Entrepreneurs are all about growth, grinding and hustle. We want to get more done, faster. Work harder than anyone we know. We're inspired by mentors, gurus and influencers who "made it" and want to model exactly what they do to be even more productive and grow even faster.
It's pretty hard to get more than 24 hours in a day, so we look for ways to use even more of those 24 hours for hustling. Because that's what an entrepreneur does, right? No time for slacking off!
It's only natural that we're trying to save time on an activity that normally takes 7-8 hours every day: sleeping.
The less we sleep, the prouder we are of ourselves and feel superior to others who are so lazy that they spend 8 hours in bed and wake up after sunrise. We love complaining about being tired and needing coffee, as this is another way to prove to our peers that we're real grinders. We compensate with 20-minute power naps to get through the day, and we believe that it's worth as much as a good night's sleep.
But here's the thing: you can't 80/20 your sleep.
In this episode, we explore why sleep is more important for entrepreneurs than most people think, how even mild sleep deprivation can affect your performance, why waking up early can be counterproductive and how to get a better quality, more restful sleep that's most ideal for your mind and body.
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Hello and welcome to The ActiveGrowth Podcast. In this episode we are continuing a topic that I started a few weeks ago. I made a video on the importance of sleep for productivity and the importance of sleep for entrepreneurs especially because there is a trend among entrepreneurs to be sleep deprived and be proud of it.
In this episode we're going to go into more detail about why getting enough sleep is important for you especially if you want to be highly productive, high performing entrepreneur. You can get the links to everything I mentioned in this episode, all the links to the resources and so on that we talk about by going to activegrowth.com/sleep. If you have your own story to share, or any questions on this topic, you can also go to activegrowth.com/ sleep to leave a comment or a voice message. With that, without further ado, let's get straight into the episode.
Hello, I'm Shane Melaugh.
I am Hanne Vervaeck.
Today we are talking about sleep. First, let me address why are we talking about sleep on a business and marketing podcast. To explain why this is an important topic to cover on this podcast specifically imagine that you looked around, and you noticed that most entrepreneurs are drunk most of the time. As you know, of course, entrepreneurs, if you want to start your own business, you know that you have got to do some hard work if you've got to be capable of overcoming some difficult challenges. In fact, I think it's generally accepted that if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, you have to bring an extraordinary level of performance. If you're working as an employee, especially if you're working for a large company, then you might get away with doing not very productive work, maybe wasting half your day or so, probably goes under in the overall activity of a large business.
If you are starting your own business and you're slacking off, or you're not working well or not working enough, or you're just not being productive in general, then you will basically, you will get punished for that. In a large company, you might be able to do it and do not get punished because you don't get caught. Well, if you're doing your own thing, you don't have to get caught because the punishment is that you just cannot get your business off the ground. You have to invest all this energy essentially in order to get your business off the ground. Entrepreneurs have to be highly productive and focused. They have to be problem-solvers, challenge overcomers, and so on. Imagine that all of this is true, but also, entrepreneurs tend to be drunk most of the time.
Even worse, many leading and gurus in the space boast about how drunk they are and recommend that if you're an entrepreneur, you should have a drink first thing in the morning. You should make sure that you're nice and sloshed all day. If you saw this happen, you would feel like, "Man, somebody needs to say something here. This is insane. These people who are supposedly trying to be high performers or supposedly being highly focused and productive, they're doing this thing that is a huge detriment to their performance." You might feel compelled to say, "Hey, you know what? Try being sober for work."
Now, I make this comparison because it's actually shown in studies, there have been comparisons made between the performance of someone who is sleep-deprived and the performance of someone who is slightly drunk and it's quite similar. What's also quite similar is that someone who's slightly drunk, not like blind drunk, right? But slightly drunk will probably tell you, "No, no, I'm fine. It's no problem. I'm not impaired. But if you test it, if you test their ability to focus, their ability to think, or even their reaction time and things like that, you can tell that they're actually significantly worse. It's the same for someone who's sleep-deprived. Someone who's mildly sleep-deprived might tell you, "No, no, I'm fine. I'm fine. I'm just having a few coffees. It's all good. My performance is not impaired." But if you test it, you'll see that their performance is anything from 20% to 60% below what they would be if they were properly rested.
Oh, really? I loved it. I just need a few coffees to get through the day. I just need this other substance that will help me with counter balancing that other thing that I'm doing wrong.
Exactly, and how common is that?
That is super common.
Exactly. How many entrepreneurs you know don't drink any coffee? Compared to that, How many of them brag about how much coffee they drink basically?
Does Bulletproof Coffee count?
Sorry honey, [inaudible 00:05:05]. This is basically what's happening with sleep deprivation and entrepreneurship. Not only is sleep deprivation extremely bad for you in basically every way. By the way, my main source for everything I'm talking about here is the book, 'Why We Sleep' by Matthew Walker. I've read many books about sleep, but this is the number one recommendation I make on this. If you read nothing else about sleep, read this one. That's 'Why We Sleep' by Matthew Walker.
