Want to be a better Innovator? Sleep.

Have you ever wondered why we sleep?

I’ve always found it really strange. It seems that sleeping would have evolved out of the human race by natural selection by this point.

Think about it.

When we’re sleeping, we are just lying there… unconscious, unable to respond to danger. Wouldn’t sleeping make it super simple for those lurking saber-toothed tigers to eat us?

The reason sleep didn’t evolve out probably means that there is a pretty damn good reason for it.

With that said, our society doesn’t seem to put a lot of emphasis on sleep. Sleep, it seems, gets in the way of work.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that sleep is the enemy.

Even Elon Musk says he only sleeps 6 hours per night and chooses to sleep on the floor of his factory to save time.

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were also well known for bragging about how little sleep they would allow themselves.

I’d say that there has been a war on sleep and we’re only just waking up to the benefits of sleep. It’s weird that we need science to tell us what every other animal on the planet already knows.

I’ve Always Thought Sleep was a Waste

For most of my adult life, I felt that if I could just sleep less, I’d be able to do more.

I’d wrestle back the edges of sleep with every tool in my tool bag. Coffee, ephedrine, sinus medicine, and Red Bull.

On the flip-side, I also had to find ways to get to sleep. Alcohol, melatonin, and chamomile tea were my tools of the trade.

I would arrange my days to ride the second wave of energy I would get at around 10pm. I would do my best work (or so I thought) from 11pm until 2am every night. By 7am the next morning I’d have another large cup of coffee in my hands ready to begin the battle against fatigue and sleep all over again.

Perhaps the worst part of my hate of sleep is that I would expect everyone around me to follow these same bad sleep habits.

I was not an easy person to work with as a result.

Boy, was I stupid

If I could send myself an email that would arrive 25 years ago, I would tell myself only one thing.

“If you want to be successful, and happy, and healthy… you must prioritize sleep above all other things.”
Signed, Joel 2018

That’s it. That’s all it would say.

I’m sure my 21-year-old self would respond in much the same way as my adult children do when I try to give them any type of advice…

“Yeah. OK. Thanks for that old man. I gotta go now.”

The Science of Sleep

I’m not going to get into the science behind sleep. However, over the last year all that I’ve learned about sleep has been blowing my mind.

I first got interested in hacking sleep after reading The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time by Arianna Huffington (who, is a brilliant writer and amazing human on this planet — I recommend consuming every word she has ever written.)

It wasn’t until I read “Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams” by Matthew Walker did my mind officially pop.

I also watch a Joe Rogan podcast interview with Matthew Walker you can also listen to here.

Here’s a summary.

  • Want to be more creative? Sleep.
  • Want to think more clearly? Sleep.
  • Want to have less anxiety and depression? Sleep.
  • Want to communicate better? Sleep.
  • Want to get better at a technical sport? Sleep.
  • Want more endurance and more strength? Sleep.
  • Want to learn faster? Sleep.
  • Want to have a better memory? Sleep.

And…

  • Want to reduce your chances of getting cancer? Sleep.
  • Want to live a lot longer? Sleep.
  • Want to reduce your chances of getting Alzheimer’s? Sleep.
  • Want to fight off heart disease? Sleep.
  • Don’t want to minimize damage your DNA structures? Sleep.
  • Want to lose weight? Sleep.

Now I get why nature hasn’t erased the need for sleep. It’s pretty crucial to our survival.

Entrepreneurs, Innovation, and Sleep

If you’re an innovator and entrepreneur, you need leverage every single advantage available to you to be successful.

And..

Not sleeping well will put you at the greatest disadvantage.

Easier Said Than Done

OK. Let’s say that you agree that you need to sleep better.

Now what?

Well, I can only suggest that you talk with your doctor and read a lot of books from trusted sources who aren’t trying to sell you anything.

With that said, here is a list of things that have helped me sleep better.

I create a ritual of sleep. A big part of my ritual is to get stuff off my mind with my journaling rituals. When I’m done, it’s like a signal “OK, it’s time.”

>> If you’re interested, I wrote all about why I journal here

I stop using electronics 1 hour before bed. Light shining into my eyes before I want to sleep kept me awake for hours.

I read fiction before bed. When I read business books or articles, it causes my brain to want to think about stuff. I find I get the best sleep by including 15–20 minutes of reading fiction.

I try to limit alcohol. Alcohol may make me fall asleep faster, but it screws with my quality of sleep in a big way. So does smoking pot I’m told. This is probably my hardest habit to keep, as I absolutely love a glass of red wine in the evening. As long as it doesn’t turn into 4, I’m usually good.

I keep it dark. Pitch black. I’ve even taken out my alarm clock from my side of the bed.

I keep my electronics far from me. I don’t sleep with my phone by my bed. It’s in another room in do not disturb mode.

I like to keep it cold. If it’s too hot, I flip around like a dolphin caught in a fishing net. I have yet to convince my wife of this.

Take a hot shower before bed (or a hot bath). Apparently, this pushes blood to the surface of your skin which will act to cool it, helping to drop my body temperature rapidly to help me fall asleep faster.

I’m fairly consistent with when I wake up. This is also one of the hardest habits to keep, especially on weekends and when traveling.

I nap, and I’m not shy about it. I nap twice a day, each for about 10–15 minutes. I don’t have any set times. I sometimes feel like my brain is full, and have this urge to lie down. I fall asleep within about 1–2 minutes by focusing on my breath and by scanning my body with my mind. When I wake up, I feel bit groggy for about 10 minutes and then I’m back to normal.

Tools That Could Help

I’m a data guy. I like using data to help drive what I learn and what I do. So, I got an app to help me.

Specifically, I used an app called Pillow on my iPhone and used my Apple Watch to track motion and heart rate.

Take a look at what it can track and trend over time!

A before and after snapshot of my sleep hacking journey.

The Innovator in me compels me to run experiments, by changing 1 sleep condition variable at a time, to see if I can improve those numbers.

Note: I’m in no way associated with Pillow. I just like the app.

Hacking Sleep is a Journey You Need To Take

I’ll be honest, sleep optimization is still an ongoing journey for me.

The first step for me was to get over the stigma of sleep. And that’s the first step of the journey I recommend for everyone.

Start by giving yourself permission to sleep.

Don’t feel guilty. Tell the sleep deniers to shove it and make sleep a priority for you and for everyone around you.

You might also be interested to note that both Thatcher and Regan both died of Alzheimer Disease. #justsaying

What’s Your Journey?

I’m really interested in hearing about your challenges as an Innovator. Please share a note, comment or a story. If you like this post, please help by sharing it and giving the post a few claps so it can reach more people.

You can also follow me on twitter @joelsemeniuk where I regularly discuss all things innovation, and more importantly, the personal costs we innovators bear.