7 Ways to Cheat 8 Hours of Sleep
As the Founder and CEO of a brand new mental health and wellness company, one of the biggest challenges I face is balancing what I know, the principles I strive to live my life by (practice what you preach) and the realities of being the owner and operator of a brand spankin’ new start-up! And not just any“start-up,” one that is doing all that we can to challenge the system, shake up the status quo, and make as much damn noise as we possibly can outing the mental health system as ignorant and inefficient, at best.
The phrase “start-up” itself has become nearly interchangeable with work 24/7 until your fingers are bloody, you’re horribly out of shape, you haven’t seen any of your friends or family for more then 15 minutes in God knows how long, and only come up for air when you wake up one day phenomenally successful or piss broke asking yourself, “Now what?” That would be a fair representation of my life since MYND MVMT launched eight weeks ago. Herein lies the problem.
You see, each new member of our team is asked to undergo an unimaginable amount of training. Team members, clinical or non-clinical, social worker or mixed martial artist, yoga instructor or bio-engineer, wellness guru or relationship expert, among others, are all asked to participate in extensive training designed to build visceral knowing, embodiment – living what one knows! Getting to this embodiment took a life time of overcoming personal challenges, years of formal education, and more than 17 years of firsthand experience working in mental health. This embodiment is a critical part of everything we are and all that we do! We believe that you can not give away something you do not have. In order to be able to adequately service our clients needs, we must embody the teachings, the lifestyle we purport to live. Meaning, this embodiment is what empowers us to be effective!
The central teaching of MYND MVMT is that the mind and body are one system working together to create every aspect of our experience. Whether we use the term optimal performance, change or sports psychology, flow state, positive psychology, or even mindfulness teachings, what we are really saying is that we use our extensive knowledge of how the mind and body work to optimize our experience of our lives, to live our best life possible. Having the knowledge and skills to do this, though, is only the first part of the equation. The second part is learning how to take that knowledge and those skills and use them every single day. This process is a lifelong journey, a continual feedback loop of learning, growing, and striving. It’s an imperfect process because it’s a way of living for which there is no end, no finish. Just living your life as a perpetual work in progress, striving to learn from mistakes and integrate growth and change quickly. Herein lies my biggest challenge.
All of the research on optimal performance concludes that sleep is the critical variable! Athletes, of course, know this! It’s why college athletes have a 10:00 p.m. curfew, the reason why spiritual gurus go to sleep when the sun goes down, and why many of the most successful among us get plenty of sleep and are up for hours by 6 a.m.
In our modern era, the thing that is arguably the most significant invention, the most influential and critical offering, the thing that has impacted us most, is not television or cell phones, but the lightbulb! Turning the lights on at all hours of the day and night systematically changed the game! Changed our world forever! What most people do not realize, do not know, is that all healing happens while we rest by way of the parasympathetic nervous system.
Every scratch, every muscle ache, every soar throat, and even more importantly for what we do, every part of the way our brain operates and the mind works, requires adequate rest – parasympathetic activation – to recover and regenerate!
Optimal mental health, what we call mental wellness, can only be achieved with adequate rest!
This brings me to the main point of this conversation. As a single mom of a six year-old and the owner and operator of technically three new businesses, sleep was the first thing to go! Now, I have always been a hard worker, someone who never minded pulling all-nighters, studying day and night, who enjoys deadlines and getting sh*t done! I don’t mind getting my hands dirty. If a lightbulb needs fixing, the wall needs to be painted, or the floor needs to be re-sanded, I just do it myself. Only now the level of work, what must get done each day, far exceeds the amount of hours that are in a day, and there’s certainly no consideration of sleep and rest! My six year-old’s parent-teacher conferences don’t stop because of my work load, a client’s mood disorders don’t take the night off because the social media campaign needs attention, or because there’s a two-day seminar/training in a day or two to prepare for! There are only so many hours in the day, and only so much time for me to accomplish all that must be accomplished to make it all go!
The advice I get from others on this dilemma is to learn the art of delegation. And, begrudgingly, that is what I did. I hired an assistant and work hard to give whatever I can to others to get done. Yet, as helpful as this has been, it didn’t even make a dent in my work load!
