Can you guess what it is yet?
Most of us know that our brains get tired when we make lots of decisions and when our brains get tired, we switch to dumb autopilot. At this point, our stupidity overflows and before we know it, the dry January we’d felt so positive about is forgotten in a haze of gin guzzling and the waist zapping diet we were nailing so perfectly, is trashed in a bacon sandwich frenzy.
The solution (so the science suggests) is to reduce the amount of decisions you have to make on a day-to-day basis, or at least save your brain power for the important decisions. Once your brain has turned to mush having processed the important decisions, then you can kick back and operate on autopilot for the less important decisions. Sounds simple, right?
From my own experience, I find that:
- My decision making ability
- The likelihood of me self sabotaging on all I hold dear
- The chances of me procrastinating when I most need to get stuff done
… are all dictated by one obvious factor, a precious commodity, which divides and conquers parents of young children all over the world … SLEEP!
Picture the scene:
The night was going so incredibly well: all 3 boys (aged 6, 3 and only 4 months) soundly asleep, purring like kittens snuggled in a warm basket. It’s literally NEVER happened before and so my wife and I take full advantage of this strange novelty and jump straight into bed … at last and … SLEEP!
Then, at 2am, our 3 year old wakes up shouting and screaming for milk. I spring out of bed ready for action, the adrenaline is pumping, I have to silence him before he wakes his brother. I glide him out of bed in one smooth motion and get him downstairs. All hell is breaking loose from the 3 year old, but we get to the fridge and out comes the milk, but he doesn’t want cold milk, he wants warm milk.
I put him on the sofa, I heat the milk, he’s still screaming and suddenly, to my absolute horror, I hear more crying, from upstairs. Both his brothers are now awake. The 6 year old also wants milk … 20 minutes later they’re back in bed, but they won’t go back to sleep (not helped by the new born who is now screaming). I try some songs, I make up some stories but still they won’t go to sleep. Even the threat of the wardrobe monster boiling their toes and eating their eyelashes won’t lull them into a peaceful slumber. Finally at 3am, they go back to sleep, its 330am till I get back to sleep and they’re all up again by 630am.
As the decisions come thick and fast through the morning, (Where’s Oscar’s homework? Does rufus have his suncream? There’s no milk so what will I have for breakfast? Is there time for a shower? Where is my damn phone … it’s on silent so is there really time to look for it? Or shall I brave a day without my phone) I’m decision fatigued before I even get to work, but …
Is decision fatigue because of the number of decisions I’m juggling? Or sleep deprivation?
When I’m rested and feeling fresh, I have no problem with decisions, even when they come at me in one go like a flurry of arrows. In fact, I feel energised not drained by decisions and the more decisions I make, the more momentum I create and as I see myself being productive and making an impact, so I grow in confidence and productivity.
The realisation that I’m not dithering on anything, that I’m active, that I’m in the moment, I’m flowing, I’m progressing things around me: these factors create a positive trajectory which drive me to be more productive and energised not less. But none of this is possible if I’m exhausted and sleep deprived.
It’s a well-known fact that Human Growth Hormones (HGH) are the most revitalising hormones the body produces, regenerating our cells, restoring our bodies and boosting muscle growth and strength. Seventy five per cent of our HGHs are released during healthy sleep cycles (7–9 hours of sleep), which is why healthy sleep is linked to better cognitive function, (memory, processing of information, creativity, quality decisions) and better physical health (less injury/less illness/improved performance). It’s hardly surprising therefore, that when we are sleep deprived, with less HGH creation, we feel like zombies and behave like zombies. When you become a zombies, the prospect of making continuous decisions becomes utterly overwhelming.
But the issue is sleep deprivation rather than the quantity of decisions.
If you feel exhausted by the number of decisions you have to make, rather than reduce the number of decisions you have to make each day, start by analyzing your lifestyle: consider your sleep patterns and habits?
How much sleep do you get?
When do you do your sleeping?
Do you sleep fitfully or restfully?
Are your habits in the hours leading up to sleep, conducive to restful sleep?
(Alcohol? Caffeine? Large meals? Body temperature? (research suggests that a cooler body temperature is more likely to get you into a deep sleep more quickly) Exposure to phones/laptops just before going to sleep? The state of your sleeping space? (clutter/untidy, crazy decor) The quality of lighting? The quality of light-blocking items such as curtains/black-out blinds? The quality of mattresses? Disturbances?)
Do you genuinely feel refreshed and alive when you wake up?
If you have to hit the snooze button on your alarm clock 26 times before you fall out of bed and stumble to the bathroom, and if you require a quadruple expresso before you can open your eyes, it’s very likely that you will be decision fatigued before you’ve even left the house!
If you think you’re decision fatigued, get your sleep patterns in order first, then, if you still feel decision fatigued, it may be time to think about reducing the number of decisions you make!
This post was previously published on Medium and is republished here with permission from the author.
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