How awake are you right now?
I mean, really – at this exact moment, how awake are you feeling?
I gave my friends an informal survey on awakeness and sleep the other day. Thirty replied, and it seems we’re getting about 6.94 hours of sleep a night, which is really not bad! However, the big surprise was that even some of my friends who slept 8 or more hours still felt tired! We really need to figure this out!
There’s a lot at stake.
In the university setting, awakeness is the difference between:
- a useful hour of reading and a useless hour of reading.
- an A- and a B+ on your final examination.
- a 3.1 GPA for the semester and a 2.9 GPA.
- having financial aid and losing financial aid.
- getting a university degree – and losing a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get that degree.
Besides that, awakeness is also the difference between:
- remembering your keys and your phone when you go out the door – and forgetting them.
- being on time to work – and being late, and getting in trouble with your boss or worse.
- remembering what you wanted to get at the store – and forgetting it.
- parking your car without any problems – and smashing the car in front of you.
- getting home safely – and an expensive, life-threatening high speed car accident.
In my studies on leadership over the last year, I couldn’t help but notice that most leaders are energetic people – and there are particular best practices that they endorse. I’d like to share with you some of the strategies that have been working for me. These are practices that I’ve tried personally – and am still practicing today!
Are you dehydrated? Many people are dehydrated and they don’t even know it. An old rule of thumb that we followed in the Boy Scouts was if your urine was yellow, you were dehydrated. Is your urine yellow? (Sorry to be so blunt, but check yourself! Thank me later.)
What can you do to stay dehydrated? Simply drink two liters of water a day, or about eight glasses. I’ve been experimenting with this one for about a month, and it’s really helped.
There’s a ton of reasons why this helps, but here’s a few:
- According to the Mayo Clinic, even mild dehydration can drain your energy and make you feel tired!
- Dehydration makes you hungrier throughout the day, which makes it more likely that you’ll snack on unhealthy things and overeat at meals. These cause high energy spikes – and big energy lows as well!
- Your body is about 60% water. Among other tissues, your brain is made up of a lot of water. Keeping enough water in the system keeps your brain freshly supplied, so to speak.
Personal Difficulty: Easy.
This wasn’t too hard for me to start doing. I just drink a half liter when I wake up and another half liter before I leave. Then I drink a half liter when I get back home, and one more right after dinner.
If you’re not exercising daily, you’ve probably heard a lot of statistics and advice already but you just don’t care somehow.
I’ll just tell you a story instead.
Ten years ago, I used to wake up at 5:30 to run two miles almost every day with my roommates. How did I feel afterwards? To be honest, mostly tired. After a couple years, I stopped – and I didn’t come back to real regular exercise until two months ago.
So what happened?
I found a seven-minute full body exercise routine based on interval training theory. It’s 30 seconds of intense activity followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated 12 times with 12 different exercises. No need to go outside, no equipment needed except for a chair. (You can read about it here at the New York Times blog.) No need to even change into workout clothes – although I’d recommend it anyway!
The result? Game changing. I definitely feel the energy gain now that I started again – especially in the morning.
Personal Difficulty: Medium
It took a lot of time and reading to convince myself to try exercising again. The key was that I found a routine that sounded simple, easy and productive. It’s not an easy habit to develop either – harder than drinking water, at least. But it’s been worth it.
This may seem obvious. I used to do 4-5 hours of sleep on weekdays, followed by 10-12 hours on the weekends. I felt okay.
I enjoyed the solitude and focus of working late nights, but to be honest, my last hours of study from 1:00-4:00 in the morning were not very effective. My reading speed dropped from a page a minute to a page every two or three minutes. I’d make simple math and writing mistakes – constantly. It was like for every step I took forward, I took two back.
Finally, after I graduated, I started sleeping more normally – and my overall productivity took a huge leap forward. When I switched over to a regular 6-7 hours a day, there was a noticeable difference – and my days were tremendously more productive all around.
It’s not just quantity that’s important – it’s consistency.
Sleep coach Dr. Cheri Mah reports that:
– Cognitive performance with 6 hours of sleep or less is the same as getting no sleep for 48 HOURS.
– 2 days of sleep restriction leads to a 3x increase in lapses of attention and rectivity!
– Reducing sleep debt increases vigor by 64%!
– A 20-30 minute power nap can increase your alertness by 100%!
Dr. Cheri is a sleep coach who works with Olympic athletes, so you know she’s serious. More details can be found here.
Personal Difficulty: Hard
This was not easy. It took accountability. It’s been a busy semester and I slipped into sleeping late – and not enough – for a few stretches. My wife helped me get back on track, and now I’m waking up early rather than sleeping late. The difference is remarkable. But it was definitely a more difficult habit to start.
4. Connect with your why
That is, stay closely in touch with WHY you do what you do everyday. When you have a powerful reason to work, you’ll work with more power.
There’s nothing like the feeling of waking up and knowing not only what you need to do today, but why you want to do it.
There’s also almost nothing worse than having a ton of things to do and no idea why you’re doing it all!
Don’t know why you do what you do? I suggest taking some serious time to put it down on paper. One great way to start is to take five minutes and write, with intensity, everything you’re dreaming of for the next five years.
I did this at the beginning of the semester and I’ve come back to that list repeatedly since. When I look at it, I get refreshed and renewed, and I’m ready to throw myself back into the work.
Personal Difficulty: Easy-Medium
I’ve detailed my process in one of my most popular blog posts here: “How to change the next five years of your life in the next five minutes.” It’s a good start.
One thing I didn’t mention there, and that I’ll write on more soon, though, is the process of deepening and extending those dreams into goals – and a personal mission. This is the harder step. But if you’ll just get started, this is a powerful exercise.
Now it’s your turn.
Alright! That’s it for me. I’ve got to say that this doesn’t work perfectly for me – there’s still days and nights where I get tired out earlier than I’d like – but these strategies have done a LOT for me. Here’s to making the most of the time we have while it lasts!
What energizes you and wakes you up? Share your thoughts in the comments below.