If you feel you don't get enough sleep--or enough quality sleep--you're not alone. Somewhere between 50 million and 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders that decrease daily functioning and adversely affect health and longevity. And not getting a good night's sleep doesn't just mean you always feel tired: One study found that not getting enough sleep carries a greater mortality risk than smoking, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
To sleep better at night, think past the Ambien and warm milk. One of the best things you can do is take steps to eliminate some of the stress, worry, and anxiety that keep you awake.
1. Write everything down...so you won't stress about remembering important tasks.
David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done, told me:
"Most people try to use their psyche as their systemic process, which means issues gain importance based on your emotions. I've never met anyone who said they didn't feel a little better if they sat down and made a list. Nothing changes when you write things down except how you engage with your issues: You can be objective and also be creative and intuitive.
"Your head is for having ideas, not holding ideas, and it's certainly not for filing things away. Without exception, you will feel better if you get stuff out of your head."
Try it. Write down your challenges. List your problems or concerns.
You'll immediately feel better since you'll realize things aren't as bad as you think. And you'll start to figure out ways to make things better--because now you won't passively worry. You'll actively solve your problems.
Then take it a step further and write down anything you need to remember; that way, you won't worry about what you might be forgetting.
(If you want to dip your toe in the Getting Things Done system, here's an easy guide to using a few of the fundamental principles.)
2. Set up automated warning systems...so you won't worry about how things are going.
The larger your scope of responsibility--professional or personal--the more you have to worry about. Your list of concerns is endless, so you're always on edge, especially at night. That makes you constantly check your email. Or check certain dashboards. Or text and call to make sure things are OK.
The fear of the unknown--of what might be happening that you don't know about--drives you crazy.
Instead of worrying about what you don't know, make sure you will know. Decide what you need to know when, and set up systems to support you. Let your employees know what constitutes an emergency--and, just as importantly, what doesn't.
And then create automated systems that notify you of problems.
For example, a friend runs a 1,200-employee manufacturing plant. He has a separate phone and email account just for emergencies, and his employees call that phone or send emails to "emergency@[his company].com." He turns off his regular phone at night and sleeps soundly because he knows if something does happen he'll know right away--he won't have to check.
Determine what you need to know and create systems to ensure you will know.
You'll definitely sleep better.
3. Step back from something you care about but have no ability to impact...because you're driving yourself crazy for no reason.
For some people, it's politics. For others, it's family. For others, it's climate change. You care...and you desperately want others to care.
Fine. Do what you can do. Vote. Lend a listening ear. Recycle and reduce your carbon footprint. Be an example. Be your own change...but don't try to make everyone else change.
They won't--unless they decide to on their own.
4. Get off the gossip train...because gossip always ends badly.
Help. Offer guidance. Encourage. Motivate.
But don't gossip. And don't get mixed up in office politics. It always ends badly.
So never put yourself in a position where you're worried that Phil will tell Allen you said something snarky about Stu and.... (Yeah, it's a Hangover reference.) That's the kind of stress you definitely don't need.
5. Decide you will see criticism as something to be grateful for...not something to dwell upon.
Think of it this way: When you get feedback, at least someone cares enough to want you to improve your product, your service, your work, your life....
You only need to worry when no one cares enough to criticize you.
Criticism creates an opportunity for you to be an even better you. Embrace that opportunity.
6. Don't stress about what other people might do...focus on what you can control.
Most of us do a better job sabotaging ourselves than others ever could. (Or is that just me?) Besides, you can't control what other people might do.
7. Reduce the number of judgment calls you have to make...so you won't second-guess yourself later.
The more prepared you are to handle a situation, the easier it is to be objective--and to avoid stressing out later over whether or not you made the wrong call.
Create price lists that take into account unusual requests. Set up guidelines for responding to customer complaints. Create employee policies for objective areas like attendance, quality, and performance.
Decide what you will allow your kids to do before they start asking.
Think about situations you struggle with and decide what you will do before those situations get stressful or confrontational. (For example, what would you do if two of your employees decided not to serve a uniformed police officer?)
Then you can make better decisions and greatly reduce your level of stress...and possibly also your number of regrets.
8. Create a cutoff time...so stopping is automatic and not a decision to stress over.
Yeah, I know, you consider yourself a 24/7 go-getter. But that's impossible. Decide what time you'll stop working each day, no matter what.
And if stopping makes you feel guilty?
9. Create a plan for tomorrow...so you can mentally put aside what you didn't get finished today.
Write down what you need to do first thing tomorrow. You'll rest easier knowing you have a plan to take care of whatever you didn't get done today.
10. Count your blessings.
Take a moment every night before you turn out the light to stop worrying about what you don't have. Stop worrying about what others have that you don't.
Think about what you do have.
It's easy to forget just how much we do have to be thankful for. It feels pretty good to remember just how great your life is, doesn't it?
Of course it does--and that's why feeling better about yourself is the best sleep aid of all.