You can also read about basically all the studies and the things that I reference here, you will be able to find them in that book. The situation we have in entrepreneurship is that, not only is it normal for entrepreneurs to be sleep deprived. By the way it's normal. On average, people are sleep-deprived, or it's just normal in our culture basically. Even worse, we have the problem of Casey Neistat and Jocko Willink and Dwayne Johnson and many other influential people in the space who talk about being productive and being successful and being an entrepreneur and so on, basically brag about getting up at 4:00 a.m. or who brag about we also have CEOs of various huge corporations that brag about needing very little sleep or being capable of doing 18-hour work days and things like that.
That's why in my analogy, it's almost like people are going around and saying, "Hey, you know what? You should have a stiff drink in the morning to be a better entrepreneur." It's like this is insane. Not only is this a problem, but also we have influencers in the space basically nudging peoples behavior in the wrong direction and bragging about being sleep deprived. This is crazy. In this episode, I want to go into a bit more detail than I did in my video on the topic of sleep, why it matters, and what to do about it especially from the perspective of being an entrepreneur. In the book 'Why We Sleep', One of the interesting things about the book, and the author says this as well as that, basically, sleep is positively correlated with everything you care about as a human being, is not just productivity. It's not just memory retention and so on. It is also positively correlated with happiness and contentment and just living a good life and it's getting enough sleep is inversely correlated with weight gain, it is inversely correlated with all kinds of disease and illness.
It's sometimes difficult almost to make the case for it because basically getting enough sleep is good for everything and not getting enough sleep is bad for everything. Having said that, I want to especially focus on the way it affects your performance and specifically your cognitive performance. There are a couple of things that really stand out. Again, sometimes it's difficult to nail down because the effects are so broad and wide-reaching. As an example, you can show that sleep deprivation, and sometimes even mild sleep deprivation, w're talking about one hour to 90 minutes less sleep per night, something that most people would say, "Yeah, it's fine."
Even this amount of sleep deprivation will basically lower people's productivity, lower their motivation, lower their ability to focus, impair their memory retention, increase their laziness and work avoidance. In an attempt to quantify like, "Okay, what does all of this actually mean?" The RAND Corporation funded a study to basically try to quantify all of this, and this was in the UK. They came up with the number of $40 billion pounds per year. They're estimating that in the UK, the current level of sleep deprivation, What's simply normal in our culture, is costing the UK economy a total of about $40 billion a year. That's about $52 billion per year for the UK, a relatively small country.
For me, that's an interesting comparison because you can think about, "Okay. Yeah, sure." It makes you less productive motivation or whatever. It's all a bit vague. Right? But here, they're basically putting a number to that and saying, "Look, here's what would happen economically if everyone got enough sleep." That puts it in a different light.
Maybe we should just reword it and say like, "You know the magic pill for having a better life, being thinner, being more productive, being happier? Well, it's sleeping."
Yeah, which is pretty good, right? If it was in pill form, ironically it would probably bring in about $40 million a year. You could put it in a pill and sell it. Also, it's so easy to get. It's actually so pleasant to get enough sleep, but as things are, we tend to resist that. That's the overall effect, and also there's two things I want to pick out, scientifically founded things. 1) is sleep and memory. It has been shown that if you get enough sleep, one of the sleep phases called NREM seems to be responsible for moving stuff into your long term memory, and also cleaning up your memory.
If you get enough NREM sleep, it makes you better at remembering stuff you want to remember, but it also cleans out stuff you didn't want to remember, irrelevant stuff, noise and distraction, it cleans out that stuff from your memory. It means that you have the next day. You basically have a greater capacity. It's almost like you have an empty vessel again to bring in new stuff, everything you learned during that day, and then at night this cleanup process happens where some stuff is eliminated, some stuff is put into long term memory. Think about how important it is to learn things as an entrepreneur, especially as an early stage entrepreneur. You have to learn so many things about how to build your website, about marketing stuff, about sales stuff, about processes, about all kinds of stuff.
There's so many things you have to learn, and if you're not getting enough sleep, it means that your ability to learn is lowered, and your memory is essentially clogged up with a lot of irrelevant stuff all the time. Think about it. Is that a familiar feeling? Do you sometimes feel totally overwhelmed and distracted by all the noise that you inevitably encounter in your everyday life? On the internet, it's just a constant deluge of information most of which is unimportant? It's pretty familiar, right?
Well, that might be a sign of sleep-deprivation.
An experience of these that I lately had was at a conference. It's this environment where you learn a lot, you talk to a lot of people, you have so many new impulses coming in and things that you have to process, but then you're also like going out in the evenings and the next morning getting back up too early basically for the next session, or the next conference or whatever. It makes this like a very stressful environment for me, because at the end ... I think I even called you to say that I had the feeling that I didn't process what was happening over that time, and that after three days, five days, it just becomes this really anxious feeling for me where you don't feel in control of what's going on anymore, and it's just like new, new, new, new, new, but you feel like nothing is actually getting through. Does that makes sense?
Yeah, totally. For me, the experience is like this is what it was like, there's all this noise that comes in all day, but if you don't get enough rest, then the next day it's like more noise piling on top, and the next day more on top. It's just like filling, filling, filling until it overflows, and you're just like, "Oh my God. I cannot take anymore. I can't take any more input."
