“I’m stressed out. Pressure’s building. I can’t sleep through the whole night anymore. My performance is getting worse just when I need to be at the top of my game. Help!”

The client who said this to me didn’t take much comfort in the fact that I’m hearing a lot of similar statements lately. From guys and gals. Leaders, supervisors, and single professionals are feeling the heat more now than ever. And my client was right when she said that it’s during the tough times that we really need to be running at 100 percent – not struggling to keep our head clear in the middle of the day.

Turned out she’d become sleep deprived. It can occur to anyone. Often, it’s the result of the big stuff wearing us down (you know – the economy, the mortgage crisis, growing layoffs, established companies going down, etc). However, the small stuff (like not being able to go out for dinner as frequently, or trading down one’s car because the lease deals aren’t what they were before) can build up on us as well. It all takes a toll.

So, how can you tell if you’re sleep deprived? And what can you do to ensure that you’re keeping up with life’s demands? (Disclosure, in case you forgot that this blog is called Leadership Coach and not Doctor John: I’ll remind you that I have no medical background, I’m not a pharmacist, or a therapist. Just a former business leader who became a coach.) I’ve come across a few things that work for many people and may be helpful for you as well. Here are a few things to noodle:

1. Do you fall asleep every night within 5 minutes of hitting the pillow?
You’re probably sleep deprived. Most people who report being well rested tell me that they take a longer amount of time each night, usually more like 8 to 15 minutes before the Sandman comes.
2. Can you fall asleep on a plane, in the car’s backseat, or on a bus a moment after sitting down? I know business people who brag about this ability to “power nap.” They see it as a good thing, but it’s usually the opposite. Their body is simply really exhausted, trying to grab a few winks at any opportunity.

3. Do you fumble for the right words more often then you did before?
This can be attributed to senior citizenship of course; but for those under 50, it likely has to do with the number of hours or the quality of your sleep each night. When we aren’t well rested, our memory falters. This impacts our job performance. Importantly, it makes us less “bullet proof” when employment and promotion decisions are being made.
4. Do you wake up a few times every night? If so, try to figure out what is that is causing you to break that important REM time. If it’s the same stuff repeatedly that is causing you to lose sleep, then you’ve got to consciously deal with it. Or else your sub-conscious is going to keep trying – and that wakes you up. I realize some things are out of our control and we simply can’t “fix” them. But you should address them.

My advice is that you discuss the issues with friends, family, therapists, coaches, whatever. That alone may help get the stuff off your mind and allow you to sleep better. As a bonus, you may get some solid advice to fix the hassles causing you difficulty.

There are some symptoms that I look for in my clients who tell me their effectiveness is going downhill. Check yourself out to see if you’ve got any of them:

– You’re more emotional than usual, loss of energy, lessened focus.

-If you feel far too sad over the plight of the doctors on Greys Anatomy than usual, or have little interest in taking that run around the block like you’ve always enjoyed before now, or if you seem to have so many thoughts in your head that you can’t prioritize, then it’s time to take some action.

Here are a couple of more suggestions. I’ve seen these used successfully by habitually sleepless types:

If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t need an alarm to wake up for the day
– try unplugging the clock or cover it up. Otherwise, when you do awaken in the night, it’s the first thing you’ll check. That leads to thinking. And then getting the “business head” engaged. Consider the clock a disruptor.

And finally, here’s an approach that works really well for some people trying to get a better quality of sleep
– Before your normal bedtime, go someplace else where you can have some peace and quiet. Lie down and just think about relaxing and clearing your head from the day.

Give yourself 15 minutes in this kind-of-Zen state each evening. You may find you nod off but it won’t be for a long time in most circumstances. After the 15 minutes, get ready for bed as normal and hit the rack. Don’t allow yourself to think about the job or whatever it is that has you stressed. Just keep going back to the nice Zen state from earlier and let yourself go to sleep.

Face your sleep issues head-on. Like most of life’s hassles, you may be impressed with your outcome when you do.


Leadership Coach