Switch Off And Get Some Sleep….

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It is tempting to get by on less sleep, fuel up on caffeine and get on with our lives. Unfortunately when we are sleep deprived we can think we are doing a better job at things than we are. It is not until we are well rested that we notice how different things feel.

We need to re-learn how to switch off our minds and allow them to peacefully rest. The truth is modern insomnia is not our faults but rather a consequence of the society we live in and our inability to switch off or focus.

Office workers are interrupted every three minutes, so at best we have a three-minute attention span, and 62% of us are addicted to email.

A recent study at the University of California calculated that we are bombarded with 34 gigabytes of information a day, including roughly 100,000 words (a figure that has more than doubled in the past 30 years).

Both of these quotes are pretty astounding even shocking, We need to learn to regain focus and calm the mind through focusing on one thing at a time and this will allow our minds to switch off and get some sleep. We are being interrupted so often by our blackberries, iPhones and constant streams of chatter the internet provides that we find it hard to get back to the task on hand. It is well known it takes about 10-15 minutes to get back to something after an interruption. If we could learn how to focus on one task at a time everything would be better. Our Food, Work, Friends, and Family to name a few. Here are a few ideas……

1. Exercise – Both Physical and Mental exercise can help focus, remember the calm state of mind after a long run or swim? Or ever notice how mind chatter stops during a stimulating movie or solving something.

2. Limit Internet Time - If you have a blackberry constantly alerting you set it to alert less often, check your e-mail once every hour or even less. Also try not to keep too many windows or tabs open at a time as this can be distracting & overwhelming.

3. Rest - Short naps can re-focus your mind, especially mid afternoon. Partaking in things you enjoy also count as rest like reading and other hobbies. Also look into forms of meditation.

4. Get outdoors - If you happen to work in a frantic environment make sure you spend your lunch breaks or any breaks you have in a less busy environment whether it be outdoors or a quiet coffee shop. Of course in the summer take lunch in the park or anywhere green.

5. Have a To Do list - This will help you know where you stand throughout the day and give a sense of accomplishment once you have done all the stuff listed. Do things one at a time.

Once you start practicing these things you will notice that the compulsion to be connected will slowly dissolve – you will probably find your sleep will improve as your mind is less shocked by not having a constant feed of stimuli. If you are still having trouble nodding off try some of these tips -

  • We have heard it before but try to establish a regular sleeping pattern, although going to bed before midnight is preferable find what works for you. Just keep it regular.
  • Stop watching TV before falling to sleep, read a book or magazine instead. The bright lights and noise of a TV trigger adrenaline and cortisol release.
  • Cut out the late afternoon coffee and have your last caffeinated beverage at lunch time.
  • When you wake up, get up don’t roll around in bed delaying it. This will help establish a regular wake up time.

Sleep is one of the great joys of life as is an idle mind. Don’t let modern technology and society rob you of good rest. Remember sleep deprivation was once used as a torture technique. Learn to focus and get good sleep back…..


  1. Grok says

    Lack of sleep can cause overeating too. I fell victim to this tonight. Weak body looking for energy.

    Unfortunately I have to stare at the computer until way past bedtime tonight. Have to make some money so I can eat. Tax season wiped me out. I often tire of living in society.

  2. Chris Sturdy says

    I agree with Grok. Although I have been trying to sleep more and more or less succeeding, the nights when I don’t “switch off” early and start winding down I do notice that I eat more than I need or should; it happened just last night, in fact.

    Seems like when time is short and the to do list is long the first thing we sacrifice is our health. A paradigm shift about what is considered “productive” needs to occur, at least on a small scale (on the level of the individual), so that we put our health first. Easier said than done, coming from the guy who didn’t hit the sack until midnight.

  3. Luke M-Davies says

    As always, a solid and useful post Chris.

    I ran the London Marathon this past weekend and I was so nervous (because I was also proposing after the race to my girlfriend) that I couldn’t sleep.

    I ran my first marathon in 2 hrs 58 mins on next to no sleep.

    I believe that our bodies are resilient in the short term. I quickly suffer from lack of sleep but my race proved to me that one bad night wouldn’t take its toll and the adrenaline got me through!

    I’ve just had the best weekend of my life after running my first ever Marathon.

    Sub 3-hours and I’m now engaged: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/athletics/8643213.stm

  4. Melinda Neely says

    I couldn’t agree with your suggestions more. If we try to go a night or two without checking email, I really think it helps with the ZZZZs. And guess what? The world didn’t come to an end either!

