The secret to a good night's sleep

One downside to a glamorous, fast-paced job is the lack of sleep.

One downside to a glamorous, fast-paced job is the lack of sleep. The fact that we have to get up and be fresh as a daisy five days a week is a bit horrifying. It's especially bad when you get into bed at night and your body is exhausted, but your mind is on overdrive.

In the scheme of things, I think I lost more sleep while working at PR firms than while working at corporations.

I'm not sure if that's because agency life was inherently more stressful than corporate life, or if it's just that I was greener and jumpier then.

As a young account supervisor, I basically couldn't sleep before every major press event, client meeting, or new business presentation. Since one of these happened just about every week, I initiated an early and long-lasting addiction to caffeine shortly after my career began.

On nights before a big announcement, visions of typos on the press release would creep into my brain just as I was about to fall asleep. I would then get up, get out of bed, and worry.

Sometimes I'd wake at 3am from a deep sleep and stay up obsessing over whether I had remembered to order a video crew to tape the press conference like the client requested. Sometimes I would just simply lie in bed worrying that no one was going to attend my big event. This was especially true when the event centered on the announcement of a new optical memory disk recorder or some such can't-live-without-it innovation that my client was expecting to generate major media coverage.

In fact, sometimes no one did show up to these events.

At one agency I worked for, we announced a major new survey of administrative assistants timed for National Secretary's Day, only to learn that Coca-Cola decided to unveil New Coke that day. Exactly one journalist came to our press conference.

After I joined the in-house staff of a large corporation, I found that I began to lose sleep more because of people than events. By people I mean those charming, supportive colleagues who were trying to undermine me, eliminate me, or, at the very least, annex a chunk of my department.

Occasionally, I would bolt upright in the middle of the night thinking about a particular subordinate with whom I was struggling or whose performance review was about to take place. Sometimes it was about layoffs that I knew were looming or about a colleague who was facing the axe and didn't have an inkling about it.

I did worry about events and presentations on the corporate side, but the further I climbed the ladder, the less involved I was in details and, in turn, the less I worried about them in the middle of the night. I learned quickly, however, that while it might improve my nightly sleep, it was in fact dangerous to disengage too much from details because at some point the chairman does walk up to you and ask why there is no video crew taping the event. You'd better have an answer for that question.

With age and experience, I've since learned how to stay close to the details and still get a good six or seven hours of rest. I now have three alternate methods to ensure that I fall asleep.

The first is to rid my mind of worrisome details by thinking about fishing. If that doesn't work, I think about baseball.

If neither of those does the trick, I take Ambien.

Don Spetner is EVP, corporate affairs at executive recruitment firm Korn/Ferry International.

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