This is something I've experienced as well. Of course at a conference, something where that might be a bit of an exceptional situation Where this especially a lot of input, and then those parties in the evening and early morning sessions and stuff. It shouldn't be like that all the time for sure. The second study I want to highlight here is one about sleep and focus, which is super important.
I think for entrepreneurs, actually, for people in general, I think the ability to focus is one that's extremely important, especially these days in our environment because one of our greatest enemies, distraction has become one of our greatest enemies. We have constantly available distraction, and we've talked about that before in our episode about the attention war, we'll link to that in the show notes. Basically, everybody's suffering from this. Everybody's suffering from notifications, flying out from everywhere. There's too much information coming from all sides and everything is vying for our attention I think that as a result of this, if you have the ability to focus and hold your focus on one thing for longer periods of time, that gives you a huge advantage over the average person, right? It's no longer a trivial thing. If you can focus on one thing for 60 to 90 minutes at a time, and you do this on a regular basis, this gives you a massive advantage over almost everyone else. Sleep is something that directly affects your ability to focus.
That's one of the things you probably notice the most if you're sleep deprived, is that you just cannot hold focus anymore. The thing I talked about before is also one of those effects, right? Unless during sleep your memory gets cleaned out and prepared for the next day. You have all this noise there going on in your head, and this impairs your ability to focus. Like I said, I think especially for entrepreneurs, this is so important. Whether you can or bring strategic focus to your work or not can make the absolute difference between success and failure.
Sleep is simply necessary to be able to do this well. Having said that, I want to talk about a couple of points that I didn't elaborate on in my video. The first is Chronotypes. There are different people with different chronotypes which is to say different settings in their sleep cycle.
Basically, there are morning people and night people, there are night owls. This is a thing. This is basically genetically determined. In other words, there are certain people who like to get up early, who feel good when they get up early, and who will find that their most productive hours are in the early morning. There are people who will be absolutely miserable if they get up early, but they'll find that maybe their most productive hours are from midnight to 3:00 in the morning, and they're actually happiest if they can do their focused work during that time and then go to bed really late. That means they will also get up much later.
Here is one of the problems I have with all this bragging about getting up at four, or getting up at five or whatever, which is for some reason, in our culture, we've decided that that's cool.
We've decided that somehow this is what successful people do. They get up super early, They're the first person at the gym, they're the first person at the office, they are up and working while everyone else is still asleep, and that is super cool. We should all do that. If you are a morning person, then yes, that might work for you, and that might be great. If you are a night owl, this is terribly counterproductive.
You can try to force yourself to get up early, and you can feel bad about how late you went to bed and how you'd like to sleep in, and you can torture yourself all day long, but really, you're just going against your nature. There's a real problem with centrally sleep shaming. We're basically sleep shaming people where it's like, "Hey, if you got up late, if get up at 11:00 you must be lazy." Whereas, I don't know, maybe you were up until five working right? What do I know?
Exactly. There's an interesting distinction here between this idea of, "Yeah, getting up at 5:00 in the morning and getting your most productive hours in before anybody else is awake." Then, also the idea of still having enough sleep, I think both of they can go together because you could wake up early and still get the number of hours of sleep, or you could go to bed late and still get the hours of sleep. It's crazy that it's like, "Oh yeah." No matter how your lifestyle is or no matter how your chronotype is, like, "Yeah, 5:00 a.m. is the way to go." Or whatever crazy. That just doesn't work, right?
Yeah, and there's also ... we talked about this, and you made an interesting point because for example, I am a morning person and I tend to get up early, and, in fact, I tend to get up early without an alarm which is another thing I could brag about. If you're really cool, you don't even need an alarm. Well, again, it's fine to say that if you're a morning person and it comes easy to you, and then someone else feels bad about it for no reason. My point is that for me, this works well and I get enough sleep. But one of the things that happens to be in line with my character is that I'm not a very social person.
I don't out at night. I don't go to parties. I don't have late dinners with people and stuff. For me it's fine. I go to bed early, I get up early and it works. But what you were saying at one point is that, if you have a social life, a lot of social stuff happens late at night and that just doesn't go together with getting enough sleep and getting up early.
I had this experience when I tried to follow the 'Miracle Morning' which is another book that's very much like, "Yeah, get up two hours before you would normally get up and then do meditation, reading, and whatever." It's like it's very good morning routine. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying anything against them morning routine, but the idea of getting up at 5:00 in the morning, and I did it. I tried it because you have to try everything on yourself.
I tried it for probably like 30 days. The problem was living in Paris at the time. You don't meet up with friends before 8:30 in the evening, which just means I don't get home before whatever, like midnight or something. If I wanted to get up at five, still feel good, not crash in the afternoon, then I would just not have any social life anymore. That was actually very detrimental to my happiness having to be like, "Oh, I have to get up at 5:00 in the morning." I have the choice between feeling miserable and dragging myself out of bed for days, or forfeiting seeing my friends and actually enjoying my evenings.