  5. Cory says

    Oh no! You say to have a to do list, and another blog I just read said NOT to have a to do list! What a dilemma! :)

    @ Cory: I think you are referring to Leo’s article here…… he makes some good points and I like his idea of doing one thing properly. I like to do that plus keep a small list of tasks that need to be done they are usually errands which do not take long….

  6. Stefania Lucchetti says

    Making peace with a shrinking attention span

    Let’s face it. Notwithstanding one of the principles of finding relevance is attention, it is a fact everyone’s attention span (including my own!) is continuously shrinking. While meditation and awareness of the power of attention may significantly improve a mind which often fumbles due to lack of awareness of its inattention, and deepen the ability to intelligently focus exclusively on a task or action rather than mindlessly multitasking, we also have to acknowledge a relentless shortening of the period of time we can spend on a particular project or situation. It’s a fact.

    Although this is mostly a byproduct of the internet and its inherent information overload it isn’t strictly a digital phenomenon. You may notice your attention span has shortened even when it comes to – for example – reading a paper news or magazine article (how many of you skip an article that is longer than two pages?), and while performing tasks at work.

    You may notice, however, that interestingly enough it rarely happens while you are immersed in a good novel. Provided external distractions can be turned off, most of us can still get lost for hours while reading.

    So what does this mean? Is the attention span related to information and activities. Is it related to the amount of external distractions we experience? Would focusing on a task be simpler if the internet explorer button weren’t so immediately available, and emails didn’t rush in continuously?

    This is certainly a big part of what causes the problem and being aware of it helps tune in to our higher attention potentials. We can’t however – and wouldn’t want to – avoid being part of the digital age, which is so beneficial and empowering from a number of other perspectives.

    What we can do, is to raise our level of awareness as to what are the limits of our attention span, and strive on the one hand to improve them, and on the other hand to learn to use that span of time in the most focused way possible. For example, if you know that your maximum focus attention span is 15 minutes, why not divide the task you need to perform into smaller bits that fit into that 15 minute block and schedule minor activities in between (phone calls you need to return? A small search you want to carry out on the internet etc).

    I find that writing down a plan (or list of activities) for those flickering moments when attention to the main task fades is an incredibly useful way to make the most of my attention waves. It also helps focus back on the primary task: once the list of minor activities is finished and ticked off, a phone call returned, facebook checked and internet explored you have nothing left but to go back and refocus.

    Stefania Lucchetti
    Author of “The Principle of Relevance”

  7. sian-girlgetstrong says

    That man is too cute with that blue baby cow. You are super smart! I have such trouble with sleep so for me it’s the tossing and turning I do at night..and believe me I have tried everything EXCEPT pills…

  8. IPBrian says

    I have been attempting to limit usage of bright electronic displays right before bed. In addition to the above mentioned adrenaline and cortisol release, the bright light interferes with melatonin release. I have been sleeping somewhat better with this simple change.

    @ Brian: The cortisol and adrenaline release from TV also come from the content and flashing lights rather than the bright lights. I just find I sleep better if I keep the TV off for an hour before sleeping. Looking at a computer monitor seems to be fine, this app is great http://www.stereopsis.com/flux/.

  9. Tom B says

    Great, practical info as usual, Chris. Sleep is definitely one area that I need to be more disciplined in, especially as a student. Thanks for the advice!

    You make a great point, and I love that your post is lengthy because it forces those of us with short attention spans to be focused and alert. I was definitely challenged but also encouraged, thanks.

  10. Deb says

    I completely agree with your statement about not realizing how bad lack of sleep makes you feel until you find out what being well-rested feels like. I used to sleep 6 hours or less per night and thought that was ok because I could make it through the day. But the quality of my life was awful – I was always stressed and unhappy. Once I began sleeping 7 to 8 hours per night, my whole mood changed. Now I wake up before my alarm goes off, ready and eager to start my day!

  11. Kelly says

    I agree with all of these ideas, and number 4,(getting outdoors) is really important in my mind. Sometimes we need to just get back to nature and relax a little.

    There are times when I have so much to do and limited time and I neglect getting outside, but when I do, I never regret it. I even like to get a campfire going outside in my backyard and just kick back for awhile with the kids and wife. There is definitely something to getting back to nature!

    Great post!


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