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Can getting more sleep lead to better life balance?

Why more and more successful people are making a decision to get some Z’s

by Susan Sly

It seemed like a good idea at the time, as most such endeavors do. Perhaps that is why so many of us have trouble finding true life balance.

I had just finished my piece on stage at The Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas in front an audience three thousand women and one of my fellow panelists, and good friend, invited me to grab a bite and a glass of wine with some girls. It was about quarter past ten at night and I had to wake up at four in the morning.

After a long, productive, and energized day, the wine especially sounded enticing.

Fast forward to after midnight, on the heels on great conversation, I made my way to bed. After packing a few more things, washing my stage make-up off, reading The Bible, and setting my wake-up call, the time on my trusty Timex Ironman watch now read 12:30 a.m. I knew what this would mean. My old program where I told myself that I could function on just a few hours of sleep kicked in.

At 4:00 a.m. I woke up, even before the alarm had sounded. There I was with only three and a half hours of sleep, a short flight back to Phoenix, and still a full day ahead.

I had two choices at this point – go negative and complain about the lack of sleep even though it was my choice to take the earliest flight possible so I could make my youngest daughter’s last soccer game of the season. Or I could figure out a way to positively navigate the day ahead without the requisite sleep to act as a foundation for what was on the schedule.

If you know me whatsoever, you are correct in assuming I chose the latter. I also incorporated several techniques to successfully navigate the day ahead.

That evening there was a school fundraiser to attend. In the past, I would have said ‘yes’ and attempted to do it all. In my new life, one where in striving for life balance, I value things like sanity and health over social obligation and appearances. That’s why I had decided that attending the soccer game and getting to be early took precedent over the school function.

I didn’t even feel apologetic when people asked if they would see me that night. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I will be in bed.’

Three and a half hours of sleep may be extreme. Years ago, I functioned on about five; six was luxurious. I thought I could push through, I thought I could be superhuman.

That was until my seven-day work week, constantly making myself available, saying ‘yes’ to everything and working seventeen hour days caught up with me. At events, and in much of my training, I am quite candid about the following fact – I didn’t ‘get’ multiple sclerosis, I gave it to myself. And driving myself to function on much less than the requisite seven to eight hours only added fuel to the fire.

According to a 2013 Gallup Poll, 40% of Americans are getting 6.8 hours of sleep on average per night. Another study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that 20% of Americans are actually getting fewer than six hours.

This is NOT life balance. Driving ourselves to sleep less and work more has actually been a catalyst for severe health problems according to new research. Obesity, depression, anxiety, weight gain, headaches, and heart disease are now being linked in part, if not at least a precipitating factor, to the aforementioned states.

In other words, in addition to exercise and a healthy diet, sleep is right up there in determining the quality of our lives.

          Read Related Article: Three Things Achievers Do Before Bed

I once had a client who proudly functioned on four hours of sleep per night. He ran a ten figure company and was often on international conference calls until midnight or later; he was up at four in the morning to get in his workout, read the papers and get a jump on his employees.

This particular individual also had about thirty pounds he couldn’t lose and eventually ended up with stage four cancer. Did the lack of sleep cause the cancer? It is unlikely that lack of sleep alone can cause a disease like cancer. However, the body is very unlikely to be able to function properly and regenerate with such little sleep.

Growth hormone, our bodies naturally produced anti-aging hormone, the one that causes us to be lean, feel youthful and have a great sex drive, is actually secreted several times per day. The greatest secretion generally happens at night, about one hour into deep REM sleep.

If we are not going to be bed early enough and getting into that deep REM sleep, we are not going to produce enough growth hormone. In other words, it can rapidly age us. One doctor I worked with told me that growth hormone had the greatest secretion between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

He said, “Susan, I don’t care if you get up at four in the morning, as long as you are asleep by ten.”

I reasoned that he couldn’t possibly understand the demands of my life and getting into bed at such an early hour was impossible.

Today, I fully see his reasoning becoming a ‘lab rat’ in my own self-study. I had my own growth hormone levels tested during my ‘lights out at midnight’ stage and again about six months into my ‘lights out by 10 p.m. stage,’ and sure enough, the growth hormone levels rose.

I can’t say that I am perfect in terms of always getting to bed early, but I personally did not require more evidence than that.

Getting more sleep isn’t a luxury for me – it is a necessity. My main physician shared with me that new research illustrates that increased growth hormone may buffer MS symptoms.

I personally choose not to use medication and am always searching for modalities to navigate my diagnosis. Since I have started consciously making an effort to go to bed earlier I have noticed that I do feel better. A wonderful side benefit was also a decrease in body fat.

I once, like many, famously said, ‘I will sleep when I am dead.’ Today I hope that I will be known for this quote instead, ‘I will die early if I do not get more sleep.’

The evidence is compelling and everyone from Arianna Huffington to Wall Street tycoons are touting the need for more sleep. In fact, sleep has become the new status symbol for the wealthy. My friend, Brandon Steiner, a well-known New Yorker with a direct tone and a solid head for business, has recently dropped some weight and when I saw him a few weeks ago, looked fantastic. I asked Brandon what he was doing and his response was, ‘Sleeping!’

I was happy for Brandon as I know that he has some big plans for his next entrepreneurial bid, and being healthy is essential if he is going to do what he intends to.

My biggest tip for those of you wanting to get more sleep is to allow it. There are many useful tips and strategies for better sleep, but please keep in mind that nothing is going to work if you do not first give yourself permission.

You can tell yourself that there are twenty-five more critical emails to answer, another post to get out on social media, or several texts that must be addressed; or you can simply say, ‘I will get to those in the morning.’ Something that I learned the hard way is that there will always be people demanding my time, but if I do not allow myself to sleep, I will not be of much use to anyone.

My bottom line message to you is get more sleep. Stop deluding yourself and pushing through. The evidence is clear – the more you push the greater the risk.  At the end of the day, we can make all of the money we desire, climb our corporate ladders, and establish ourselves. However, if it costs us our health, the success will not matter.


Susan Sly is a best selling author, work life balance expert, speaker and entrepreneur. She has appeared on CNN, CNBC, Fox, Lifetime Television and the CBN. Susan is the mother of five children and resides in Scottsdale, Arizona.





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