That's, yeah, I think that's also very important that depending where you live, because for example, when you are in a country where it's dark at 6:00 in the evening, and then everybody just starts meeting up at 5:00 or having dinner at 6:00, then it becomes easier to get up early. If there's normal social behavior is to have dinner at 8:39, there's no way you're going to be in bed in time before getting up 5:00 a.m. and getting your amount of sleep you need.
That's actually another interesting point. It's also depends where you live and what culture you're in. I've a huge fan of, like you say, trying stuff on yourself and experimenting with these things. What I would encourage you to do is that, if you take any kind of routine, like the miracle morning, or copying some celebrities routine or whatever, I would totally encourage to do that, but ignore the specific times of day because what matters, if you look at whatever successful person X's routine, what matters is not that they got up at five and then we're at the gym by 5:30. What matters is, they get up, they do a certain thing, 30 minutes later, they're at the gym. They're at the gym for an hour. After that, they do a certain thing and so on and so forth.
You can take that routine and adjust it to whatever your timeline happens to be because something like this, it might work really well for you to put a workout as one of the first things you do after you get up. Whether that's at 5:30 or at 11:30 doesn't matter. That's not the point. I was also really happy to see on this whole topic that a few days after I posted my video and that's why I didn't mention it in my video. It was a few days later, Mac Lethal, a rapper made a video about this as well. He must have also seen this trend emerging where everybody's bragging about how early they get up and how little they sleep.
He made a distract against this, which is great. I will play a short clip here and they'll link to the whole thing in the show notes.
But bro, while you're asleep, I'm up workin' hard
But just because you're up workin' early, does not mean that you're workin' smart, see,
You wake up at 4:00, so you'd probably go to bed at 8:00
But while you asleep, I'm awake because I'm up workin' late
So, fuck you!
Front, back, side to side ...
Next up, let's talk about what is, how much is enough, and specifically, everybody knows the idea that you need eight hours of sleep. But do you really need eight hours? Is that the right amount? Let's go into this. First of all, not everyone needs exactly eight hours, but it's also not totally arbitrary. Eight hours is a pretty good average for almost everyone. In fact, the majority of people will need something between seven and a half, and nine hours per day for optimal function. Now, how can you find out? How can you find out how much time you need?
Well, this is one of the great advantages of being an entrepreneur, or working remotely, is that you get to make your own schedule. The best way to do this, is to just not use an alarm for a relatively long period of time for at least a week or two, and see how much sleep you get if you just don't wake yourself up with an alarm. Now, to support this, what you should do is, you should avoid bright lights and screens for about an hour before you go to sleep and make sure that your room is relatively dark, because otherwise you might just wake up from the sunlight.
Adding another one on sleep hiding, if you're doing this experiment, which I highly recommend that you do, it's also, don't forget, for example, alcohol and other substances such as drinking caffeine, or that type of stuff can really change. Make sure that you also try to stay clean for that period so that you get the real data back from your body and not something that's been altered by substance.
Yeah. That's a really good point there. Regarding coffee, what you can do if you don't want to go cold Turkey right away, is you can start by just having a morning coffee, because if you have your coffee in the morning, like 18 hours later or so, most of the caffeine is out of your system. But if you have a coffee basically any later than that, you know, noon, afternoon then the effects will still be there in the evening when you're trying to go to bed. That's a really good point. If you do this, you just don't set an alarm and you let yourself wake up naturally, you will quickly find out how much sleep you need.
Like I said, do it for at least a week because right now you're probably sleep deprived, and it can take a week to catch up even on what seems like mild sleep deprivation, it can take quite a long time for your body to actually recover from that. Don't panic if the first nights you sleep a lot, that's simply your body catching up. Then after a week or 10 days, or so, you will see that you settle into a certain rhythm, and it basically stays the same. I noticed that for me, I haven't used an alarm to wake up for quite a long time, and I do tend to need just about seven and a half hours. It just tends to be that.
Even if I go to sleep at different times of day, if I wake up naturally, if I'm asleep [inaudible 00:25:59], it tends to be very close to seven and a half hours, that's just when I wake up.
Yeah, you're luckier than I am because for me it's nine hours, and it's exactly like I said, it doesn't matter if I'm going to sleep at 10:00 p.m. or at 3:00 in the morning, I can just take almost ... I was going to say set my alarm, but I can just be sure that I will wake up nine hours later.
Yeah. This is also a good point. You're immediately envying me because I need less sleep. Right?
Which is understandable, but it's also important. You'd be tempted to say, "You know what? I could sleep one and a half hours less, and have more life to live or get more work done. This is exactly the problematic math that doesn't work out because in the end you have some more waking hours, but your ability to focus on work and even your ability to enjoy yourself and be healthy during those hours is impaired by so much over the longterm. That's just totally not worth it.
It totally isn't. That's exactly, like I said, that experiment that I was doing when I got up at 5:00 a.m., I would just crash in the afternoon, If you would force me to wake up with my alarm after seven hours or something, then I'm just worthless in the afternoon, and I would need probably like two coffees to just get my brain fog out, and then another four coffees to just not crash. Yeah, you're awake longer, but honestly, not really worth it.
