The only productivity hack you need.

Spoiler alert: it involves sheep.

Virtuous circles versus vicious circles

I am not J.J. Abrams so I won’t hold you in suspense until the very end. There is no mystery box here. The only productivity hack you need is sleep. Good, old fashioned counting sheep. It’s like berocca but better; the secret ingredient to you unlocking cognitive super powers like Bradley Cooper in the film Limitless. A lack of sleep certainly isn’t something to brag about. That’s why Arianna Huffington stresses the importance of sleep in a TED talk from 2010, in which she jokes that you can literally sleep your way to the top in business with a good night’s sleep.

Don’t stop reading yet though. It’s worth reading to the end to get my checklist guide to better sleep. I’ve suffered from bad sleep for a long time, so I’ve collated the 7 best tips I could find that have made the most difference to me.

First, let me explain the importance of sleep and how a lack of it could be the key thing holding you back from your full potential. Let’s compare good versus bad sleep, citing the main effects:

A good night’s sleep creates a virtuous circle. Good sleep:

  • Boosts our ability to concentrate or ‘think clearly’. Helps us work smarter, make better decisions and work more productively.
  • Boosts our immune system. Less coughs and colds etc.
  • Regulates the hormones that control our appetite. Healthier weight etc.
  • Regulates our mood. Helps us to defeat feelings of stress, anxiety & depression. Bottom line is you have better relationships.

A bad night’s sleep creates a vicious circle. Bad sleep:

  • Has serious effects on our brain’s ability to function. Our concentration becomes more difficult to muster and our attention spans plummet.
  • Makes it more difficult for us to respond to rapidly changing situations and making rational judgements.
  • Causes unpleasant after-effects: grumpiness, grogginess, irritability and forgetfulness. Bottom line is you have worse relationships.

Sweet dreams are made of these 7 steps:

  1. Look away from the screen now. Make sure you stop looking at screens at least an hour before going to bed (e.g. TV, iPad, iPhone, Back-lit Kindle etc.). If you charge your smartphone by your bed, charge it somewhere else so you don’t check it. The blue light that gets emitted from all these screens keeps us awake. To get scientific, it suppresses the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.
  2. Be cool. Your body needs to cool down in order to fall asleep and stay asleep, so do what you can to make your room cool (but not too cold). Have your window open for a supply of fresh air if you can too. A hot herbal tea before bed will also help lower your body temperature.
  3. Plan for tomorrow and write your worries away. Make sure your mind has nothing to think or worry about. Don’t let tomorrow creep into today. Put it back in its box and write down everything you need to do for the next day so you feel prepared and it doesn’t prey on your mind.
  4. Go to sleep and wake at the same time. Make a habit of going to bed and waking up at the same times. It’s difficult (with either a social life or kids) but try to match weekends to weekdays as much as possible. This is crucial. Your body is a clock and hates being out of sync. It can take 1–2 weeks before your body regulates to whatever pattern you pick e.g. 11pm — 7am.
  5. Lights up. Lights down. Increasing your exposure to sunlight during the day and keeping your room as dark as possible at night will do wonders for you. Also, remember to open your curtains wide as soon as you wake to let the sunlight in. It will get your adrenal glands up and running.
  6. Watch what (and when) you eat and drink. Eating a large heavy meal too close to bedtime will disrupt your sleep. Try to eat no later than 2 hours before you go to bed. Watch what you drink as well e.g. caffeine strongly diminishes sleep quality so try avoid drinking coffee, normal tea or energy drinks 4 to 6 hours before bedtime. To be safe, avoid coffee (and chocolate) after 2pm completely.
  7. Exercise and be active. People sleep much better and feel a lot more alert when they exercise for at least 30 minutes during the day. Morning is the best time to kick start your metabolism, but stop exercising at least 90 minutes before going to bed to avoid raising your alertness, which could undermine your sleep.

How much sleep you need is down to you. 8 hours is recommended but everyone is different. And don’t forget to budget for the time it takes you to fall asleep as well.

Good night. Sleep tight.

About the author:

Rossa Shanks is CEO and Co-founder of “I Know This Great Little Place…”, helping people find remarkable places and unforgettable experiences. Follow him on twitter for more thoughts on business, marketing and start-ups @rossashanks.