How to Use Sleep for Your Success
October 02, 2020
Time is money. By signing an employment contract, you can literally exchange your time for cash. Time is also the most valuable resource we humans can possess. The more time you have to spare, the more you can invest in your family and relationships, social life, hobbies, Netflix, and other things you love. In other words: life.
Since time is so irreplaceable, it is no surprise most of us want to use it as efficiently as possible. How to optimize your day to have the maximum amount of time for your activities? When you think of it, one of the easiest ways of creating more time would be to cut on sleep. What could be more of a waste of time than to lay on a bed unconscious for a third of your life? More hours awake means more time for you and your precious activities, right?
Unfortunately, it is not that simple.
Sleep Debt Makes You an Inferior Person
It is unarguable that by sleeping less, you will get more hours awake in your day. But can you achieve more by sleeping less? Definitely not.
Sleep is needed for your body and mind to function properly and recover from the previous day. Lack of sleep interferes with the process and prevents you from using your full cognitive and physical potential. It impairs your memory, learning, attention, creativity, and general ability to process information. The same goes for physical performance. The less you sleep, the more severe the effects are. Even if you manage to get some extra time in your day, it will not increase your net productivity. More likely, it will go down.
As a bonus, lack of sleep weakens your immune system increasing your chances of falling sick or catching the flu. Long-term sleep debt also makes you vulnerable to many serious health issues. It increases, for instance, the risk of diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, heart and vascular diseases, and even earlier death.
Cutting on sleep might not be the best strategy if you want to make the most out of your day, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t optimize your sleeping habits. Sleep can be a significant asset when used properly. In fact, there are hardly any functions in the body that a good night’s sleep wouldn’t improve. Let’s focus on what sleep optimization really is about and how you can use sleep for your success.
Optimizing Your Sleep: The Myth of the Early Risers
Have you read one of those stories where a prosperous serial entrepreneur or an enthusiastic fitness guru reveals that their secret recipe to success is waking up at 4.30 am every morning? They advise you to start your workday from early on, and their ideal morning schedule often includes vigorous exercising and healthy breakfast options. These people argue that magical morning hours are the most productive part of the day.
These anecdotes make up for great stories, but unfortunately, there is very little scientific evidence backing their claims. The peak performance hours are highly individual. Some people are indeed more productive in the morning, but others shine brightest in the afternoon or even later in the evening. If you enjoy rising well before the sun, there is nothing wrong with that. However, if it contradicts your natural rhythm, you might find it quite challenging to go to sleep early enough to catch 8 hours of sleep. And if you don’t, you will be accumulating sleep debt, which more or less defeats the purpose of the habit.
Instead, try finding your own peak performance hours and schedule your day around them. Using trial and error is a perfectly good strategy for this, but taking a chronotype questionnaire (such as MEQ – Morningness–Eveningness Questionnaire) might provide you with some additional insight.
How about the time spent asleep? How to use it to get the most out of your day?
The Ultimate Secret to Efficient Sleep
Sleep efficiency is a real thing. If your sleep quality is poor, clocking 8 hours or more doesn’t guarantee you will be performing at your full capacity. Efficient, good quality sleep is more restorative, meaning you can acquire all the performance and productivity benefits with less time in bed. You cannot directly affect your sleep quality, but the trick is to create an optimal environment for good and natural sleep and let your body do the rest.
The number one rule of better sleep is consistency. That is going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, no matter what. And yes, the weekends are no different. The reason behind are the biological rhythms in your body that regulate your sleepiness and alertness levels. If your bedtime is inconsistent, these rhythms get misaligned with the environment. If your natural rhythms get messed up, your body no longer knows when is the correct time to calm down for the night and when to boost the energy levels for the day. This can seriously disrupt your sleep and affect your daytime performance.
There is just no way around it: having a consistent sleeping schedule is the single most effective way to improve your sleep. If you are a sociable person and love those late-night hangouts with friends, this might sound overwhelming. Luckily there are other things you can try too.
Useful Tips to Improve Your Sleep
Keep your circadian clock in sync with the environment
Your circadian clock keeps track of the time of the day. It increases your energy levels during the daytime and helps to sleep sound in the night. Every clock needs to be calibrated from time to time, and the primary pacemaker for your circadian clock is the amount of ambient light. As soon as you wake up in the morning, make sure to get as much sunlight as possible. The light marks the beginning of the day for your body. On the other hand, it is equally important to dim all the lights several hours before bedtime to let your body prepare for sleep. Block all the light from your bedroom and never use your cell phone or other light sources in bed.
Find time to unwind
Stress, anxiety, excitement, and strong feelings in the evening cause a majority of the sleeping troubles. Allow yourself to relax for a couple of hours before heading to bed each night. Never work in the evening or engage in activities that increase your alertness level. Try to leave out anything that gets your heart pumping or mind racing. Heated arguments, exciting video games, or worrying thoughts don’t go well with your body’s attempts to prepare for sleep.
People that exercise regularly sleep better and more efficiently than those who are less physically active. Exercising is almost always beneficial, but you might want to avoid heavy workouts too late in the evening as it increases your alertness and might affect your ability to fall asleep.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine
Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that make you feel less tired than you really are. Both can impair your sleep quality and make it harder to fall asleep. Alcohol, on the other hand, works a bit differently. It might actually help you fall asleep faster, but later in the night, it severely disrupts your sleep, making it shallow and non-restorative. Avoid all these products, especially in the evening and late afternoon.
Is It Really Worth It?
Why should you be interested in your sleep? Maybe you are an average person and don’t feel sleep is much of a problem for you. I challenge you to think again. Are you sure there is absolutely nothing to improve in your sleep?
I bet you have some goals of self-improvement. Maybe you want to lose weight or become more athletic? Get promoted at work? Or maybe your social relationships are not doing too well, and you wish to invest more in those? Miracle cures and one-size-fits-all solutions don’t exist, but healthy sleep comes pretty close to it. It’s like Adderall, antidepressants, anabolic steroids, weight loss pills, and the elixir of life combined. All in the same package without any side effects at all. It affects your quality of life so comprehensively that it’s surprising how badly it is overlooked.
So my only question to you is, what are you still waiting for?