It’s not uncommon for busy entrepreneurs to wear their lack of sleep like a badge of honour. But boasting that you survive on a handful of shut-eye each night is nothing to be proud of.
Countless studies have shown that sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on your health as well as your decision-making and productivity.
From how to identify whether your sleeping habits are a problem to how to transform yourself into a morning person, we’ve covered this essential element of health and success from several angles.
Signs you have a problem
- You’re asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow
If you fall asleep in less than ten minutes, it’s a sure sign you’re significantly sleep deprived. Sleep is a process that takes approximately 30 minutes for the body to complete.
It’s not an on/off switch. It’s more like pulling your foot off the accelerator and slowly putting it on the brakes. There’s a process that needs to occur and the body needs time to shut down properly.
- You try to ‘make up’ for missed sleep on the weekends
You’ve probably heard you should go to bed and get up at the same time every day to help optimise your sleep.
It’s advice entrepreneurs often ignore because they’re busy burning the midnight oil and think they can compensate later. But that’s not how it works.
Experts say it’s critical to keep a target sleep time in mind — even if it’s midnight — then meet it consistently. Why is this so important? Our bodies are extra sensitive to conditioning.
When you go to bed and wake up at drastically different hours, you disturb your circadian rhythm (think severe jet lag and you’ll get the idea — you’re essentially doing the same thing.)
How to build better sleep habits (and transform yourself into a morning person in the process)
1. Use a smart alarm to break the snooze button habit
The snooze button was designed to allow people to go back to sleep for a few minutes without re-entering a deep sleep cycle, but it can hinder your transformation into an early riser.
Instead, use a smartphone alarm app, such as Smart Alarm or Math Alarm, that requires you to solve a math problem to turn it off or set it to snooze.
Solving a problem makes your brain awake enough to make an informed decision, and chances are, once that happens, you won’t go back to sleep.
2. Keep track of how you spend your evenings
One of the reasons people say they don’t like mornings is that they stay up too late. Keeping a time journal for a week to identify where you may be using your time inefficiently is a good way to counter this.
When many self-professed night owls look at their time journals, they often find they aren’t spending their evening hours productively or doing anything particularly enjoyable.
3. Skip the nightcap and turn off your smartphone
While alcohol may help you fall asleep, it will affect the quality of your slumber. When you have a drink before bed, sleep is lighter, and you have less REM (the deepest stage of sleep).
Alcohol can also wake you up in the middle of the night. Many people wake up after about four hours, because that’s how long it takes to metabolise alcohol, then they have trouble getting back to sleep.
You should also turn off your smartphone and your e-reader at least an hour before you go to bed. The light that’s emitted from the screens slips your neurotransmitters into an awake position. Our gadgets also force our brains to stay active when they really need relaxation time to destress before bedtime.
Why developing (and sticking to) good sleep habits is worth it
- You’ll have a better memory and be more creative
During sleep, your cardiovascular system and brain are doing a lot of work when it comes to creativity, critical thinking and memory. For example, short-term memories get registered and stored in the brain during sleep. There’s a physical change in the brain that happens only as a product of adequate sleep.
- You’ll get more done
You are less likely to get distracted in the morning, and you have more willpower to accomplish the things you need to do.
If you wait until the afternoon or evening to do something meaningful for yourself such as exercising or reading, you’re likely to push it off the to-do list altogether. And, even if you aren’t a morning person, you may have more willpower in the early hours than later in the day.
Willpower is like a muscle that becomes fatigued with over-use. During the course of the day as you’re dealing with difficult people, making decisions and battling traffic, you use up your willpower, leaving you feeling depleted toward the end of the day.
You’ll feel extra depleted if you’re also running on a lack of sleep.