other innovators too. As I found myself putting music on repeat to sooth my mind and rapid thoughts on what I thought I had to do, I liked how it empowered me to focus on where I wanted to be, here lying down and resting. And turns out science says there is a reason why I felt that way.

Lofi music is an “easy listening” genre that encompasses jazz and hip hop beats with samples of aesthetically pleasing sounds, and it’s actually proven to help many people increase focus and reduce stress. I will often listen to lofi before bed to help me achieve a more relaxed state of mind, and actually try and focus my thoughts OFF work for once. Lofi not your thing? Well there’s a lot of data that confirms that music with generally a slow beat can help people sleep, such as classical and acoustic.

Although everyone is different, you can play around with genres that make you feel at ease and relaxed. In-fact, some people even find listening to the constant noise of podcasts and audiobooks help distract them from the outside world and achieve that mindful relaxation that sends them to sleep (although science hasn’t confirmed this method yet, it’s worth a try!)

The third practice is stepping into a stronger self-awareness

Mindfulness is one of the most popular ways people use to step into rest and recharge and while I have some practice that I liked more than others I want to take a moment and expand why mindfulness and meditation is so important for us as innovators.

Meditation & Sleep

Mindfulness meditation is one of the most widely used relaxation techniques in the world, with the goal of being fully present in the moment and ultimately achieving a state of mindful relaxation. Meditation looks different for everyone. It isn’t always the “sitting cross legged chanting oms” situation. It could be laying on your back in bed, standing outside, or even while practicing yoga. Playing with different mindful meditation techniques, even for just 15-30 minutes a day, can improve your sleep dramatically. 

In a 2015 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine for example, participants were randomly assigned 6 weeks of meditation and all of them experienced improved sleep quality. 

Meditation can be a challenge because the silence can cause you to confront some uncomfortable thoughts, but with practice you can achieve quite a lot of solace in just focusing on one’s breathing.  

Meditation helps with sleep for the following reasons:

  • It increases melatonin (a sleep hormone)
  • Reduces heart rate and associated blood pressure
  • Can at times, activate the part of the brain involved in sleep and make you feel that “sleepy” feeling

At this point as leaders, another question many often ask is, how can I channel what I learn to help my team? As we mentioned above insomnia and the challenge to get good sleep has already been hard before the pandemic and with the pandemic it has become even more challenging. What can you do to support your team’s well being and help them get better sleep? Here are a few things that I learned that I want to share with you.

How Can I Support My Team in Getting Better Sleep?

First, if you’re feeling stressed as a leader, chances are your team isn’t getting much sleep either. As mentioned earlier, a sleepy team simply isn’t working at full capacity. In-fact, this is especially important if your team is working in a physical environment because lack of sleep can cause more carelessness and workplace injuries

Some other ways to help your team improve their sleep outside of educating them on the points above is to:

1. Encourage Rest and Time Off

Many companies offer paid time off, but employees are rarely encouraged to take any, so it’s your job to make them feel secure enough to do so. A survey conducted by Glassdoor showed that 61 percent of employees would rather work when feeling sick, instead of taking a sick day or time off. It’s terrible! We can destigmatize taking time off by leading by example and taking time off ourselves.

It’s important that we also mindfully think about how we react when employees take time off — sometimes we can give off the wrong message unintentionally (especially in the virtual world). Lastly, you can encourage time off easier by putting non-work talk on the table. If a person mentions that they’ll be flying cross country over the weekend, perhaps offer them a day off or a late start to give them time to rest up before they start work again.

2. Create a Culture That Values Your Team’s Time

Unfortunately we live in a time where “grind culture” is often bragged about. People brag about never taking breaks, sleeping little, and working so many jobs they can’t even think straight. It’s important that you create a culture over time that dismisses the idea that the MORE you work the more valuable you are. Instead, it’s how WELL you work and think that should be valued. Here are some things we do at InnovatorsBox to create a better team culture in terms of time:

  1. Reduce meetings to the absolutely necessary 
  2. Respect those who don’t work weekends or don’t work certain hours. As long as they get the work done on deadline and communicate well about it, we’re happy!
  3. Encourage our contractors to bring their skills that they get from other jobs to the table. 
  4. Make it clear that just because leadership replies at a certain time, doesn’t mean you have to too. We all work different hours and live in different time zones.

Volkswagen took this concept to the next level by turning off email servers at a certain time in order to prohibit people from working overtime, and found a really great increase in productivity and employee happiness as a result.

Catching More zzz’s For More Creativity

The bottom line is sleep is an essential ingredient to your happiness, health, productivity, and creativity. Many award-winning authors get their book ideas from dreams. Thought leaders like Elon Musk say he must sleep at least 6 hours a night. And we all know that feeling when we wake up and we’ve had a good night’s sleep…the sun just seems to shine brighter, doesn’t it?

About the Author

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang, Founder, and CEO of InnovatorsBox® and Author of Rethink Creativity is transforming today’s workforce through the power of creativity. She helps companies rethink culture, leadership, and team development by making creativity practical and relatable regardless of industry or job title. She has worked with clients worldwide including Fortune 500 companies, higher education, government, and nonprofits. Monica’s work has been recognized by The White House, Ashoka Changemakers, National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Prior to InnovatorsBox®, Monica was a nuclear nonproliferation policy expert. She holds an M.A. from SAIS Johns Hopkins University in Strategic Studies and International Economics and a B.A. from Boston University.

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