Sleep when you can

I was talking to a colleague this week about sleeping. It’s not such an unusual conversation to have at work when you have a global role for a big multi-national company. My “normal” is to travel two or three times a month between the US and somewhere that is at least six time zones away from the east coast of the US, where I live. While I’m no George Clooney in the movie “Up in the Air,” (the warrior traveler who prided himself on being the master of all things business travel), I do put my sleep cycle into a tailspin many times a month.

“Denice, how do you manage crossing the different time zones?” asked my colleague, who looked a little tired having just arrived back in Munich from Boston.

“I don’t really manage it well,” I replied. “I’ve learned to sleep when I can. And I’ve stopped punishing myself for not being able to sleep when I think I should—if I can’t sleep, then beating myself up for it doesn’t make it better.”

Sleeping well makes me happy. Just before I left my job in 2005, sleep was as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster. I would wake up multiple times a night and struggle to get back to sleep each time. I would fall asleep exhausted at 9:00 PM only to bolt awake at midnight, unable to get back to sleep.

In an odd way, learning to sleep—or not sleep—has been a good thing for me. Instead of fighting it and feeling frustrated by it, I’ve learned to accept that this is part of my work life and how my own body works. I have found strategies to make it better, such as:

  • I never schedule any meetings when I first land in a new location. I block at least six hours between landing and my first event. If I had a sleepless night on the plane, I go to the hotel and sleep before I start my day.
  • If I feel pretty good when I land, I stay awake. Normally, this is found time for me and I am usually pretty efficient during these four or five hours when I expected to be sleeping at the hotel.
  • When I get on the plane, if I feel sleepy, I go to sleep right away, even if it’s 5:00 PM. I don’t eat or have a drink, other than some water. Airplane food is never better than sleeping.
  • I play Klondike on my BlackBerry. Go figure, but this makes me sleepy.
  • And my number one strategy: I sleep when I can.

I’m pretty sure that many of my tips would not work for other people, but they work for me. And more importantly, they are indicative of my new attitude towards work: I’ve learned to accept this aspect of my work, rather than getting upset and frustrated by it.

Now, I need a nap.

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