Sleep Deprivation is not a badge of honour!

In the startup ecosystem it’s common practice to cut back on sleep. Many of us feel guilty for having a long night’s sleep and forfeiting vital work hours. Many of us are stressing about work and struggle sleeping, so choose to fill the void with even more work. We are not getting enough out of our founders and teams because we are depriving ourselves of sleep. Considering what has been going on with Elon Musk recently now seems like the perfect time to address this.

Your startup will have greater output as a result of you, the founder, having a regular bedtime & a consistent 7+ hours of sleep. Sleep should be the last thing you short-change when business is crazy-busy, in fact, perhaps you should be sleeping even more.

Why should you improve your sleep tonight, to work better tomorrow?

How could sleep deprivation be hurting your startup?

Read on to find out.

Truths startup founders need to know about sleep

1. Statistically speaking, you are probably not one of the few individuals with the genetics to function on less than 7 hours

It’s easy to convince ourselves that we do fine on 6 hours of sleep (see point 2 below) but it’s statistically unlikely. You are more likely to be struck by lightning than to have the genetic mutation (DEC2) that allows you to be fully rested on six or less hours of sleep.

2. When you are sleep deprived you do not have the skillset to recognise that your performance has decreased.

It’s impossible for you to identify how sleep deprivation impacts your work performance. In fact, the more sleep deprived you are, the more likely you are to underestimate its impact. You acclimatize to impaired performance, reduced alertness and lower energy levels.

3. You can’t catch up on sleep deprivation easily.

If you require 8 hours, sleeping 7 hours on the first night and 9 hours on the next, as an example, is not the same as 8 hours regularly. Unfortunately, this also rings true with sleeping in on the weekends — it takes more than two days to recover from sleep deprivation. Power napping, another strategy commonly employed by founders, can help you get more hours, but 7 hours of sleep + a 1hr powernap is not equivalent to 8 straight hours of good quality sleep.

Why your startup will benefit from you and your team getting 7+ hours of sleep — consistently

Get 7+ hours of sleep to: recognise socioemotional signals

Startups at any stage benefit from the accelerated growth from collaboration. Sleep deprivation inhibits your ability to recognise facial expressions, body gestures and mass group behaviour — to a similar degree to those with autism. Before you go to that networking event, make sure you get enough sleep.

Get 7+ hours of sleep to: better regulate your emotions

Startups inhabit a volatile environment, in part due to the accelerated pace. Technological debt and short-cuts to create a MVP can result in major system failure later. When things go wrong, sleep more to stay cool headed in these tough situations.

Get 7+ hours of sleep to: increase your creativity

As startups, we don’t have the manpower or finances to disrupt major industries. Instead, we rely on creative solutions that our competitors couldn’t implement at their scale. Dreaming can be a fantastic incubator for new ideas. Dream states have been used as a source of creative inspiration for the likes of Thomas Edison, Beethoven, Salvador Dali and Nikola Tesla. You can use sleep as a creative problem solving tool when all you see is dead ends.

Get 7+ hours of sleep to: enhance your memory

Pitching, whether for investment, partnerships or potential customers is such a major part of startup life. In an ever-changing environment our pitch is constantly being shaped as our businesses grow. When you can’t risk forgetting your financial projections, what’s on the next slide or your new offer this month, get some sleep.

Get 7+ hours of sleep to: improve your immune system

Most of us are in small teams and can’t afford to have sick days. We might be losing 1/3 (or all) of our manpower. For us founders, we often don’t have anyone to replace us and the company can’t function with a sick founder. Sleep to enhance your immune system and protect yourself — Especially when it’s flu season.

Get 7+ hours of sleep to: increase your ability to learn & cement new information

Build -> Measure -> Learn -> Repeat. Learning is the third pillar of the Lean Startup model. You could “double your mistakes to double your learning” or you could sleep more.

Get 7+ hours of sleep to: increase muscle memory and respiratory capacity.

Pitch, Pitch, Pitch, Pitch & Pitch. It’s not just about our slides and our script, it’s how we present ourselves. We need to move and sound confident. Next time you are pitching to potential investors, make sure you get enough sleep.

Get 7+ hours of sleep to: reduce physical accidents

See “improve your immune system”. We can’t risk injuring ourselves. Get enough sleep, especially if you have a long car commute ahead.

Get 7+ hours of sleep to: improve your concentration

Many founders are trying to cram as much work as they can into the week, and few take both Saturday and Sunday off work. We trick ourselves into believing that longer hours equals more work accomplished. Depriving ourselves of sleep to work longer results in negative returns because our concentration is severely reduced.

Get 7+ hours of sleep to: stop being the workplace bully

We create workplace culture for our startups. Sleep more when you have a small team to setup a strong foundation of company culture. Bullying and behavioural problems can spread as your company grows.

Get 7+ hours of sleep to: encourage your team to sleep more.

Lead by example and create a company culture that values adequate sleep. Whether your team has enough sleep has a compiling effect.

Let’s imagine two scenarios.

1. You offer a criticism which your team takes personally because of their poor ability to recognise socioemotional signals. Their inability to regulate their emotions escalates the situation. They don’t learn from the situation and repeat the cycle repeats.

2. You offer a criticism which your team takes as constructive because of their ability to recognise socioemotional signals. If taken personally they can regulate their emotions to keep the conversation constructive. You don’t need to raise this issue again because they learnt from the situation and implemented a creative solution.

The difference here? Getting enough sleep.

Get 7+ hours of sleep to: look after your mental health

Estimates of up to 17% of entrepreneurs have abused alcohol or drugs. 72% have self-identified as having depression, anxiety, bipolar or ADHD. Startups are in high stress environments and suicide is on the rise for founders. Sleeping more can improve mental health and reduce suicidal thoughts — please, look after yourself.

Will you sleep more this week?

Hopefully by now, you recognise some of the consequences of sleep deprivation on your startup, and encouraged you to get the minimum 7 hours every night.

You may notice a stigma around sleep and feel concerned about being seen as ‘weak’ if you sleep more than 6 hours. In nature we find the opposite; the strongest apex predators such as lions and tigers sleep for 15 hours out of 24. We need our strong future leaders to get more sleep, so they can create a better tomorrow.

Still unsure or unconvinced? Perhaps consider taking 7 hours to sleep on it ;-)

Recognise sleep deprivation in others and help them out

It’s not hard to spot sleep deprivation in our colleagues, team and cofounders. Most us of are vocal about feeling tired, not prioritising sleep and of course that 2nd (3rd, 4th, 5th…) coffee is a pretty sure sign. Next time you see a fellow founder who isn’t getting enough sleep, let them know about the benefits of adequate sleep, and the effect it can have on their startup by sending them this article. I hope we can get so much more out of our startups by simply nurturing our sleep.

But what happens if I Can’t Sleep?

Well, you’re in the right place. I’m the founder of Can’t Sleep App and am undertaking my PhD in the psychology of music for sleep. Can’t Sleep composes endless relaxing music scientifically designed to make you fall asleep faster and wake up feeling refreshed. The app applies over 100 journal articles on music and sleep psychology. This resulted in soundscapes & ambient sounds that distract listeners from stressful thoughts but not as engaging as regular music which can keep us awake.

Download Can’t Sleep here