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Here at the-Coaching Blog-run by Gerard O’Donovan, our aim is to constantly bring value to those seeking to improve their lives. Therefore we have a policy of publishing articles and materials by guest authors whom we value and appreciate. Today’s guest author is Martin Goodyer(United Kingdom).
In the absence of disease there are three controllable components to a healthy life.
All three are obvious but on the whole we only pay attention to two of them. Of course, all are ultimately controlled by what we think as everything starts in the mind. Yet although thinking ultimately controls everything, the way in which we think about three particular things will determine if life is to be healthy and well balanced or not. They are like three legs of a tripod and as with a milk-maids stool they need to be strong and balanced or we wobble and risk a clumsy fall.
The three are nutrition, physical fitness and sleep.
Bookshops all over the world have shelves packed with self-help books on nutrition and fitness. These two legs of the ‘stool’ have spawned whole industries in their own name, but one is neglected. Even though it’s just as important as nutrition and fitness, sleep is largely ignored. Sleep is responsible in whole or in part for many of the problems associated with living a healthy life. It is true that a good food regime may lead to a better quality of life. Best sellers, magazines and TV shows are full of the latest food fad. At any one time millions of people around the world are likely to be on one diet or another; their goal being to make changes in the way they look and feel to have a better life. The same is true for the physical fitness industry. Gym memberships are maintained even in the depths of economic recession as people strive to live a longer, healthier and happier life by getting fitter. Personal trainers are not the sole preserve of the rich or famous anymore and village halls are no longer reserved just for flower competitions or produce shows. They are just as likely to be home to yoga practice, Zumba classes and aerobics exercise. Fitness is something that’s now available to almost everyone; its aim, as with improved nutrition, to deliver a better, healthier, longer and more enjoyable life. Yet, with the exception of specific medical expertise, sleep is largely ignored.
This is crazy, as of the three, sleep has the potential to make more impact more quickly that either nutrition or physical fitness. The health complications of being physically lazy and can take years to manifest, and a person can go weeks without eating a balanced diet without serious long term consequences. It’s even possible to drink nothing but water for a fortnight at a time and survive but the same is not true for sleep.
The longest a person has ever gone without sleep and survived is just eleven days.
Just a few days of missed sleep and the consequences can literally be life threatening. Even small amounts of missed sleep have an immediate and dramatic effect on a persons’ quality of life; they will suffer mood swings, struggle to think clearly and feel zapped of any energy. They will be prone to making mistakes and are emotionally vulnerable. A sleepy person can put themselves and other people at risk by ‘dropping off’ when they least expect it. According to experts at least twenty percent of all fatal motorway accidents are caused by tiredness and the number increases considerably when drink-driving is taken into account – many of which are also are impacted by a shortness of sleep.
Coaches tend to work with people looking for an improved performance in some area of their life. They will either be focused on personal development to either fix a problem or enhance their potential. Whatever the issue, it is inevitable that a person going to a coach to help either turn their life around or squeeze the last drop of juice out of it will consider nutrition and fitness relevant; hence coaches are likely to ask questions related to nutrition and exercise. Asking questions about sleep however may not be on the coach’s radar.
This is a mistake. Short sleep, as it is referred to by the sleep experts, is a big problem.
Ambitious over achievers seek to do more in a day and may have come to think of sleep as wasted time. People with worries may be finding sleep elusive and suffering from compounded short sleep without realizing the cumulative effects it is having on them. Neither group realise that sleep is like an unforgiving lender holding a mortgage on their life. To repay the loan a person must bank the required deposit every day. Missing a few hours here and there is not forgiven. It just gets added to a new debt. It is a dangerous debt that won’t go away because sleep is homeostatically regulated. This is a physiological function over which you have no conscious control. Instead of being a friendly banker, your brain turns into a loan shark.
If you don’t get the requisite amount of sleep you develop this ‘sleep debt’. When you develop a sleep debt your brain does whatever it can to force you to pay it back as quickly as it can. Your brain takes on the characteristics of a vicious loan shark charging ever increasing amounts of interest and making threats until you pay up. You may try and distract yourself to forget it but it’ll still be there, gathering interest and hanging over you. Strong coffee may make it go away for a while but it comes back stronger and more determined to collect than ever. The debt does not go away until it is repaid in full. Is it then any wonder that people go on vacation and reflect afterwards that ‘all they did was sleep by the pool’? Or that after a busy week they can have a ‘lie in’ at the weekend but still feel tired on a Monday morning? Or that a minor illness can cause you to retreat to your bed for hours and hours of sleep at a time? It is inevitable because even very small debts add up. A small shortage of sleep that appears insignificant will build into a bigger and bigger debt unless it is addressed; whether you like it or not.
Problems that manifest as a lack of confidence, overwhelm, difficulties in holding down a relationship, challenges on the job, a lack of focus to achieve improved performance, communication issues and so on, all may be influenced by unrecognised problems with sleep. It has somehow become a ‘macho’ thing to brag about how little sleep someone is able to get by on. It’s not macho it’s monstrous. It’s not savvy it’s stupid. It’s as ridiculous as pretending that your life will improve without water, or that you are more able to use your muscles without ever moving them. It’s crazy. Otherwise harmless activities become a problem even with relatively modest shortfalls in sleep once it starts to accumulate. A modest amount of alcohol will significantly affect the motor skills of a person who is sleep deprived. Decisions that would under normal circumstances be well founded become erratic and emotions that would otherwise be stable become unbalanced. Coaching a sleep deprived person to improve their performance without addressing the sleep issue is like launching a yacht into the ocean without sails; momentum will not be maintained no matter how much a person may ‘want’ it to.
The standard sleep ‘mortgage’ on life varies from person to person but in most cases will be between seven and a half and nine hours a night in an adult human being. We all know how many hours we need to get a ‘good’ nights’ sleep, so be honest about yours – and if you are a coach, ask your clients to be honest about theirs. There may be exceptions but they are rare. Most people claiming to be ‘fine’ on five or six hours a night will show signs of sleep indebtedness that will cause them a problem; either by getting in the way of their desired progress or something much worse. A quick check to see how your own debt is doing is to take the average amount of sleep you get in a working week, then at weekends. Now multiple your weekly total it by the number of working weeks you have in the year. Compare that with the number of hours you need for your good nights’ sleep seven nights a week and it will tell you how much you should be trying to put back into your bank on vacation. For many of us there may not be much time for anything else.
So if you’re going to sit on a stool – make sure all three legs are there before you do.
Martin Goodyer is the author of the ‘How to be a Great Coach’ series www.how2b.pro
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