As Americans, we are among the most entertained and stimulated people on the planet. Sociologists believe this is because we have more access to content and connection than any generation that has come before us. Everything is available online. We don’t even have to leave the house to get groceries if we don’t want to!
Netflix, Hulu, ESPN, Sirius and hundreds of channels are at our fingertips and for many of us is a nightly ritual. If we want to read a book, we can download that too, if we need stuff, we can browse Craigslist. Everything is convenient and at our fingertips.
This kind of atmosphere keeps our minds and emotions overstimulated and sometimes overwhelmed. Is this the best way to live?
Look around. We’re a distracted people, always looking down at our phones, responding to emails or checking our Twitter feed. Work is never done and seems to follow us around wherever we go. It’s a miracle we get anywhere in one piece while paying such little attention to what’s going on around us! But what if one day all of that changed? What if we learned that happiness and health was more than entertainment and engagement?
Well being forms from our habits. When we use entertainment or social media as an escape mechanism, we develop bad habits that infringe on our ability to lead normal, healthy lives. These habits make us lose sleep, gain weight, form attitudes of entitlement or impatience and possibly neglect the ones we love.
Our lifestyle choices are the primary drivers of our happiness. A startling number of Americans are addicted to technology, but it is a socially acceptable kind of addiction which makes it even more dangerous. While technology is not in itself evil, and winding down to your favorite show at night isn’t so bad, as soon as one show turns into five, enjoyment turns into obsession.
Good leadership amounts to keeping destructive habits at bay to make room for things that are truly life-giving. But we can’t have the life we want if we aren’t taking care of the basics: getting a good night’s sleep, diet and exercise, and maintaining strong relationships. For example, exercise is a good habit! It makes us more alert during the day, increases brain activity and releases the neurotransmitter serotonin that is primarily responsible for mood management. Binge watching TV shows at night is a bad habit that agitates our brain with too much stimulus and is linked to poor sleeping habits.
Serotonin is necessary for managing our sleep schedules. Lack of sleep triggers cortisol, an undesirable stress-induced hormone responsible for promoting weight gain. Sleep deprivation releases stress hormones, while good sleep assures our serotonin is regulating our mood properly.
Research has suggested that most people’s Circadian rhythms (sleep patterns) differ by a margin of only one hour, meaning it’s best for our bodies to go to bed a few hours after the sun goes down, and rise when it comes up.
How much we sleep also affects how our bodies regulate Vitamin D. The sooner we wake with the sun, the more exposure to sunlight we receive, which our body synthesizes as Vitamin D to support genes that resist autoimmune and infectious diseases like cancer. Getting sleep is a natural boost to our immune system and energy levels. I would go so far as to suggest that getting enough sleep is crucial to empowering your leadership. Good sleep allows the brain to re-boot and prepare for the next day’s demands.
Too much cortisol caused by chronic sleep deprivation is also a contributing factor to weight gain which is not conducive to a happy or healthy lifestyle. Caffeinated beverages meant to prop ourselves up during the day are an insufficient energy source, as they come with added sugars or the effects of dehydration that make us more tired and lethargic.
Creating natural wake and sleep times has far reaching benefits for your life and leadership. This will also keep us away from the artificial means we use to boost our energy levels for a temporary effect. Go with what your body needs first and foremost which is sleep! This takes forethought and self-discipline, but your body and others will thank you for it.
To your excellence in being happy and well rested,