So what does one do in this situation? Obviously, sacrifices must be made, but not sleeping at all is also not an option! For all of those who suffer the same challenge, here are some of the imperfect solutions that I have tried to institute in an effort to augment the little nighttime rest that I routinely can afford to get! It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing!
7 Ways to Cheat Our Need for the Nightly 8 Hours of Sleep
1. Use Your Biological Clock!
Our wise EMDR teacher Dan taught us that each of us has two key times a day when our body’s natural internal clock tells us it’s time for rest. For most people, those times are right before lunch time and a few hours after/before sun down (say 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.). If you listen to what your body is telling you and can catch this magical time, just take 15-20 minutes our of you day to doze or meditate. You’ll rejuvenate the body! This practice has even been said to even keep away disease!
2) Put Aside One Night/Day Every Week
Even though it’s believed that when it comes to sleep you can not get back the time you’ve lost, one way I continue to keep my body healthy (and not crash and burn into misery and despair by foregoing the rule of eight hours of sleep per night) is to set aside one day of the week to allow as much sleep as your body needs. For me, that time typically occurs Saturday morning. Friday nights might remain a work night, but if I give myself the freedom to wake up naturally on Saturday (be it 1:00 p.m., if needed), I have the ability to make it through the five-hour per night sleep week ahead! Not a perfect solution, but just enough to get me by!
3) Nap from 9:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m.
My daughter Penelope goes to bed between 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. each night. Even on the rare nights when we make it to bed at 8:00 p.m., she likes to use this time for heart-to-hearts with Mom, often downloading her day, asking me important questions about life, making it an important bonding time for us. After our talks, I rub her back until she dozes off to sleep for the night. In doing so, often times in the past, I would fall asleep with her. Over time I realized that I could get some good quality sleep during this 9:00 p.m. 11:00 p.m. window and still be able to get solid work time in after. Even though MYND MVMT’s bio-engineer hates that I do this, interrupting important deep sleep, at times it’s been a real life saver for me!
4) Get a Device that Accurately Tracks Your Sleep Cycle
Adam Pellegrini, MYND MVMT’s bio-engineer and an expert on how to obtain optimal performance, recommends the Whoop™ wrist band devise to track your sleep and learn exactly when the most important deep sleep happens in your body. That deep sleep is critical for your body to get the repair that it truly needs. After tracking sleep cycles for a few weeks, you should have enough data to know at precisely what time your body naturally falls into this deep sleep stage. Moving ahead, making sure to catch this very specific stage of sleep , while foregoing the time that follows, will allow you to still get the rest you need while compromising the slightly (and I do mean slightly) less important hours of the night!
5) Meditation & Mindfulness
I am sure by now you could see this one coming! First off, meditation is an absolutely critical part of optimal living. It doesn’t have to be the traditional style at the start. I often use guided visualizations, mantras, or gong sounds to help expedite getting me into the present and into a meditative state. Explore what works for you to activate the parasympathetic nervous system! For some, especially in the beginning, sitting with their breathe causes more anxiety than it does anything else. Second, I believe that mindfulness, choosing to intentionally find and live as much as possible in the here and now, is likely the single most critical variable in allowing me to forego sleep. Not bringing the past or future into this moment is the only way I am able to accomplish as much as I do and not burn out! Plain and simple!
6) Eat Properly Throughout the Day
If you are going to forego sleep, you’re undoubtedly putting additional stress and strain on the body. There is really no way around that. However, making sure to give your body the proper amount of water and nutrients it needs will strengthen the immune system and prepare it to fight off the damage done to the body by giving up a good night’s rest.
7) Mindfulness Fitness
As a yoga teacher and yoga enthusiast, I use yoga as my primary form of exercise. While yoga is physically demanding, it also activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Yoga embodies the art of balancing physical excursion with periods of rest (we can this integration). This integration is a guiding principle of MYND MVMT’s Mindful Fitness project, bringing mindfulness into all other forms of fitness!
About the Author
Samantha Benigno is the CEO of MYND MVMT, a program that offers an alternative approach to mental health & addiction treatment. MYND MVMT uses an integrated, health & wellness model where mindfulness, nutrition, fitness, and long term goal attainment are built into the rehabilitation process. Mind Mvmt specializes in the treatment & recovery of depression, anxiety, substance use & abuse, behavioral addictions, and working with those who struggle to feel fulfilled in their lives. Samantha is a career mental health professional, educator, and consultant.