I’ve had the opportunity to be interviewed on several podcasts lately, and I’ve found myself referring to sleep, diet, and exercise fairly consistently. Specifically, these topics come up when I’m asked about habits I maintain, finding energy to keep going, establishing balance in life, keys to success in starting a company, and a number of other questions.
I’ve realized whenever I feel out of whack in any way — whether it’s shoulder pain and headaches or stress and anxiety — it almost always relates back to one or more of these three topics. Some startup founders and gurus will talk about how they can get by on 3 hours of sleep a night, 5 hour energy as a reliable energy source, and other crazy advice.
I believe most people have not experienced true balance from the habitual pursuit of quality sleep, clean eating, and consistent exercise. Because of this they dish advice based on what they do know — fast food for meals, coffee and energy drinks for alertness, and not seeing the point of exercise.
This post is about sleep and two future posts will cover diet and exercise. The series serves as a counterpoint to some of the advice I mentioned above. Take what makes sense to you and use it, and leave the rest. I have not had astronomical entrepreneurial success, but I believe the pursuit of these practices will contribute to my ongoing success.
My ambition is to sleep eight hours every night. 10:30 – 6:30.
Many people will read that and laugh. They’ll think of their mom telling them to go to bed when they were younger, or the doctor who makes unreasonable suggestions at every annual checkup.
In my experience, every time I have ever had eight hours of sleep before a day of work while rising early, I have absolutely crushed it the next day. I’ve had my most productive writing days, most successful presentations, and some of my most powerful creative breakthroughs on days after sufficient sleep.
On a day when I’ve had eight hours sleep, I can knock out as many as five to six thousand words for a course, book, or blog posts. To put that in perspective, that is about 1/10th of the length of an average conventionally published business book.
You don’t have to take my word for it though. Recent studies show that getting sufficient sleep allows our brain to clean out all of the waste that comes from our activity throughout the day. The brain-cleaning process cleans out waste that contributes to diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in the long term, but in the short term it allows our brain to function at peak performance.
Other studies show that our sleep allows us to process and store our learning from the day. We create new connections within our brain that allows us to retain important information and access it when we need it later. In other words, you remember more of what you’ve learned and can use that knowledge when you encounter problems in business and personal situations.
Finally, we’ve seen that sleep deprivation can produce lapses in reaction time and impaired decision-making ability similar to being drunk. Being both sleep deprived and drunk amplifies the effects of both.
The point of all of this academic talk: sleep cleans the brain to restore it to peak performance, stores lessons learned, makes us more creative, and improves our ability to make good decisions. If you had to create a formula for doing great work, it would probably look something like that last sentence. It looks like a pretty good argument for putting the computer away at the end of the day and getting more sleep.
Practically speaking, this looks like getting into a routine that prioritizes sleep. For me that means I’ve set a habitual goal of being in bed by 11pm every night, which will allow me 7.5 hours of sleep by the time I wake up at 6:30. Studies show that keeping a consistent sleep schedule is the biggest key to forming the habit.
The second key for me is turning off screens at least 30 minutes before I want to go to sleep. Ideally, I would increase this buffer to 60 or 90 minutes, but I’ve found it incredibly difficult to stick to that commitment.
The combination of removing screen time before bed and having a set time I try to be physically in the bed has led me to getting much more quality sleep, and in turn, much more energy during the day. It’s still a habit in progress, but I like where I’m headed.
What’s your view on sleep? Do you prioritize it? What have you done to form the habit?