I also think it's great, by the way. As an example, I think it's great that you need nine hours of sleep because look, Hanne is a really productive person, right? She's a total bad ass who can can outwork pretty much anyone you know, and she also has a social life. I think it's great that you can serve as an example of, "Hey, it's fine. You can do this." and those one and a half hours you need extra sleep are not holding you back.
We've talked about this on other episodes, but I'm just watch less television. That's probably the solution to a lot of the problems, or a lot of the ... yeah, I don't have time to sleep this much. It's just like, "Yeah, shut up, Netflix a bit earlier. Don't check your social media feed. Don't check your YouTube, and actually use that time to cherish your body. That's almost what I would say because, again, I think many people don't realize how good they could feel if they weren't sleep deprived.
Before you say like, "Oh yeah, you know when you're sleepy and you can't concentrate." I would actually challenge and say that a lot of people know they don't know, because they probably have rarely been in a situation where they actually were on top of their game and full focus if they haven't been thinking about the whole sleep thing before.
Yeah, that's true. It's almost like if you have some kind of a chronic problem, right? Maybe you constantly got stiff shoulders, or you've got some knee pain or something, and you've had it for so long that you've learned to live with it. In the moment you don't feel like this is holding you back, but actually, if that pain or that problem could be removed from one moment to the next, you'll be like, "Oh, my God. This is what it's supposed to feel like? Oh, my God." But it's just because it's so normal to not sleep enough. You don't notice your own suffering in a way.
Now, about the sleep duration, another thing I wanted to bring up is from nick little hills as a sleep coach, and his model is that everybody needs an mount of sleep that is dividable by 19 minutes. It's a big proponent of like the 90 minute sleep cycle, because this is something you can experiment with. If you're getting in "enough sleep." Let's say you're getting eight hours of sleep, but you still feel tired all the time, then you can see if you can adjust your sleep time so that it's dividable by 90 minutes.
The downside of this is that, there's some truth to the 90-minute cycle, but it's not going to be exactly 90 minutes for every person. If you arrange it around an exact 90-minute cycle, that's probably going to be off by a few minutes in one way or the other. That's just like ... take that with a grain of salt, but I think it can be a useful tip if you're in the situation where it feels like, "I should be getting enough sleep but I'm not feeling good."
I'm guessing that those 90 minutes also start from the moment you're actually sleeping, right, not from the moment you go to bed, because I imagine that for a lot of people it's not the second you put your head on the pillow that you're actually sleeping. You usually need a couple of minutes to unwind, so it can be like 10, 15 minutes. If then, if you have to start calculating like, "Oh how many minutes should I take? Did it take me like 20 minutes to fall asleep?" But yeah. It is a good start, I think.
What we talked about before, like the basically just allowing yourself to wake up naturally. I think it's the best way to find out how much sleep you really need. Another interesting point from the 'Why We Sleep" book that I had no idea about before I read it is that the way you sleep is divided up into cycles. It's not exactly 90 minutes cycles, it's where each 90 minute cycle is exactly the same as the one before and the one after.
There are phases. There's let's say a larger cycle to your sleep from early, to middle, to end, and there are some important things that happen in sleep towards the very end that aren't happening at any point earlier on. This is pretty interesting because, this is why even mild sleep deprivation can be shockingly detrimental to a person's health and performance.
Because this is something that research has originally, they found this, they were like, "How come? How come someone gets like 80% of the sleep they need, but it's not like their performance is worse by more than you would predict. Their performance is more than 20% worse. Well, why is that? Basically, it's like some unique and uniquely important things for your brain happen in those last 20% of sleep. If you chop off those last 20%, you're just not getting that.
In a way, an analogy I like here is that, if you imagine you have a plate with a balanced meal on it, a bit of everything. Having 20% less sleep isn't like having an average of 20% of everything on your plate. It's like eating everything except the veggies on your plate. It can be worse than ... It doesn't make your meal like 20% less healthy. It can make your meal like half as healthy because you're skipping some of the most important stuff.
That's also one of the reasons why, "Well, sleep researchers, guys like Matthew Walker and sleep researchers in general tend to be very adamant about this. "Do not compromise on your sleep. This is super important. All parts of it are super important. Get it."
Next up, let's talk about napping, because I'm sure some people listening to this, I think again, it's fine, but I don't get eight hours of sleep. I don't get anywhere near eight hours, but I take a nap. I take a power nap in the afternoon. What about napping? What about taking a power nap? First of all, pretty interesting history of the term power nap is that this was a term that was basically ... through research, and this was research primarily done for the military and for airline pilots, they found out that naps can be very beneficial to help someone boost their cognitive abilities and boost their ability to focus.
Then military generals and people who train airline pilots were like, "Well, we can't help people to take a nap. Right because they'll just laugh at us. This are the most macho people on earth, you can tell them to take a nap like a kindergartner." They tried a bunch of different terms until they found that power nap is apparently something that, high-powered military and aviation types can accept the term power nap.
