For as long as I can remember, I’ve had trouble sleeping.
I think I’m wired that way… I’m a “night-owl”. If there were no social influences requiring my attention and participation during the day, I would default to staying up all night and sleeping from about 4 AM to about 11 AM. When I have no particular schedule or requirement to be awake at a certain time (such as when I’m on vacation) I usually end up defaulting back to this up-all-night, sleep-all-morning routine.
In spite of being a “night-owl”, I’ve reluctantly come to realize that my very best productivity occurs between 6 AM and noon. I am considerably more productive in the morning, after a good night’s sleep, than I am at any other time of day. Even if I stay up all night, sleep through the morning, and then try to work for an equivalent 6 hours when I wake up, I’m not nearly as productive. In fact, if I work from 6 AM to noon, I get more done than if I work a 14 hour day starting at any point after about 10 AM. That’s definitely an incentive to get up early — I work less than half the time, get a ton of work done, and still have my afternoons and evenings off.
Motivated by the possibility of more revenue AND and more free time, I’ve spent the past month doing an in-depth study on sleep, trying to figure out what components make up a good night’s sleep so I can wake up early and put in a solid morning of work. I did a bunch of reading, watched several videos, tried out different strategies, and recorded it all in a journal.
At the end of the study I can tell you that there weren’t any huge surprises (no “I’ve-never-heard-that-before” moments) but there were enough lessons and tweaks that I put together the following list to help me. These are from a variety of sources as well as from my own observations. And I should note that they have been proven true for me but may not apply to everyone.
One of my earliest realizations was of my current sleep cycle, which I tried to break down into its distinct parts to identify which parts needed to be modified and to help me put together some best practices for each part:
- Going to bed: I tended to stop whatever I was doing and just brush my teeth and go to bed. My wife and I joked that I would go from 100 mph to zero in the blink of an eye.
- Reading/thinking with the lights on.
- Reading/thinking with the lights off. After deciding that it was time to go to sleep, I’d turn the lights off but lay awake for some time. I wanted to minimize this time and devote more of it to sleeping.
- Asleep. I wanted to improve this time, and increase it if necessary.
- Alarm goes off. This was a process. My alarm would go off, I’d hit snooze, and repeat that cycle over and over for a while.
- Full wakefulness.
With this in mind, I set about studying each part, trying to find out what I can add, improve, or remove to wake up more easily at 6 AM and become more productive in my day.
HOW TO GET A GOOD SLEEP
I’ve boiled down the components influencing sleep into three essential concepts: Preparation, sleeping environment, and lifestyle. Master these components and you master sleep.
Here’s how these three concepts apply to my life and my sleep:
- Reduce my intake before bed. Years ago I cut out caffeine after about 2 PM but now I’m also reducing what I eat or drink after supper. Here’s the reason: Our bodies use a lot of energy to digest food, apparently, and that’s energy that it could be using to repair itself as we sleep. We’ll get a better sleep when we don’t eat or drink too much beforehand.
- Quality not quantity. During my studies, I frequently heard that it’s not about the quantity of sleep, it’s about the quality of sleep. This turned out to be very true in my experience — I had some great nights of only 4 or 5 hours of sleep when I woke up feeling completely rested, and some rough nights of 9 or even 10 hours of sleep when I woke up not feeling rested at all. That said, when I do get a quality sleep, I do best with about 6 hours of that quality.
- Be exhausted. This is one of the biggest changes I need to make. My work is pretty sedentary. I workout every day, so that helps, but overall I don’t have a huge amount of physical activity during the day and I think this would/should have a greater impact on my ability to fall asleep and get a good quality of sleep. As I write this, I’m thinking about how to integrate more activity into my day to help with that.
- Bed time routines: I used to do stuff and then go to bed. There was no transition time. That was maybe a reason why I didn’t fall asleep immediately — my brain and body needed the time to shut down. So now I have a very specific pre-bed routine that includes reading, stretching, and definitely NOT working or watching TV.
- Cool down, slow down, breath more slowly. Our bodies drop in temperature and that triggers a release of chemicals that help to put us to sleep. Cooling down a bit by lowering the temperature, as well as slowing down a bit before bed, starts the physiological process so that I can fall asleep sooner when I crawl into bed.
- Don’t read in bed. Use the bed for sleeping. Reading and other winding-down activities should take place elsewhere.
- Avoid light pollution and sound pollution. Sleep in a darkened, silent room. Light pollution, apparently, impacts our ability to get a good quality sleep, as does sound pollution. Both will disturb us. Frequently recommended were room-darkening curtains or sleep masks, and ear plugs or whitenoise. This proved to be the hardest to implement for me because room-darkening curtains are not really an option, sleep masks fall off, and ear plugs keep me from hearing my alarm; I do have some whitenoise that I already used. But I tried what I could and my very best sleep did happen with a sleep mask and ear plugs.
- No snoozing! Don’t hit the snooze button. Get up when the alarm goes off. This was one of the more difficult challenges for myself and I had to take drastic measures to solve it: Ultimately, I put my alarm clock in another room so that I have to get up and walk through the house to turn it off. By then, I was awake.
IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT A GOOD SLEEP
As the title of this blog post indicates, my motivation for getting a good night sleep is to improve my productivity. I want to do my work in the morning, from about 6 AM to noon, and that means getting a good sleep the night before. Without realizing it, this realization was a big help to me: One of the biggest reasons people hit snooze is because there isn’t something that truly motivates them to get out of bed. And that was the case for me. I’d hit snooze over and over because I was getting up to just another day of 14 hours of work and no huge feeling of accomplishment. But when my alarm went off early and I got up to be at my desk at 6 AM, I was doing it because I had 6 solid, uninterrupted hours of work and then the rest of my day off. So if you’re reading this and wondering how to stop hitting snooze, figure out what REALLY motivates you in the morning and schedule it first thing so that you are excited about it when your alarm goes off.
This was one of the most profitable studies I’ve ever done. What I’ve learned and implemented, and the resulting impact it’s had on my life, has been nothing short of astounding.
I’m at my desk by 6 AM and (most importantly) I’ve enjoyed solid, consistent, personal-record-breaking work daily, with my afternoons open to do whatever I want.
And I’m sleeping less: No snoozing. And, interestingly, when I started studying sleep and implementing what I learned, I found that I now consistently wake up before my alarm and feel wide awake and alert, even after a few hours of sleep.
If you want to become more productive, devote just a few minutes a day to studying sleep in your life. Find the right quality of sleep for you and watch your productivity levels soar!
There were several resources I used but here’s a collection of useful resources that were particularly helpful to me during my study.
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
- How to double the quality of your sleep
- Sleep Hacking: Have more energy, spend less time in bed
- Sleep Hacking: The effects of consumption on sleep quality
- How To balance Your Cortisol Stress Hormone for sleep
- What is insomnia and how to cure it with Cognitive Behavior Therapy
- Breathing exercises for sleep