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Nurturing vs. depleting activities: getting your ratio right

by Dr. Jason Ong

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This post by sleep scientist Dr. Jason C. Ong is part of our Sleep Health course. You can experience the full 14-day course with a subscription to the Headspace app.

If you’ve been having trouble with sleep for a while, it’s very easy for life to start to feel like a struggle.

This is a little exercise that you can use to help you get a better picture of how you’re expending energy during the day. It can come in really handy when you’re exhausted after a rough night, and even simple tasks start to feel overwhelming. It only takes a few minutes, and it can help you to make more mindful decisions about how you spend your time, which can reduce stress, and help you get better sleep in the future.

First, begin by creating a list of the activities that you typically do during any given day. It doesn’t have to be totally exhaustive, but just a general picture of an average day will do to start.

Once you’ve got your list, go through it and try to rate each activity as either Nurturing or Depleting, based on the effect they have on your energy levels. Consider how you feel after spending time doing each one. More energized? That’s a nurturing activity. More fatigued? You got it: depleting.

Tally up the number of nurturing vs. depleting activities, until you have a ratio of N:D. This ratio should show you the energy balance across your day. If the number of depleting activities is greater than the number of nurturing activities, then overall, you’re losing energy during the day. The solution? It’s simple, engage in a few more nurturing activities. Take a walk, do a little exercise, stretch, or do something creative.

There are so many advantages to getting a better picture of how your energy is spent. It can help you to make mindful decisions about how to spend your time, rather than acting out of self-pity or frustration. And, by showing you that enjoyable activities can actually increase your energy, it can give you the mandate to reintroduce things that you may have abandoned due to overwhelming tiredness. That in turn makes us less likely to freak out about what poor sleep is doing to our lives.

We all know that it can be hard to be nice to people when you haven’t slept well. But being kind to yourself is a great place to start.

Dr. Jason Ong

Dr. Jason Ong is an Associate Professor in the Department of Neurology and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine's Center of Circadian and Sleep Medicine. He received his PhD in clinical psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and completed a fellowship in Behavioral Sleep Medicine at Stanford University. Dr. Ong’s overall purpose is to help people sleep better without using drugs. His research lab is supported by the National Institutes of Health, with projects using mindfulness meditation and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for sleep disorders. In addition to his research interests, Dr. Ong also has a clinical practice where he uses mindfulness and behavioral approaches to help people with insomnia and hypersomnia.

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