Elon Musk says he sleeps six hours a night; any more and he's "less productive." Maybe the Tesla founder is right. Maybe he really is that one-in-a-million sleep/productivity outlier.
But I'm not.
And neither are you.
According to a 2018 study published in Sleep, people who sleep for five to six hours are 19 percent less productive than people who regularly sleep for seven to eight hours per night. As for the hardcore sleep warriors? People who average less than five hours a night are nearly 30 percent less productive.
More waking hours available? Absolutely. But dramatically less productive.
That seems especially true for entrepreneurs. A study published in Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice found that lack of sleep creates ADHD-like tendencies (their phrase, not mine) that make people more likely to start a business on impulse or whim rather than on a solid, well thought idea.
As for ideas in general, a study published in Journal of Business Venturing found that lack of sleep causes you to come up with worse ideas -- and to think your bad ideas are actually good.
And then there's this: A 2018 study found that lack of sleep correlates with tension, anxiety, and lower overall mood -- which also impacts the mood of your employees.
Why? Research shows only getting six hours of sleep makes any task that requires focus, deep thinking, or problem-solving a lot harder; in fact, where attention and reaction time are concerned, only sleeping six hours is like drinking a couple of beers -- and only sleeping four hours is like drinking five beers.
Other research shows that sleep deprivation makes completing any activity that requires multiple steps -- read pretty much any meaningful activity -- much more difficult.
So maybe Musk is a sleep outlier. Maybe six hours is his sleep sweet spot.
But it's not my sweet spot.
And it's really, really unlikely to be your sweet spot; a very tiny fraction of the population is actually built that way.
While you may have conditioned yourself to get by on relatively little sleep, that doesn't mean it's good for you -- or for your performance. Get less sleep and you're almost surely less attentive, thoughtful, and mentally adept than you could be.
And a lot less effective as an entrepreneur.
For example, say you need to prepare for a sales presentation. Or even more critically, a pitch to a potential investor. You devote what feels like endless hours to the pursuit of knowledge and recall. And even if you do manage to remember what you needed to remember, still: The process of learning took way too much time and effort.
If that sounds like you -- because it certainly sounds like me -- sleep science offers a solution.
According to a 2016 study published in Psychological Science, people who studied before bed, then got plenty of sleep, then did a quick review the next morning not only spent less time studying, they also increased their long-term retention by 50 percent.
Why? One factor is what psychologists call sleep-dependent memory consolidation: "Converging evidence, from the molecular to the phenomenological, leaves little doubt that offline memory reprocessing during sleep is an important component of how our memories are formed and ultimately shaped."
Or in non-researcher-speak, sleeping on it not only helps your brain file away what you've learned, it makes that information easier to access.
So stop seeing sleepless nights as the path to small business success.
See getting plenty of sleep as a competitive advantage.
Because while six hours may be enough for the Austin-based Elon Musk, in the unforgettable words of Matthew Quigley, "This ain't Dodge City, and you ain't Bill Hickock."