Why I quit my job to fix sleep.
18 months ago, I sucked at sleep.
I was killing it in my role as a platform partnerships guy for music streaming service Deezer. I was rocking the 9–7:30pm tech company grind, traveling about once-per-month from Paris to SF for meetings, and available 24/7 on email, Slack & text message.
My mantra at the time: Hustling is how deals are made, partnerships are formed, and leads are generated. Sleeping isn’t.
Then, like textbook example out of Arianna’s Sleep Revolution, I woke up one day and realized I was cheating myself.
I was tired. I was irritable. I had to rely on caffeine and sugar to just get through the day. On work trips, I did what most business travelers do — have a few cocktails over dinner, stay out late, drag myself out of my hotel bed the next morning for two straight days of meetings, and then board a flight back to Paris.
I was killing myself.
“The irony is that a lot of people forego sleep in the name of productivity. But in fact our productivity is reduced substantially when we’re sleep deprived.” – Arianna Huffington
Fast forward 18 months and I’m a completely different person.
I’m now a guy who goes to bed at the same time every single night. I never hit the snooze button. I started waking up an hour earlier than my normal wake-up time. I have time to do things in the morning that give me joy — like have breakfast with my wife. I never drink a can of Coke with dinner anymore, and I watch my alcohol intake at night. And I always charge my phone overnight on the kitchen counter, not my nightstand.
Last year, I would have laughed in your face if you told me this would be me today. But it is.
Last year, after conducting about 30 sleep-hacking experiments on myself and interviewing anyone and everyone about their chronic sleep problems, I made a crazy decision:
I quit my day job and moved to Hong Kong to try to build a solution to fix sleep. Here’s why:
REASON 1: Becoming a better sleeper is super easy to fix, but requires a lot of willpower.
There are a million self-help books, how-to articles and published research about how to become a better sleeper. (I would know; I think I may have read them all.)
I soon realized that the solutions for better sleep are easy. The real problem is that the advice is so damn easy to ignore.
Make sure you get 7 hours of sleep each night. Sure, I’ll go to bed right after I finish binge-watching these last two episodes on Netflix.
Cut back on caffeine at night. But a can of Coke tastes so good with a slice of pizza.
Make it a point to wake up at the same time everyday. But Saturday mornings were made for sleeping in.
If I really wanted to give this a real shot, I had to stop making excuses and develop some willpower. So, like a true engineer, I started doing one experiment at a time and documenting everything. A few highlights:
I stopped sleeping in on the weekends. I used to think that I couldn’t fall asleep on Sunday nights because I was stressed about the week ahead. It wasn’t. The real reason was my 11am wake-up time. The later I slept in on Saturdays and Sundays, the more it prevented me from falling asleep that night at a reasonable hour. It was a vicious cycle, and it was exhilarating to put a stop to it.
I measured the effects of caffeine. For two weeks, I drank a can of Coke each night with dinner. The following morning, I would rate the quality of my sleep (how many times at night I woke up), and whether I felt refreshed (on a scale of 1–10). Most days, I’d give myself a 5 or less.
I tried to train my body clock to sleep less. This was a complete failure. Going to bed one hour later did help me fall asleep faster and remain asleep for most of the night (which was amazing!). The problem was that I felt absolutely terrible in the morning. On a scale of 1–10, I was hovering around a 2 or 3.
As the months went by, the results of my experiments became painfully clear. The recipe for good sleep is pretty easy:
- Don’t drink caffeine at night.
- Go to sleep at the same time every night to ensure you get 7 hours of sleep.
- Stop using your smartphone in bed.
The hard part is changing your lifestyle, breaking your bad habits, and making a commitment to becoming a better sleeper.
Sure, tools like FitBit and Google Sheets helped me track my patterns and make note of what was working and what wasn’t, but they weren’t helping me break my bad habits. That was all me.
REASON 2: The ROI of sleeping is higher than the ROI of non-stop hustling.
When I had terrible sleep habits, the only thing I thought about all day was when I would get to crawl back in bed that night.
Once I got a taste of what it felt like to finally wake up feeling refreshed, I felt like I owned the world. I felt invincible. It was the best feeling in the world.
One immediate return on my investment in better sleep: My English became better than ever. It just flowed so smoothly. I wasn’t constantly looking for my words or waiting for sentences to finish. Each day of better sleep, I became more and more comfortable and happy speaking English naturally, as if it was my native tongue.
Another positive return: Every morning, it became easier to start my day by focusing on tasks that took more brain power. Before, I used to start my days with the easy busywork that didn’t require much thought, like responding to emails or scheduling meetings. On the surface, it would give me satisfaction that I was “hustling” and “getting stuff done,” but it wasn’t the kind of stuff that actually moved the needle.
Today, my days are flipped. I take care of all the important work first thing in the morning, and save all the less-important busywork for the late afternoon. It’s incredible how efficient I’ve become.
My journey to become a better sleeper was a year-long experiment of highs and lows and every feeling in between. Once I had found the optimal recipe for better sleep, I wanted nothing more than to shout it from the rooftops and help others around the world achieve better sleep too.
One year later our first product is ready for pre-order.
Now comes the hard part.