The dangers that few hours of sleep poses to human beings have been well-documented, Entrepreneurs, in particular, are susceptible to those risks. We work long hours, are prone to stress, and carry loads of information in our brains. None of these habits are conducive to good sleep.
Moreover, business owners are particularly eager to embrace a “too busy” status as a badge of honor or strength. We don’t stop to think about what it really means – that we aren’t efficient enough to get our work done in a reasonable workday.
Noted entrepreneur and inventor Elon Musk fell victim to this faulty thinking in a big way, as evidenced by an interview he gave to The New York Times in August 2018. In that interview, he attributed a string of business and personal crises to 120-hour workweeks.
That’s no way to live, but it’s a potentially dangerous way to run a business. Follow these five steps to reclaim good sleep and improve your performance at work.
1. Understand the dangers of poor and insufficient sleep
As admirable as Musk’s many business accomplishments are, it’s a bit dismaying to see his apparent periodic lack of appreciation for just how essential good sleep is.
Consider what happens if you get few hours of sleep:
- Reduced hand-eye coordination
- Decreased response time
- Memory deficits
- Increased feelings of depression
- Weakened immune system
2. Find out how many hours of sleep you really need.
Establish how much sleep you actually need. Statistics show teens need quite a bit (ten to twelve hours), while the need may diminish as we age. Seniors may need considerably less sleep than they did when they were younger.
More sleep isn’t always the answer, either. In fact, it’s possible that too much sleep can be just as much of a problem for performance. Some studies suggest that longer sleep sessions may be associated with reduced cognitive ability, at least for adults in middle age.
Generally speaking, seven to eight hours of sleep a night is optimal for most individuals. However, it’s possible that some people need less or more. To find out, remove or minimize as many distractions as you can that might interrupt your sleep and turn off your morning alarms.
3. Create an optimal environment for good sleep.
Just as important as the amount of sleep you get is the quality of that sleep. Ten hours of restless tossing and turning, punctuated by long hours of wakefulness, may well result in a foggier state of mind than four hours of high-quality uninterrupted sleep.
Increasing the quality of your sleep is often a function of different factors such as environment or pre-sleep habits. To create an environment that helps you get the most restful sleep, adjust each of the following factors as necessary:
- Room temperature: Science suggests that regulating your room temperature is an important factor in making your sleep better. Cooler rooms reportedly help maintain a feeling of tiredness. They also help stop sleep disruptions that can occur in warmer environments. The optimal temperature range seems to fall between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Electronic usage: One of the quickest ways to ruin a good night’s sleep is to use mobile devices at night. The blue light emitted by mobile displays disrupts your body’s natural production of melatonin and alters your body’s natural circadian rhythms.
- Ambient and outside light: Install blackout shades on your windows to ensure outside light sources don’t disturb your sleep.
- Weighted blankets: A relatively recent development in sleep hygiene is the weighted blanket. There isn’t much research on the issue yet, but some studies suggest that the added heft and pressure of a weighted blanket can aid in physical relaxation, leading to better, deeper rest.
4. Create positive routines that result in more hours of sleep.
The second half of the quality sleep equation is to establish soothing routines that help signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. Establish a comforting wind-down ritual and repeat it every evening. For example, a warm (but not too hot) bath or shower, and a few minutes of restorative yoga, can make a world of difference. I also like to read before bed (I forego the spy novels and choose spiritual or philosophical material). Also, try a few minutes of journaling. All of these can help you wind down before bedtime.
5. Explore sleep aids.
As a last resort, explore over the counter (OTC) and prescription sleep aids. You may want to concentrate specifically on non-prescription medications and supplements in the beginning.
However, even OTC sleep aids can present health risks to some, especially if misused or used for prolonged periods of time. Medications like Unisom, Tylenol PM or Benadryl may not be the best answer for continued use.
Other products you can try include melatonin, St. Johns Wort, and chamomile (generally consumed as a tea). If you’re taking other medication, especially prescription drugs, talk to your doctor before starting any other supplement or medication. Even OTC supplements can interact dangerously with some medicines.
Prescription medications should never be your first choice, as they carry serious potential side effects. Your doctor may want to order a sleep study first to rule out sleep apnea and other physical conditions.