Well-Being//

How Sleeping Well Can Boost Clarity and Focus

Thrive Global’s Sleep Editor-at-Large, Shelly Ibach, explains the connection between sleep and clarity — and how having a clear head matters in leadership and life.

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Shutterstock

As I reflect on Mental Health Awareness Month, it brings to mind that clarity is one of my core leadership fundamentals. And as 2021 progresses, clarity has never been more important. According to the dictionary definition, claritymeans lucidity, coherence, and purity. To me, clarity is also closely connected to purposecourage, and resilience. They go hand in hand and are all essential for these highly unusual and still-evolving times we are living through. Having a clear mind helps us to be our best selves and stay emotionally balanced. Clarity of thought enables us to access our strength, steadiness, and resilience so we can move forward effectively in all our endeavors.

You will not be surprised about my conviction that clear vision is rooted in quality sleep, which enables mental, emotional, and physical fortitude. Being well-rested gives us energy, clarity, and confidence. Science shows poor sleep can result in a foggy mind. When we’ve slept well, we’re better equipped to tackle the day ahead. Inna Khazan, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and sleep specialist at Harvard Medical School, and author of Biofeedback and Mindfulness in Everyday Life, summarizes this well: “One extremely common effect of poor sleep is having trouble thinking clearly. When you don’t give yourself enough time to sleep, your brain is not firing on all cylinders.”

And that, she says, has consequences: “The less you sleep, the more likely you are to have trouble making decisions and to get stuck in anxiety.” A recent study shows poor sleep predicts greater anxiety, particularly during times of increased stress such as the current pandemic. And it’s a vicious cycle, as Khazan points out, because when we feel anxious or worried, we are most likely to get insufficient sleep. “Stressful times mean that your brain needs more rest, not less,” she says. “Giving yourself sufficient time to sleep will help you deal with any stress more efficiently so you can actually accomplish more.”

As President and CEO of Sleep Number, I seldom compromise my sleep. Achieving deep rest on a consistent basis, especially during tough times, has enabled me to lead with courage. Our strategic consistency has helped our company thrive. Sleep Number disrupted the mattress industry with the idea that “one size does not fit all,” and created a sleep health category with our revolutionary 360® smart beds delivering proven quality sleep. Throughout this transformation, our clarity and devotion to our mission of improving lives by individualizing sleep experiencesled us to becomea company with purpose. Our audacious vision, clear strategy, and priorities, along with consistent decision-making and communication, were all necessary ingredients. When combined with our values and capabilities, our purpose of improving the health and well-being of society through higher quality sleep became an organic outcome. It has been our guiding light as we have led through the past year of unexpected challenges and crises. Quality sleep has been essential for my clarity, decision-making, and perceptual acuity. 

One of our most effective “clarity” tools at Sleep Number is the “Five Steps of Accountability.” I established this five-phase process as a young leader, and still follow it today. In fact, my entire team utilizes these simple steps because the process works, every time.

  • Step 1: Share a compelling vision, inspiring your audience with a clear visual picture of what success looks like. 
  • Step 2: Set clear expectations by communicating what you expect others to do or accomplish. Providing clarity of the expected outcome allows others to meet and exceed your expectations. 
  • Step 3: Transfer responsibility by clearly informing the accountable individual, “This is your responsibility to accomplish” or “I am holding you accountable for this expectation.” 
  • Step 4: Teach or coach the accountable person. Be sure they understand and are equipped to accomplish what you expect. 
  • Step 5: Inspect what you expect by asking clarifying questions to learn and reinforce the desired behavior or outcome. This is your opportunity to recognize their work or provide additional coaching. Step Five also shows you care.

By being clear — bothin the workplace or at home — we can seize the opportunity to inspire, teach, challenge, and recognize contributions while achieving and surpassing goals together. 

Another key to clarity in leadership and life is good preparation. One of my favorite sayings is: “It’s all in the setup.” If you invest the time to clearly communicate, you will have an effective outcome. You will listen with an intent to understand, and others will be engaged and fully understand your message. Without proper sleep, there’s a tendency to be more impulsive and less decisive, which doesn’t support clear communication. 

This setup premise is also valuable when it comes to achieving quality sleep. Having a consistentbedtime and wake-uproutine is one of the most important actions you can take for a great night of zzz’s. As you establish your routine and bedroom setting, include the essentials, like a relaxing wind-down period and putting away your phone an hour before bedtime. My bedroom’s serenity is inspired by white pine trees, as I find them calming and peaceful. I also have a lot of windows, which I love because the stars give me hope and the moon inspires my curiosity. Whatever your own room is like, keep your bedroom cool and dark at night to help you end the day calmly, and make sure it is contributing positively to your intentions.

It’s also important to have a comfortable bed and bedding to achieve quality rest. Our 360 smart bed is designed to give each individual their ideal comfort and support. Last year we added circadian rhythm insights to our SleepIQ® technology in the bed, which analyzes natural sleep and wake cycles. This helps you understand firsthand the powerful link between quality sleep at night and daytime clarity. You’ll benefit from insights to maximize your productivity, including the optimal time for you to exercise, have your evening meal, wind down before bed, and rise in the morning.

Your night — your quality sleep — foreshadows your day. And how you start your morning sets the tone for the day ahead. For me, I take time for gratitude and serenity in the morning. My daily reading from the book Jesus Calling helps me reflect and be present for the day ahead.  Find the tool thatworks best for you to support stillness and inspire positivity to begin your day. 

Sleeping well supports your ability to stay present and engaged. And while you can’t control what’s happening in the world, you do have the ability to contribute in a positive manner. Focus on what you can control, how you lead your life, and the attitude you choose to adopt. Personally, after a great night of sleep I am far more likely to be gracious, kind, and find joy in the day. The only thing that is certain and clear is the day we have here and now; make the most of this gift of life. There is a sea change going on right now — let’s all seek the path of hope and optimism. I know we can emerge with grace, clarity, unity, and joy.

Sleep well, be well, dream big, 

Shelly

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