Solving My Sleep Crisis

July 17, 2013

By Laurie Clarke, COO, The Tatham Group

I recently read a very interesting, and scary, article about sleep:  The Sleep Crisis. As most new parents are, I’ve been a bit obsessed with sleep – mine and the little ones – and this article intensified my fears. Realizing that most of my efforts to affect the kids sleep were not making a difference, I decided to focus on my own sleep patterns. Why is it that some days I feel better than others even though I got the same number of hours of sleep? How do I impact the seemingly uncontrollable?

Time to pull out the problem solving checklist to solve my sleep problems. And yes, I get strange looks and comments when I talk about applying this way of thinking to my life outside of work.  Although I prefer to think of it as living an observed life, as a customer once phrased it so elegantly.

Let’s start at the beginning, I knew the effects of poor sleep on how I felt and my productivity. The article explained the unseen effects and a brief chat with my husband reinforced all of the above.  The issue was simple:  Poor quality sleep.

I was able to identify and document both my normal and ‘why won’t my kids sleep?!?’ night time processes. Not knowing enough about sleep in general I sought out an expert on the physiological process. I could easily see where the problems were occurring, and there were quite a few of them.

Now all I needed was some actual data. To collect this I found a wonderful app for my iPhone called Sleep Cycle. WARNING: Looking at this information can be addictive! Once I had a couple of weeks of information I could analyze the reports to determine the highest occurring defect. There were no shortages of potential root causes although I had to push to find the ones that were because of me and not the kids. It is surprisingly easy to blame others for a problem!

The app made experimentation easy as well. Here were a few of mine:

1. To prove the potential root cause of a poor quality sleep is consuming caffeine. I could record in the sleep notes when I had coffee or tea and the times. I had poor quality sleeps. But when I went to turn off the cause and eliminated all caffeine there was no improvement in sleep quality. Not the root cause.

2. To prove the potential root cause of a poor quality sleep is not exercising daily. This was a root cause but not the only one.

3. To prove the potential root cause of poor quality sleep is teething related sleep interruptions.  Every night my son woke up screaming multiple times in the middle of the night which woke his sister which woke my husband…I had poor quality sleeps. Business trip with guaranteed no interruptions produced high quality sleep. Another root cause determined.

In all, I ran 15 experiments and identified six root causes. Five were completely within my control to change. I was able to prototype and improve overall sleep quality. I will not share my process because, as we all know, everyone is different, will have different root causes and require a solution that addresses their unique body and situations. I continue to collect data and make refinements.  Taking a few weeks to address my sleep quality has significantly improved my overall health and happiness.