Power nap is a nap that's like 20 to 30 minutes, and yeah, like I said, it can help boost your awareness and alertness, but the problem is that it's not a substitute for getting enough sleep. Acutely, in the short term, if you didn't get enough sleep last night, then taking a nap will help you. Let's say you are about to do something that requires concentration but you didn't have enough sleep last night, so you take a 20 minute nap but then you do that work. The nap can help boost your concentration to get that work done, but it doesn't really compensate for the sleep you lost out, which means that if the next night you don't get enough sleep again, and then you have a nap again, and the next night again, and again, and again, overall, you're still just getting more and more sleep deprived, and eventually, you'll need that power nap just to focus more or less, right? Just to function more or less.
That's where the problem often comes in. The idea that I sometimes see in entrepreneur and productivity circles is that, instead of sleeping for eight hours, sleep for six hours and have a 30 minute nap, and somehow that's the same, right?
With Bulletproof Coffee.
Yeah, and have a Bulletproof Coffee. Bottom line, same results as eight hours of sleep. In short, the research says, "No. This is not the same."
Does this also hold true for the whole idea of not sleeping enough during the week and then catching up in the weekend?
Yes. That's a great question, yeah. This is also something that we tend to think, "Okay, I'm just going to power through the week, and then on the weekend I sleep in, and it's all good. On balance, it's all good. Again, this basically doesn't work because of two problems. First of all, you basically can't really catch up on sleep. If you look at ... so this example, even if on average you've gotten eight hours of sleep per day, what's actually happening is that, the five days where you don't get enough sleep, have all these negative effects on you, and then the two days where you're catching up don't have a negative effect. The balance is five bad days and to neutral ones. It's not the same as seven positive days.
One way you can think of this, is imagine that you have a really unhealthy lifestyle for five days a week. You don't go to the gym, you're sitting on a chair all day, and you eat French fries and donuts all day for five days. Then on the weekend, you work out super hard, you only eat salad. On balance, that is going to be better for you than if you were just being lazy and pigging out seven days a week. The two healthy days cannot compensate for the damage you're doing to yourself during the five unhealthy days.
They can mitigate some of the damage, they can ... It's almost like your health and your life in general is getting worse and worse and worse and worse and worse for five days, and then it's getting slightly better for two days, and then it gets worse again for five days. Similarly, you basically can't catch up on sleep deprivation on a weekend.
All right. The next thing I want to talk about is a paradox that I have struggled with or struggled with for a long time. One of the reasons sleep is so important for me, is because I personally have had sleep problems for most of my life. I remember even when I was a little kid, often, it took me hours to fall asleep at night. It was always a struggle. Very often, I'd just lie awake, unable to sleep, and I had this for most of my life. I sometimes dreaded going to bed, because I knew that, "Oh my God, I'm going to lie there and fail to fall asleep. Sometimes I'd lie in bed for like two or three hours and then I'd just give up and get up again and do something.
This would, of course, completely ruin my sleep cycle. There were periods of my life where I was sleeping in the middle of the day and up most of the night and stuff, but not in a positive, 'I'm a night owl' kind of way, but just like in a chaotic, 'Oh my God, what's going on?' Kind of way. This is also why I've read a lot about sleep. Out of all the things I've read, there is a paradox here, which under one hand, is that sleep is incredibly important for you. Many of the reasons we've talked about, many other reasons, right?
It's incredibly important that you get enough sleep. Also, you need to not worry about it so much. First of all, one of the worst things you can do for good sleep is worry about it all the time. If you're lying in bed thinking, "Oh, my God, the alarm is going off in seven hours and 50 minutes from now." If I don't fall asleep in the next five minutes, it's only going to get worse from there. "Oh my God, I'm not getting enough sleep." Then, of course, you're not going to get enough sleep. Also, if you're stressed out about it, it's going to lower the quality of your sleep. The paradox here is that on the one hand, sleep is super important, but on the other hand, your body can handle less sleep if you aren't chronically sleep deprived.
If you get yourself to a place where you generally get enough sleep, you will find that when there is an exception, like the conference-type experience that you mentioned beforehand, or you you're taking a long distance flight and there's some jet lag and stuff, you will find that your body can actually handle an exception really well, and you've maybe had experienced this right where you only get like four hours of sleep, but you're fine the whole day, next day. If it's an exception, your body is actually really good at handling that.
The real problem is not a night of poor sleep or have not enough sleep. The real problem is if it's just constant. The real problem is if the exception is when you get enough sleep. The other thing that made me realize this is that in a natural environment, nobody ever worries about sleep. No animal worries about sleep, but also tribal people to not worry about sleep. They don't measure how much sleep they get, they don't worry about when they go to bed or when they get up, they don't question it when someone takes a nap, right?
They just sleep when they're tired, they don't sleep in the night, and it works out. The problem is that we are far from the natural environment. We are surrounded by all kinds of environmental distractions. We have much more stress than we would have in a natural environment or a different type of stress. All these environmental factors basically, these civilization factors, bright lights, all these kind of stuff that is keeping us from having a normal sleep cycle.
