At Timetastic we like to spread the good word about taking time off. Relaxing, chilling, and unwinding - that’s our thing.

We know that keeping a healthy balance between work and life is critical for every member of a modern business. But not everybody’s got the message, especially when it comes to the most important rest of all - sleep.

Whether we’re intentionally skipping it to get more done, staying up too late playing with our phones, or unable to doze off due to worry, lack of sleep is impacting loads of us these days, and business is suffering.

68% of all company founders say they struggle with their sleep, according to a survey from We Are 3Sixty, a entrepreneurial wellbeing community. The high-speed, pressurised world of running a company is likely to lead to many sleepless nights, especially when the growing expectations of investors are involved.
Outrageous working hours are glorified by type-A business leaders like Elon Musk - famously declaring “nobody changes the world on 40 hours a week”.

But is this healthy cultural behaviour? Why should we care? And what can we do about it?

What does sleep deprivation affect?

Pretty much everything, as it turns out. Matthew Walker is a neuroscientist specialising in the study of sleep. His book, Why We Sleep became a global bestseller, using numerous studies to show the effects of today’s ’sleep epidemic’ as he calls it:

"Sleep loss inflicts devastating effects on the brain, linking it to numerous neurological and psychiatric conditions (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, suicide, stroke, and chronic pain), and on every physiological system of the body, further contributing to countless disorders and disease (e.g., cancer, diabetes, heart attacks, infertility, weight gain, obesity, and immune deficiency)."

Wow. His research is a massive wake-up call, as you can see in this enlightening interview with Joe Rogan, where Walker’s sleep facts cause the host to exclaim “wooowwww…” almost every minute.

And if a whole range of long-term ailments isn't enough to dissuade you from skipping sleep, it also affects your work performance. It impedes focus, attention, reaction time, creativity, and memory retrieval.

Organisations that promote an over-work culture are therefore likely to have staff operating at much less than 100% of their potential, which offsets the gains made from staying at the office too late.

Why We Sleep has long been a mystery, but thanks to major progress in neuroscience and sleep research, we now know it plays a part in a huge number of recovery processes in our bodies. Walker explains:

"Based on a rich, new scientific understanding of sleep, we no longer have to ask what sleep is good for. Instead, we are now forced to wonder whether there are any biological functions that do not benefit by a good night’s sleep. So far, the results of thousands of studies insist that no, there aren’t."

We now know that it’s a sort of detoxifying process for the brain, as Arianna Huffington describes in The Sleep Revolution:

"One of the most important findings is that sleep is essentially like bringing in the overnight cleaning crew to clear the toxic waste proteins that accumulate between brain cells during the day.”

Every living being with a brain needs to sleep. Ready for a nap yet?

How to get better sleep

There’s a long list of methods to improve your sleep, and they all stack up - the more you do, the better you’ll sleep. Here’s the majority of them:

  • Avoid caffeine after noon
  • Avoid alcohol at night
  • Dim the lights before sleep  
  • Ideal room temperature should be 18-20°C
  • Remove all light in your bedroom, including tiny indicator lights on electronics
  • Go to bed at the same time each day (including weekends)
  • Don’t use your bed for anything other than sleep and physical intimacy
  • Exercise during the day, not too close to bedtime
  • Avoid large meals late at night
  • Don’t take naps after 3pm (and keep them under 90 minutes)
  • Take a hot bath before bed
  • Don’t use electronics for 1 hour before bedtime (ie. read a book)
  • Don’t lie in bed awake - get up and do something if you can't sleep
  • Eat healthy food in general, as gut health impacts sleep
  • Get a comfy bed! You use it every day - worth investing in a good one

In short - give sleep the respect it deserves.

Understanding your sleep

After investing time and effort into making your sleep better, you might be interested in measuring whether it’s having an impact or not.

Technology offers a few solutions. You can measure the amount and quality of your sleep with a fitness tracker wristband like a fitbit, an electronic mat that sits under your mattress, or even an app for your phone.

(Apps like Sleepio, recommended by the NHS, guide you to sleep with audio programs based on CBT, while soundscape generators like Pzizz use atmospheric, rhythmic sound and music to gently guide you into slumber, but they don’t track your sleep once the lights are out.)

While the accuracy of these isn’t quite medical-grade, they usually offer a good indication of whether you’re spending enough time in restful ‘deep’ sleep rather than fitful ‘light’ sleep, or if you’re waking up too much during the night.

Seeing the amount of hours and minutes you’ve slept each night, automatically plotted on a chart for you over the course of weeks and months, is a really useful and motivating feature.  

Although, you can buy all the fancy tech you want, but the best method is simply to see how you feel. Hopefully, after a few good nights' sleep, you'll be more energetic, with a clearer head, more balanced emotions, and a spring in your step.

Put sleep at the top of your priority list

We should probably be taking sleep a bit more seriously, then.

Pretty much every sleep expert says we should be aiming to do away with the alarm clock; if we need one to wake up, we’re not getting enough sleep. (The dictionary definition of alarm: “an anxious awareness of danger” - hardly a nice thing to wake up to. ) It’s hard to disagree with this uncomfortable truth, even though busy lives will do their best to get in the way. Maybe it’s not a case of not having enough time to sleep properly, but that we don’t make enough time.

When we put sleep first, everything else follows.

Photo by Rodrigo Pereira on Unsplash