Do We Need Sleep to Stay Productive?

Do We Need Sleep to Stay Productive

When many of us decide to take the plunge and work for ourselves, it can mean many changes. No longer are we chained to the 9-5 routine, but we also have a lot of work to do to remain successful. Certainly there are some who have found the secret to riches and lying all day in bed, but many entrepreneurs have to work, and work hard. This often means lack of sleep.

So how can we keep ourselves in peak condition? How can we work at full efficiency and keep our productivity high? Importantly, how can we cram all the work we have to do into just one day? Do we need to sleep or can we give it up and get more done?

There's one thing for sure in this life, if you go looking for answers on the Internet, you won't just end up with one of them. The world is full of people with opinions, some of them with facts, too. They come armed with the absolute best way to make sure we are the best at what we do, the greatest at our particular skill and the most efficient at whatever they want to make us efficient at.

It's enough to send you crazy.

So what's the ideal?

First of all, we need to remember that we're all different. This fact seems to have alluded most of the so-called experts with their perfect methods of making us supermen. What works for one person won't work for others, I can give you a perfect example.

Coffee is a great stimulant for most. A good cup of old Joe can give you just what you need to get you going for the day, however for me, nothing. I can have a cup of double espresso and feel no effects, I could just fall asleep for a few hours if I wanted to. But if I have three cups in succession, I get the tremors - there's no middle ground. That's fine, I've worked out that the advice "have a coffee" when I'm feeling sleepy, isn't going work, I'll knock that one off the list.

Ideal sleep

So what about working hours? As I write this, it's just after 5am and the sun is coming up on what looks like will be a fantastic day. While researching this article, I looked at sleeping patterns of some entrepreneurs, and it seems many of them get up early to get most of their work done. How early? 4am - 5am seems best. At the moment as I'm sitting here, I can understand the attraction, but give it six months and things will be very different.

Lots of successful bloggers appear to live on the West Coast of America. Getting up at 4am in the winter means it will be dark, but it won't be cold. It's probably bearable with a minimum of 9 degrees and an eventual average day temperature of 22 degrees; I'd live with that. However here in the UK, 4am in December means minus 2 degrees, wind howling around the house and pitch black until around 8.30am. Yes, yes, we have excellent heating, but we can't switch it on because it will wake the kids, and nobody needs that at 4am.

So that advice of "get up early", doesn't work for many of us. I did try it last year, and I ended up huddled around the gas fire attempting to keep my toes from freezing.

And what about if they've been out the night before? Do those who get up at 4am have absolutely no life outside work? Or maybe they still get up at 4am even if they've been out knocking back the tequilas until midnight? Could even they perform on four hours of alcohol-induced sleep?

The received wisdom is that more productive people get up early, get things done, and have less sleep. Margaret Thatcher apparently only had four hours sleep, Steve Jobs was similar with maybe 5 hours and so does Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter. Interesting here, though, looking at screens, and the blue light they give off can trigger the creation of cortisol in your body which will keep you alert. Maybe people in technology simply can't sleep?

So what does science say about this? The great thing about scientists is that they use proper techniques to discover facts about things and don't rely on anecdotal evidence from yoga teachers in Sacramento.

Checking out the National Sleep Foundation, we find that their research shows that us working-age types need between 6 and 9 hours sleep a night. That's quite a spread, but it's also some way off from the four hours many entrepreneurs seem to thrive on.

Necessity of sleep

Let's just remind ourselves of why we sleep. Ah. We don't know.

It's true that sleep is necessary. At some point during the evening, something kicks in which almost forces us to slow down. We start yawning; we have to make our way to bed, or we'll just fall over and start snoring. If we fight it, the next morning we'll be groggy, unable to function and probably insufferable to our work colleagues.

Sleep is a necessity, but scientists aren't sure why. Certainly while we're asleep things are going on to repair our body, cement memories and balance chemicals, but what can't that happen while awake? Don't know.

The simple fact is, however, without sleep we're not performing at our best. We forget things, we drop things and we walk into things and no amount of coffee will solve that.

So what's right for me?

I've been trying this out for a few weeks now, maybe it'll work for you, and maybe it won't. I'm not going to tell you that you “must do this to be successful" because it might not work for you, but here's an idea.

Measure the sleep you need

I use a Jawbone activity tracker to measure how much sleep I've got. I make a note of the days I'm feeling particularly productive on the app you get with it. Over time, the tracker tells me the best time to get to sleep and the amount of sleep I need.

You don't need a tracker to do this, just make a note of when you go to sleep and when you get up and how you feel. Over a few weeks you'll find your optimum sleep time.

Don't force yourself into a new routine

It's tempting to read a book about a successful method and then attempt to mimic it. It's important to realise that this method works for the author, it might not work for you. If you find that getting up early means you can't function the rest of the day, then don't do it. If you have to get up early (new job?) then start by getting up a little earlier every few days. Set the alarm, say, 15 minutes earlier every three days. This will ease you into the new routine.

Don't punish yourself

After a few days or weeks of your routine, you might find that you go out late one night and then can't get up early. That's fine, your routine isn't ruined, just get back into it in the next few days. Relax, we all have transgressions.

Above all, experiment

If there's one thing I've discovered when doing this research, it's that nobody is right. The amount of sleep we need is different based on who we are, where we live and what we do. The only constant factor is that we all need sleep, and without it we might actually be storing up health problems for the future.

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