But remember that your body is perfectly capable of regulating it's sleep. It's basically something that happens effortlessly if you are in a natural environment. That's one of the things you can do is try to make your environment around your sleep time as natural as possible, hence, avoiding bright lights and loud noises and things like that before you go to sleep, and making your room dark and so on. Because your body is perfectly capable of doing this. You don't have to worry about it at all. Also, it's this thing where make it an important mission overall to get enough sleep, but don't worry about how much sleep you're getting right now or tonight.
I actually have two things that really helped me with this whole idea of worrying less about sleep. The first one is related to the whole idea of not falling asleep or even like waking up in the middle of the night. At one point, I was waking up every night at 4:00 in the morning every night. I could almost put my alarm at 4:00. I could almost put my clock at that time. At 4:00 a.m., I would be awake. The thing is like, it started to worry me. I was like, "Why am I waking up every night at 4:00 a.m. It was also when I was in an environment where I couldn't sleep in.
I did have to put an alarm and wake up. That also got into my head where I was like, "Oh, [inaudible 00:43:10] laying awake for half an hour here, then this is not ... I'm going to be tired tomorrow, and this is going to be horrible. I won't get up in the morning. What really helped me was actually reading about the fact that this was very natural so that nothing was wrong with me, that it was just a normal sleep cycle, and that at that point I was at the end of a sleep cycle, and that waking up at that point was actually a really natural, and if I could just not fight it, I would fall asleep really quickly again and start the next cycle.
That was something that really helped me, just realizing that I wasn't an exception, that nothing was wrong, that I didn't have to fix this, that I could just be like, "Okay, for the moment, well, around 4:00 a.m., apparently I'm sleeping lighter and I might even wake up and then whatever, go to the bathroom, go back to bed and fall asleep again.
The fact that I wasn't worried about that anymore really helped to make that time of laying awake in the middle of the night much shorter. The second thing is I started doing to Headspace Sleep Meditation. It's basically, it's a really simple meditation where it just scan through your body and you imagine shutting off each part of your body, it becomes dark. Then you start counting or something.
Even if that meditation really helped, what helped even more was that they were saying that what your body needs is the fact that you're laying in bed so that your muscles can actually rest and that you don't stress out so that you don't let your mind be super worried. That those two things are actually sufficient for your body to regenerate. Again, the idea that it was okay to just lay in bed and not worry about anything but just lay there and laying awake, that was already helping me to regenerate, took away that stress of like, "Oh my God, I have to sleep and I'm not asleep yet."
Again, whenever I feel that I'm not falling asleep now, I'm just like, "Oh, okay. I'm already resting. I'm already in a good place, and I don't have to worry about it anymore. Like you said, it's that vicious circle of being stressed, and then not falling asleep because you're stressed and so on. If you can break that circle, and for me those two things really helped me to break that circle.
Great stuff, yeah. We'll also link to Headspace in the show notes.
This brings me to our call to action. What to do, or the conclusion of what to do about this as an entrepreneur. I have three things that I want you to take away from this. The first is pretty obvious, prioritize your sleep. Realize how important getting enough sleep is for your performance and for your ability to focus, and basically for putting yourself in a position where you're more likely to succeed. Number two, is to embrace the freedom that you get as an entrepreneur. This is one of the greatest things is that you can make your own schedule [inaudible 00:46:32] if you want to be working at 3:00 in the morning and then sleep in the next day, you can do it.
If you want to get up at 5:00 and go to the gym, you can do that, but don't feel obliged to follow some gurus or the general society's idea of, "You must be up early and you must sleep less in order to be a hardcore entrepreneurial type." Embrace the freedom you have as an entrepreneur as it comes to your schedule.
Then number three is to think like a boss because this is one of the things. Look, if you're an entrepreneur, yes, you're going to have to do some hard work. That's how we started off this whole episode and we talk about it all the time how you have to be able to grind through some difficult times. Sometimes that means that you will be working too much and not sleeping enough. This is part of being an entrepreneur right there.
There'll be periods where you are stressed and overworked and you're doing things that are not healthy for you, but it's basically the price you pay for being able to put in enough energy into your business to get it off the ground. Please remember that this supposed to be an exception, but this might be something that you do in an early stage startup. Maybe you have some kind of a breakthrough and suddenly you have all these clients, but you don't have the system in place yet to handle it all, and you're just putting in the hours, and hours, and hours to take care of them all and somehow start hiring people to start helping you out and so on.
Maybe for a few weeks, maybe even for a month or two, you're burning the candle at both ends. You're burning the candle from like three different ends. You've found another one to light on fire. This can happen and this is pretty normal in someone's entrepreneurial life, but please remember this needs to be an exception. If you are two or three years into your journey and you're still doing this kind of thing, you're doing it wrong, because the goal is not to build a business where you become a slave to a bunch of clients that you can keep up with.
The goal of your business is to serve your customers and serve you and you want to build a system. You want to build the machine that does this while affording you the lifestyle that you want. That requires thinking like a boss and not thinking like an employee in a shitty company. Because an employee in a shitty company, it's where going to be like, "Oh, we have a more work and so I need you to work more and harder, but I'm not gonna pay you properly because this business sucks and it's not economically viable."
