Sleep and the Entrepreneur
A 2018 paper by Brian Gunia, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University, suggested that while that sleep problems are likely to undermine several abilities that are important for the successful founding of an entrepreneurial venture, like alertness, creativity, and social competence.
This year, researchers in the U.K. found: ".... that sleep quality is a precursor to an entrepreneur's subsequent innovative behavior." Further, they suggested that fluctuations in sleep quality could have a material impact on an entrepreneur's ability to operate at peak efficiency: poor sleep undermines key cognitive functions for entrepreneurial success, including resiliency and creativity.
I have seen firsthand that poor sleep quality and/or an insufficient sleep quantity undermines the mindsets of founders, making them harder to work with and less resilient, which in turn reduces the probability of startup success.
I had read that deep sleep is the most important part of the sleep cycle, and that increasing deep sleep would generate noticeable benefits to my mental, physical, creative, and entrepreneurial selves. So increasing the amount of deep sleep was my primary goal. From the research, I learned that deep sleep should be about 20 to 25 percent of my sleep cycle. My secondary goal was to increase the percentage of sleep that was deemed "quality sleep." Quality sleep is uninterrupted sleep, where your brain waves and heart rate reach the point where rest becomes an effective form of restoring physiological and psychological resources. Sleep quality is based on your difficulty falling asleep, how long you stay asleep, and the number of times you wake up per night.
How I Did It
I tracked my sleep over four weeks using an app on my smartwatch. It tracked things like heart rate, time in bed, time asleep, quality of sleep, and percentage of deep sleep. I focused most on this last sleep factor. After establishing a baseline, I adopted several key principles to increase deep sleep, including:
- Go to bed at the same time every night.
- Stop looking at digital devices for the last hour before bed.
- Take a hot shower. (I had read that one could increase deep sleep by raising one's core body temperature through a hot shower or hot bath. Traditionally I had showered in the morning, so this was a big change.)
After I adopted the principles above, my deep sleep shot up to almost two hours a night. My quality sleep also went up, albeit not as dramatically. According to my sleep app, by changing my sleep habits, I generated a 800 percent gain in deep sleep and a 20 percent overall gain in sleep quality. Now I was in bed for eight hours, sleeping for seven of those hours, mostly restfully, and getting more than two hours of deep sleep nightly.
I now go to bed every night at 10 p.m. after taking a hot shower and avoiding my devices for at least an hour. The long-term results are yet to be seen, but so far I feel sharper, more creative, and more emotionally resilient. I'm more present for my kids and spouse, and most of all, I now wake up refreshed and ready to tackle another day of entrepreneurship.
We spend a third of our lives asleep. Perhaps it is time for you to evaluate if you could be doing it better. I did, and I think I am better for it.