Whether you’re starting your own business, working the nine-to-five, juggling college courses and a part-time job, or trying to balance between caring for the family and getting projects done, the need for quality sleep is crucial.
Dr. Tiffany Lester, an integrative medicine doctor based in Cincinnati, recently spoke to Black Enterprise about the effects of poor sleep on established executives and those working to make it to the C-Suite. She noted that restorative rest is the key to having it all and making it all work. It’s the reason why she created The Unconscious Workout, a 21-day digital plan that is similar to a high-intensity, interval training workout and aims to get you into the best sleep shape of your life.
Check out Dr. Lester’s prescription for getting better sleep every night:
Black Enterprise: How can lack of sleep affect how we operate and do things, like managing finances, making important life decisions, leading a company or a group of people, and so forth?
Dr. Lester: Sleep is one of the only things that we literally cannot live without. If we don’t sleep, we will go clinically insane. If you’re trying to lead a company or any type of business, or if you are just trying to do your job at your company, a lack of good sleep makes it take longer to complete certain tasks. It can also make you irritable. It contributes to brain fog: when the mind gets cobwebbed and cannot process or think clearly. Sleep is absolutely critical for anyone that wants to be successful.
BE: Why should women of color consider The Unconscious Workout? Are there any ailments that they are more likely to get that The Unconscious Workout and quality sleep in general can help to prevent?
Dr. Lester: There are no specific ailments; it’s a universal thing for all people. Culturally, for black women, there’s this guilt—I think—that we tend to carry. [We feel like] we have to do it all. If you want to try to do it all, go for it. But, you can’t do it that if you’re not sleeping well.
BE: What can we do every day to ensure that we are on our way to better sleep?
Dr. Lester: There are four stages, and each one is essential.
- Stage 1: This is the pre-sleep stage, or the “warm-up.” We warm-up before we exercise to prepare our bodies and protect against injury. The same concept goes for sleep. You can’t expect to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones and then just fall asleep. It doesn’t work that way. Our bodies and mind need to be gently eased into sleep. Takeaway: Set a bedtime alarm.
- Stage 2: This is the “light” stage, and it is similar to LIIT (low-intensity interval training). This is the stage where we first start to nod off, and we can still be woken up with little effort. Most people don’t need to improve this stage, unless they are absolutely exhausted and can go straight into a deep sleep. Often, people can be woken up in this stage by a barking dog or passing ambulance, and they have to start all over. Protect this stage of your sleep by wearing ear plugs or a sleep mask, so you aren’t disrupted.
- Stage 3: This is the “deep” stage, and it is similar to MIIT (moderate-intensity interval training). During this stage, our brain produces relaxing, slow waves to aid our body in healing. This is critical to our health, to clean out all of the cobwebs that have accumulated throughout the day. One of the most important aspects of sleeping well is that it allows our bodies to detox and restore. This is a critical stage, in order to feel awake during the day and for our bodies to function optimally. The best way to ensure you are getting to the deep sleep stage is to exercise for at least 20-30 minutes each day, preferably in the morning.
- Stage 4: This is the REM stage, or the often elusive dream stage. This stage is similar to HIIT (high-intensity interval training). Most people who say they sleep well are still not dreaming. When you reach this stage on a regular basis, you are able to access your deepest intuition. It is a way for our consciousness to solve a problem for a project at work or express what we really wanted to say to our partner who upset us. In terms of HIIT workout, this is also where we burn the most calories to maintain a healthy weight. To get your best sleep ever, we must allow our bodies to dip into the REM stage of sleep. Our coffee-addicted society is the most common way we rob ourselves of this essential stage. Give yourself a caffeine curfew, and do not consume it in any form after 12 noon. Caffeine has been shown to reduce or eliminate REM stage sleep.
BE: What is one important thing a person can do to get restorative deep sleep, if they don’t want to commit to the three-week digital program?
Dr. Lester: Turn off your phone and step away from the electronics, including the TV or Netflix. The biggest thing is people don’t give themselves time for their body and brain to wind down. Just as you set an alarm in morning, set an alarm for bed. Plus, invest in some comfy sleeping clothes, a good eye mask that doesn’t mess up your hair, ear plugs, and make it a priority–make it a ritual. We should do this ideally an hour before bed, and at least 30 minutes before [going to sleep].
BE: How crucial is it to also exercise?
Dr. Lester: It’s vital. What’s also vital is the time at which you workout. Working out in the morning is best, as it activates the parasympathetic nervous system. It sets you up for the whole day, and [helps you] sleep better that night. If you do workout at night, don’t do anything too intense, like running on a treadmill.