That's not how you should run your business. Your business should be like, "Okay, we're going to set up a system by which the people who work in this business can do a reasonable amount of work for good pay, and we deliver a good thing to our customers and clients. That is a functioning system, right? Thinking like a boss is, "How do I build this system?" And not just, "Oh, my God. I'm going to do all the work myself until I collapse. All right. That is our take on sleep and you can get more information on this and join the conversation in the show notes.
That concludes our call for more and better sleep for better productivity among entrepreneurs. Head over to activegrowth.com/sleep to find links to the books and resources that we mentioned during this episode. That's also where you can leave us a message. You can hit a button there and record a quick voice message or you can leave a written comment right on that episode. That is at activegrowth.com/sleep.
What You'll Discover in this Episode:
- Why waking up earlier is a terrible advice for productivity and performance.
- Less sleep, more time for work? How sleep affects every area of your life and why you should get more of it.
- The real cost of long-term sleep deprivation: this is what you've been ignoring!
- What are chronotypes and why they matter for your daily routine and productivity.
- Tools to help you figure out how much sleep you actually need and what time you should wake up.
- What happens to your brain while you're asleep?
- The truth about power naps: can they make up for bad quality sleep?
- How to fall asleep faster and get a deeper, more quality sleep at night.
- Read the book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, the book most of this episode was inspired by.
- Read the article on how much sleep deprivation costs, a study by the British RAND corporation.
- Listen to our previous episode on attention: how you can get your audience's undivided attention and why it is such a hard job.
- Read this article by the National Sleep Foundation on how sleep impacts our critical thinking abilities.
- The exercises in Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod can help you transform your mornings.
- Nick Littlehales' guide to understanding sleep: the 90-minute sleep cycles and why they're important.
- Watch the video Shane made on the topic of sleeping.
- Stressed about not falling asleep fast enough? Try the Headspace Sleep Meditation.
- The rapper Mac Lethal agrees. Watch his song here (explicit):
What's Your Excuse For Not Sleeping Enough?
Do you ever compromise on sleep to get more hours of work done? Do you treat sleep as a priority? What's your experience with sleep deprivation and productivity?
Let us know in the comments below!
As always, we'd love your feedback, questions, tips and stories. You can leave them in the comments section or leave us a voice message by hitting the "Start recording" button below:
See you soon with another episode!
The Circadian Code has massively changed my sleep and energy levels for the better! I’m not an affiliate but the great advice in this book is life changing. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Circadian-Code-weight-supercharge-energy/dp/1785042017/
Thank you for the recommendation, Stephen!
Totally see your point. I personally like to get up early to design my day because if I don’t other people’s agenda creeps into mine.
BTW, NOT impressed with your Mac Lethal video. He is acting like a prick! Saying that Mac Lethal agrees with your point of view does NOT give you credibility. Poor choice in my opinion.
It’s nice to have undisturbed time, yes.
Regarding Mac Lethal: do you mean in general or in this specific video? I don’t know much about him, but I think the song is amusing. I’m not quoting him as a credible source, if that’s what you mean. :D
Yes! I love waking up before the rest of the world wakes up. It is so peaceful. I also loved walking through NYC early in the morning to see the city wake up. There is something extremely precious about that time of day.
And of course one can get a lot of uninterrupted work done, too. :-) I used to love being the first in the office and having that extra half hour to myself. Mute point now as I am working from home … but that used to be so nice.
I have MS and pain causes my sleep to be erratic, at best. I have problems with concentration and focus. On the nights I do get close to enough sleep my wife says I’m a different person. The brain lights up like a carnival on a summer night. You could not be more correct about the effects of sleep deprivation!
Hey Shane, once again a super interesting podcast. Quick question to you: In your research have you come across the impact of split sleep?
What I mean is someone (ok. me :-) ) who gets up by alarm clock at 4:30, to feed the animals just before sunrise ( yes, I have a somewhat weird life :-) ). I go back to bed about 30 min later and sleep for another couple of hours until I wake up naturally.
In sum I do get 7-8 hours of sleep. (if I sleep longer I wake up with nasty headaches … so too much sleep is not good either)
I’d be very interested in your thoughts on this. :-)
It just does not seem very practical – or enticing – to go to bed at 9 pm to get the whole 7-8 hours in one stretch …
BTW my sleep schedule is only like that in the summer when it gets light this early. During the rest of the year when sunrise is later, I wake up without an alarm, because I am a natural early riser.
Thanks for your comment, Ann!
Biphasic sleep is very common in humans who aren’t in a 9-5 work culture. If you remove all artificial light and alarm clocks from people’s lives, many will fall into a biphasic sleep schedule, too. So in principle, there’s no downside to getting the sleep you need in more than one session.
From what you describe, the only potential issue is the alarm. That could interrupt an important sleep phase. But if it’s a regular wake time, your body has probable adapted to it.
Thank you Shane. Biphasic sleep … like sleep plus Siesta …
My wake-up time is moved forward/backward in 10 min intervals depending on sunrise over the course of the year. Maybe I should try keeping it static.
Need to experiment with this …
Off to take a nap (Power nap of course :-P) …