If you woke up this morning to the sound of your alarm clock at full volume, followed by a wave of dread, overwhelm, or even the desire to turn it off and go straight back to sleep, you aren’t alone. You probably spent some of your mornings procrastinating after grabbing yourself a cup of coffee and making your way slowly to your desk to start your day. Your energy feels low. You’re tired. You are trying to work but are distracted by every inbox ping and cell phone ring. You aren’t getting anything important knocked off your to-do list, and it’s already noon.
While most entrepreneurs are downloading another productivity app or setting up a new calendar scheduling system to get more done, the true hero when it comes to banishing procrastination and boosting productivity is sustaining high-level energy. Think of the last time you pushed off a task until later – it was probably because you were feeling tired, foggy, or unfocused.
That feeling of brain fog is usually caused by inflammation in your body that is affecting your brain. When we hear the word ‘inflammation,’ we likely think of that time as a kid when we sprained our ankle when it got inflamed, swollen, and irritated. The same thing can happen in your digestive system, in your body, and, you guessed it, your brain. While there are a bunch of things that can cause inflammation in your brain, my best recommendation is to start with the change that will create the biggest results.
The most effective way to boost brain energy and stop procrastination in its tracks starts the night before with high-quality sleep. The best part is that you are already doing it, and it’s free, so making a few small changes to make it better quality will pay off in the form of energy and movement in your business.
Getting a sound night of rest is about more than how many hours your eyes are closed. In order to get the most out of the time you spend asleep, start incorporating these top strategies for a refreshed, high energy brain:
1. Get to bed on time!
This means establishing work/life boundaries and setting a reminder on your phone if you need the extra nudge to get moving. Going to bed and waking up simultaneously (plus or minus half an hour, even on weekends!) is the easiest way to make sure you are taking full advantage of all the things that happen to your brain while you’re asleep.
This works because you are using the power of your body’s circadian rhythm. This rhythm is an internal 24-hour clock that governs many of your body’s processes, including your sleep/wake rhythm, body temperature, heart rate, and hormone release.
For example, you do most of your dreaming in the second half of the night. Dream sleep, or rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, is responsible for your ability to think outside of the box, be a great problem solver, and keep your cool when things go sideways in your business. If you wake up really early one day, you’ll cut into a large chunk of your dream sleep, and it’ll leave you feeling irritable and foggy, which is not helping your productivity at all.
2. Block that blue light
You’ve heard it 100 times not to stare into your devices before bed, and the reason behind that is important to know. The wavelength of blue light that is emitted from your computer and your phone enters your eyes and signals a part of the brain to pump the brakes on producing melatonin, the sleep hormone.
When blue light enters your eyes, it tricks your brain into thinking it is daytime, so it halts this hormone release, so you don’t get sleepy. As bedtime arrives and you turn out the lights, your brain hasn’t received the signal that nighttime is here because there isn’t enough melatonin in your system. This is probably the reason you end up staring at the ceiling, wondering why your brain won’t turn off and go to sleep!
If you are one of those people that can fall asleep watching TV, don’t think you’re off the hook. Your sleep is more likely to be disrupted, and the quality of your sleep declines rapidly, leaving you feeling groggy and exhausted in the morning. Some studies even report a digital hangover effect in which screens before bed can affect your sleep quality for up to three days following.
However, being an entrepreneur means that sometimes, you need to check in with your business last minute. Your best bet is to automate the blue light blocking feature on these devices and set them on a schedule. Set it to go into night mode 2 hours before bed and save your brain. To take it a step further, invest in a pair of blue-light-blocking glasses with red lenses to wear 60 minutes before bed to help your body naturally ramp up sleep hormone production so you can have an amazing sleep.
3. Perform the hand test
When you are in your bedroom tonight (with the lights out) right before you fall asleep, hold your hand 6 inches in front of your face. Can you see your hand? What about right when you wake up in the morning? If the answer is yes, you’ve failed the hand test, and your bedroom is too bright for maximum quality sleep.
Light entering your bedroom, whether it be through the windows, under the door, or even from that sneaky flashing light on your cell phone, can disrupt melatonin and cause you to lose out on high-quality sleep. To take this tip for a test run, you can tape or velcro cardboard over your windows. Notice that your sleep improved? Great, invest in high quality, coated set of blackout curtains or a roller blind. They have affordable options at Ikea.
4. Cut caffeine by noon
Your cup of coffee, even your black tea, can affect your brain’s ability to get into deep quality sleep at night. Even if you can fall asleep right after a cup of coffee, your sleep IS still affected.
Caffeine binds with the same receptor in the brain as the neurotransmitter adenosine. Adenosine’s job is to increase the sleep drive you experience during the day, which is why you are tired in the evening and more alert in the morning. If caffeine is blocking the receptor, it’ll keep you feeling alert. This works well if you’re trying to keep your brain awake but works against you when you need your brain to recover with sleep. Caffeine can hang around in your brain for hours after you drain your cup – approximately half the caffeine may still be present 5-6 hours after you finish your coffee and a quarter 12 hours later. You do the math, and you can easily see how this will affect your sleep.
5. Calm your brain before bed
During the day, your brainwaves are likely experiencing a frequency called beta, which is responsible for focus and attention. In order to have a restful sleep, your brain needs to be able to slow down its brainwaves into alpha, theta, and then delta waves with sleep. The problem becomes when you are watching TV, staring into your screen, working, or engaging in anything that requires you to focus; your brain waves stay in beta.
Carve out 60 minutes before bed to spend time doing a relaxing activity to help your brain wind down before bed so that the transition into sleep is smoother. A less anxious and productive brain works wonders for quality sleep. Quiet activities like reading, stretching, listening to music, journaling or a skincare routine are great ways to dial down the chatter in your brain.
Giving your brain the proper rest and recovery it needs with high-quality sleep can make you a better entrepreneur and helps to create a high-energy brain that is seriously productive.