I have quietly bumped up a priority long ignored by me, not to mention nearly every entrepreneur: Sleep. I say "quietly" because it isn't a goal entrepreneurs say with pride, as in "I'm crushing it! I got a full eight hours last night!" But after spending years waking up in the middle of the night to work, I'm realized that there were certain strengths I was losing along the way.
Whether it is an official snooze or just a five-minute pause to shut your eyes, sleep should be considered a powerful weapon in your diverse entrepreneurial arsenal.
You gain clarity: One recent evening, I put my long index card to-do list away and actually went to bed at a reasonable time. I felt about the same when I woke up eight hours later - until I suddenly had the answer to a strategic problem I had been wrestling with for months. It was as clear as day. And it was obviously worth sacrificing a couple hours of work.
You are still working: Evidently I stumbled upon a scientifically-argued fact. A recent University of Southern California study states that:
Downtime is an opportunity for the brain to make sense of what it has recently learned, to surface fundamental unresolved tensions in our lives and to swivel its powers of reflection away from the external world toward itself... We shuffle through all those neglected mental post-it notes listing half-finished projects and we mull over the aspects of our lives with which we are most dissatisfied, searching for solutions.
While you think you're just sitting there, your brain is still trying to come up with your next startup, creating a solution to your employee problem or making the perfect package for your potential client.
You will likely live longer: One strong, albeit debated reason to rest is that you may be spending less time as an entrepreneur. Experts as varied as the British Medical Journal, the University of Warwick and the outlet Sleep all found that sleep deprivation (arguably less than six hours a night) can lead to increased heart disease, depression and other outcomes. The complications can result in a shorter life span.
There are many entrepreneurial tales about people working themselves to near death, most notably Arianna Huffington facing her own mortality in 2007. The controversial media mogul drastically changed her sleep schedule and went on to be even more productive (and healthy).
It begs the question: Why haven't I slept more as an entrepreneur? I'm realizing that it's not the crazy deadlines or family commitments, but my own false truths:
- I either have to sleep very little or knock out for 10 hours: It reflects the same extreme thinking that many entrepreneurs have. Why not go to bed a half hour earlier, wake up a half hour later or nap during part of your needed lunch break? It's not a huge sacrifice, and it has helped me immensely.
- Instead of sleeping, I could be productive: It was my biggest argument, but I learned that I was more thoughtful, creative and strategic within all the hours I was awake by just sacrificing an hour or two of work to sleep. Ask yourself, are you looking for true productivity or the comfort of knowing you did a 20-hour day?
- I do not want to appear lazy: It's not the safest idea to tell your clients that you slept in this morning, but I've found the biggest hurdle is actually admitting it to peers. We want to always appear busy and of infinite stamina, but that's not maximizing our potential.
In comparison, professional body builders work hard, eat lots and actually fully rest a day or two a week so those stretched muscles can rebuild even stronger. Doesn't your career deserve the same attention?