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Double Threat: Sleep Deprivation and Stress

  |   leadership, living life fully, motivation   |   1 Comment

Why is it that no generation in history has had a more comfortable array of mattresses and beautiful bedding for sleeping, and yet been so sleep deprived?

Our days in the office morph into evenings in home offices and we don’t even go out to walk the dog without our smart phones. Living on very little shut-eye is a source of pride for many.

Those who dare to confide that they need their sleep risk being considered lazy or not sufficiently dedicated to take top jobs.

I used to be one of those people who sacrificed sleep for a host of things I thought were more important.

Then, about 10 years ago, I was absolutely stunned to read about Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post.

Like so many working moms, she was trying to balance her life as best she could. So although her work day was challenging as she built her online publication, she dutifully accompanied her eldest daughter Christina on a tour of prospective colleges.

She gave her daughter her full attention through the day. At night, while others slept, she did her day’s work on her computers and BlackBerrys, responding to all the messages marked “urgent.” She would drift ultimately into three or four hours of sleep and then get up ready to tour more cottages.

When she finished the college tour in the United States, she had to fly to Portland, then Los Angeles, and then to her New York home. She then collapsed in her office in a pool of blood, and woke up in the hospital with a broken cheekbone and a five-stitch gash under her eyebrow.

She turned to her doctors. Did she have a brain tumor? Cancer? Heart disease?

None of the above. She had serious sleep deprivation.

She wrote a book about her experiences called The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time in which she cited impressive research to show that lack of sleep not only finally makes you collapse, but it leaves you more apt to get cancer, heart disease, fatal accidents, overweight, depressed, and even a prime candidate for Alzheimer’s.

Her bad example and the story of how she turned her life around made me examine my own sleep habits (bad then, better now) and extend my investigation into the double-barreled dilemma of modern life: sleep deprivation and stress.

I learned that there have been some pretty weird beliefs associated with our need for sleep.

For example, in ancient Greece, the people believed that while you were asleep, your brain filled with blood and when it drained, you naturally awoke.

By the 19th century, some scientists thought that sleep was necessary to empty our brains of all our ambitious thoughts.

Described as the mysterious third of our daily existence, what happens when we sleep seems to impact all of the hours we are awake.

Researchers now know that there are five identifiable stages of sleep, with each stage lasting about 90 minutes. The first is very light, then a little deeper, and stages three and four are the deepest levels of sleep, with stage four being the place where your brain is most removed from conscious thought. If you have to wake suddenly from this stage, you feel disoriented and sleep drunk. All you want to do is return to sleep.

Stage five is the REM sleep, as your eyes dance against your eyelids in rapid movement. Your brain is totally active at this time, almost as if you were awake. If you dream, it is at this stage.

Sleep does not get a lot of respect in our culture. People who need a full night’s sleep are sometimes mocked or considered lazy, as are those who require an afternoon nap. We believe that we are stronger than our biological urge to sleep and that we can control it and put it off or take drugs like caffeine to keep it at bay.

Part of it is a lack of pattern. We don’t understand why we need to sleep as much as we do. We don’t understand why a powerful tiger has to sleep 15 hours a day, but a massive elephant only needs 3 ½ hours. The average lion needs 13 hours, but the giraffe is fine with just 1 ½ hours. Where is the reason in all of this?

The second problem is the high level of stress in our modern lives. Stress can keep us from sleep, but in a difficult catch 22 situation, lack of sleep can be a huge source of stress.

A third puzzle piece is that while humans are not bred to be nocturnal, many people have to work the night shift. High numbers of us suffer from what is now formally known as shift work sleep disorder. A study published in the peer-reviewed journal “Medscape Neurology and Neurosurgery” showed that people who work night shifts are prone to stress, both on and off the job. They are also more apt to be impacted by depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, stomach problems, weakened immune systems and infertility.

What we know now is that sleep is an essential form of preventative medicine. Sleep also seriously impacts our ability to make decisions and the level of our emotional intelligence.

How much sleep do you need?

An accepted formula is that you need one hour of sleep for every two hours you are awake. You cannot cheat your body; it knows. If you missed an hour of sleep one night, it will sleep deeper the next until your debt is paid.

I have accepted that I need to sleep even when I feel stressed. I have discovered that sleep makes stress better, even though it is hard to sleep when I am stressed. I don’t have to conquer my need to sleep; I need to surrender to it.

What I need to focus on is to avoid stressful thoughts before bedtime.

Here’s what I know has helped me:

  • Try to have a more consistent life pattern, when in most circumstances you go to bed at the same time each night.
  • Take a nap when you need a nap. Naps are not the sole domain of babies. Take one now at the busiest time of your life and don’t apologize for it. Late afternoon is a perfect time for a nap.
  • Turn off your tablets and smart phones an hour before bedtime. Stop watching or reading distressing news.

I feel much more energetic all day when I get a good sleep at night. Try and see how you like it!

Paula Morand, CSP is a leadership building, revenue boosting, strategy expanding keynote speaker, author and visionary. This dreaming big and being bold leadership expert and brand strategist brings her vibrant energy, humor and wisdom to ignite individuals, organizations and communities to lead change, growth and bold impact. 24 years, 27,000 clients, 34 countries, 14 books, former radio personality, 11x award winning entrepreneur and humorous emcee.

To check out Paula’s book, “Bold Courage: How Owning Your Awesome Changes Everything” go to Amazon http://ow.ly/i8yW307ix67

Speaking inquiries email bookings@paulamorand.com or call toll-free 1-888-502-6317.


  • Richard Besner | Sep 15, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    Great article Paula. Thanks for the information. However “I’ll have to sleep on it” before deciding how I should change my sleep patterns.

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