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Sleep your way to the top (of your own game)

Advice uttered by Ariana Huffington in 2016 as she explained her own soaring productivity….with more sleep

This shut eye human essential once scorned en masse by CEO or power hungry types that thought the only possible way to the top was with the absolute bare minimum.  A kind of badge of ‘less is more’ honour.   If you could domineer boardrooms and people and make a profit on 4 hours or less a night you were more of a success especially if you were female - better, tougher, more resilient; the vibe of corporate life in the 80’s trickling down from the high pedestal occupied by the ‘iron lady’ Maggie Thatcher who toiled daily with as little as 4 hours sleep a night (or less).  She went on to develop Alzheimers (sleep deprivation since proven to be one of the most significant lifestyle factors influencing the onset of the disease).

Fast forward to today and sleep is viewed as the ultimate luxury that we all need to invest in.  Nestled deep at the root of the ‘wellbeing' movement that gets bandied around too easily nowadays as we soar into the new fad of monetisation of mindfulness or more succinctly put, ‘McMindfulness.’  In his book of the same title, Korean Zen Teacher Ronald Purser cites that as mindfulness has grown in popularity, 'it has been extracted from its true Buddhist roots’ and commodified.  It’s another thing that we need to ‘buy.’   ‘Toxic wellness’ if you will

So back to sleep, or not.  If any of us were suffering with sleep deprivation pre-pandemic, research shows that lockdown was a sleep stealer for many of us. The endless days, the uncertainty, the home schooling, the financial insecurity, the worry of our own mortality of relatives dying, the loss, the lack of interaction, the lack of routine, friendships, casual exchanges, commuting, exercise, the seemingly never ending aspect of all of it.  That’s me reeling off in five seconds the tip of the big worry mountain that was almost 4 years ago.  What a profound experience it all was.  Even now.   The incapacity to step out of the house and shake out worries or annoyances to colleagues, friends and family that we weren’t in a ‘bubble’ with meant we had to internalise a lot.  It was no wonder that nightly mental whirring was in complete and utter overdrive.  And then naturally, the sleep crisis got worse.

In the chaos of Covid-19, the relatively quiet, ‘hovering in the background’ movement of mindfulness and meditation metamorphosed.  Mental wellbeing of people and staff rocketed to the top of the life and corporate world agenda.  And so too did the amount of apps that mushroomed in a short space of time that claimed they could provide the tools to quieten the lockdown overdrive mind.    There are now over 1000 meditation apps -  Headspace, Calm, Meditopia are some of those that top the global charts  (downloads are in excess of 450 million).      Rooted originally in Buddhism, all of the ‘mindfulness’ that we are being served up now (capitalist endeavours and profits loom large behind the cutesie curative little square app box) has been stripped of any indigenous spiritual connotations or implications.   Instead, according to Forbes, ‘mindfulness is viewed as a scientifically proven route for gaining a mental edge in a frazzled, business world. ‘  

‘I’m just off to monetise this sacred spiritual movement,’ the mantra might chant now.  Perhaps?

Also ironic is that these so called mental problem solving apps are available on the very devices that are slowly turning us insane.  The same electronic handheld 5G bundles that are rapidly decaying our kids brains that we permit, mostly for their safety or location information (and moreover our sanity) but with detrimental bonus add-on’s for them.  Devices that allow an oversharing of everything and tell us many things we don’t need to know instantly on rolling news or doom scrolling from utter boredom.  It’s exhausting giving these devices our brain space ALL of the time.   And actually, unnecessary.   We don’t need to be ON all of the time. We’ve forgotten that being bored is good - it stimulates our own true self - not being served or distracted by a pithily paid ‘reporter’ in a newsroom or feature desk trying to justify their existence with a so called ‘story’ on the sidebar of shame that we propel by clicking. 

So before thinking about downloading another self-help APP on your phone, it might be worth asking the question before you do, should I perhaps read a book instead?  Could the habit of being without my phone right before I go to sleep be a good thing and make sleep come a bit easier?  Or perhaps listening and I mean just listening - not multitasking as you co-join the online supermarket shop with having Netflix on in the background (or Amazon Prime or Disney Plus or Apple TV etc) whilst pairing socks.

The other factor that might have a guilty conscience in sleep stealing land are the metrics and data that (some of us) have become obsessed with.  Getting your steps in each day - 25,000 today! Check ME OUT.  Yes fine, but do you need data - can you not just go with the intuitive feeling of how your mind and body responds after the exercise - the hot shower, the deserved meal and the warm irreplaceable natural ’glow’ that ensues, without having to analyse data and numbers to make you feel worthwhile?  Feeling so tired or invigorated after exercise means you are very likely to have a much improved sleep.   We feel it.  Our bodies know it and respond accordingly.  We don’t need to be told it by something lifeless.  But have we lost track?  

Analysing data for every part of our lives is exhausting and counter productive. Capitalism and devices EAT sleep.  Check out of gizmo land and tune-in to the quality and length of your inhalation and exhalation (breath is a great place to start for grounding).  

Or alternatively go on an audible journey.  Use your ears to zone in to the likes of Max Richter’s 8 hour long album, SLEEP that he wrote specifically with sleep hungry people in mind .  His aim?  ‘To try and stop the machine just for a moment.’  His marathon artistic protest against ‘toxic productivity.’  Of course I am not suggesting we have 8 hours to dedicate to this (unless you fall asleep listening to it) but, getting lost in this most streamed classical music album of all time could be a place where the mind might quieten? In the same way that dance music at 120bpm makes you want to dance.  A sort of lost stasis between consciousness and sub.  Music fact: it has a profound effect on a neural level and can help counter physical and mental fatigue by the method of distraction and transportation but snag, maybe don’t listen to it on your phone…..

CD? Vinyl? We’ve sort of snookered ourselves in the music streaming department… airplane mode?

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