You Exec asked the VP of a Fortune 100 company who works five hours a day and sleeps twice as much, why he attributes his success to his sleeping habits. This is what we learned, the actionable insights he suggested, and a book (Sleep Smarter) he recommends.
Sleep has been a fundamental tool in my career. Lack of sleep will lower my performance by at least 1% or 2% per day, and has a tremendous compounding effect. Sleep is one of those rare elements in my daily routine that I can lose without noticing its immediate impact. It is very similar to exercising, the benefits of good sleep are witnessed 2-3 weeks after changing your routine. Sleep affects my stress. Proper sleep lowers my stress, which increases my performance. The benefits of sleep cascade down into hundreds of different aspects of my life - down to how fast I can get ready to head to work. It is truly amazing how interconnected sleep is with my professional performance.
I, like you, am a professional in the knowledge economy. Like a professional athlete who takes care of his muscular form, I need to take care of my mind. Below are the ten best things I've done to improve my sleep, in order of importance. Plus, I strongly recommend Sleep Smarter... it has changed the way my entire family sleeps.
Screens & blue light at night
The blue light from screens (i.e.: mobile screens, television screens, video games) and light bulbs (i.e.: LED white-light bulbs, halogen lights, anything not yellow) releases compounds in your brain that make your mind believe it is daylight. Blue light also suppresses melatonin - a hormone that controls your sleep cycle. I use f.lux on all my screens to remove blue light. My smart television has its blue hue in the lowest setting. All my smart devices remove the color blue after sunset (f.lux helps with that).
I do not use blue-light emitting light bulbs at home, all the light bulbs in my home are warm, they emit more yellow and orange than any other color. Like chocolate at midnight, I avoid blue light past sunset. The only blue light I enjoy is from the sun. If I have to read, I use an old worn-out Kindle that I've had for years, with a regular old-fashioned light bulb that emits more yellow than usual. Kindle or e-paper readers are better to use at night because they do not emit light, they reflect light which is different. Reflection does not confuse your mind into thinking that it is still daylight. I even read my work emails on an e-paper reader and avoid using my laptop - which incidentally has f.lux installed. Overall, there are so many artificial triggers that can trick your mind it is daylight it is astounding. I am very conscious of these factors and try to minimize them.
When I don’t see blue-light past sunset I get sleepy by 9:00 p.m. This allows me to fall asleep by 10:00 p.m. and wake up at 8:00 a.m. or earlier. By the way, if you don't believe me about the blue-light concept there are plenty of scientific papers about the topic, consider this article from the Washington Post.
If you use this technique, allow your brain some 10-15 days to get used to the lack of blue light at night. Do not expect instant gratification. For a faster transition, it would be better if you turned off most of your lights past 8:00 p.m. When I take a shower at night I don't turn on the bathroom lights, I use the hallway lights and leave the bathroom door ajar so I can see, but the light is not strong enough to wake up my mind. That said, please practice safety in all aspects of improving your sleep.
Sleep and workouts
I try to work out twice a week - unfortunately, I am very lazy when it comes to taking care of my body. The days that I do exercise, I known I will need to sleep an extra hour. Hands down, this is a must! Typically I sleep nine hours per day; the days that I work out I need ten hours. It is hard for me to sleep earlier to gain that extra hour, so I wake up one hour later. For others it might be easier to do the opposite. Regardless of your routine, remember that working out is a three-step process: eating right, working out, and sleeping well. If you screw up any of the three items you will damage other aspects of your routine.
"Airplane" mode at night
To lower my mind’s alertness and stress, every night around 9:00 p.m., I turn all my devices into "Airplane" mode and set my alarm. Simply knowing that no one can reach me and there are not going to be any more "pings" or "rings" for the rest of the day is a great stress reliever. This helps me lower my alertness. To this day, whenever my mobile devices go on "Airplane" mode it is a magical moment for me. There is great peace when I know there is nothing external to my room that will trouble my sleep and the only thing that will wake me up is my mind’s internal clock, or my alarm.
Meditate when my mind is awake
I meditate about 30 minutes every other day. What is meditation? I define it as: allowing my mind to figure out its own issues without me consciously thinking about them. Your body has a natural repair mechanism that functions when you sleep, this repairs your muscles, tissue, etc. Your mind has the same mechanism, and it can resolve issues without you consciously thinking about them. I cannot cover all the different ways to meditate in this interview, but I meditate when I am awake - not when I am falling asleep. I meditate about two hours after I wake up. Many individuals make the mistake of meditating when the are falling asleep. That is like exercising when you’re already tired. That said, meditation helps me fall asleep in the following way. I don't use meditation to hypnotize myself into falling asleep. I use meditation to have a clear mind, such that when I am falling asleep my mind is clean and in the moment. Meditation is a whole separate art whose effects are amazing to sleep, but has too much depth to be able to summarized in this interview. In short, if you have spare time, look into meditation and how it can help you sleep better.
Much more can be shared about sleep hygiene and the ways in which good sleep can affect your professional performance. For the brief period that we had I tried to summarize what works for me. I hope this inspires you to think about the ways in which sleep can improve your performance.
You Exec has no affiliation with f.lux. We have not been paid to promote the software, neither do we gain any financial value if you use their software. We have tested their software to the best of our abilities and we did not find any spyware, viruses, pop-up ads, etc. Legal notes: follow the suggestions of this article at your own risk.