I, like many entrepreneurs out there, work way too much and at times my sleep suffers because of it. I find myself working 12-plus hour days every day of the week. Another two or three hours with the family doesn't leave a lot more time for sleeping.
If you’re not getting enough quality sleep, your work suffers, your business suffers, your health suffers, your employees suffer and, ultimately, your clients suffer. Nobody deserves that, least of all your customers. I've noticed over the past year that my body and business suffers when I consistently sleep fewer than six hours a night. I just can't do it like I used to do it.
The National Sleep Foundation, along with numerous sleep specialists, have a bevy of hacks up their sleeves to help you achieve better, deeper, higher-quality sleep. Unfortunately, not all of these tricks are suited to the entrepreneurial lifestyle. For example, it's impossible for me to stick to the same sleep schedule every night, especially when I sometimes work five hours, sometimes 20, and like most entrepreneurs am traveling all over the world trying to secure partnerships and investors.
Nonetheless, you can get the sleep you need even with such a hectic schedule. Here are a few sleep habits that have helped me get better sleep with my crazy entrepreneur lifestyle:
1. Make the room as dark as possible.
Some things are within your control, like splurging on blackout curtains when you’re home. Otherwise, block hallway light with a towel in front of the door and choose hotel rooms with blackout curtains when possible. No matter how “good” you think you are at sleeping with light, your circadian rhythm disagrees.
2. Remove all electronics.
My wife and I have a strict rule -- no cell phones in our bedroom. This helps keep zero light and distractions from our bedroom. Even the tiniest of lights can be disturbing, and some studies show that the “output” from even dormant electronics can disturb your sleep. We ordered an old school alarm clock from Amazon to wake us up. In hotel rooms, pack up your electronics inside suitcases and get a wake-up call.
3. Stop looking at screens two hours before bed.
This is a hard one for entrepreneurs like myself. I struggle with it the most, but it is necessary for your sleep. Your body needs some time to “figure out” that it’s time for bed. Looking at a screen, whether your phone or the TV, keeps you wired and makes it difficult to fall asleep. Since dropping all "screens" from my life two hours before sleep earlier this year as a New Years goal, I've seen my sleeping habits improve. My Fitbit agrees.
4. Establish a bedtime routine.
In addition to laying off electronics for two hours, find out what relaxes you. Maybe it’s Sleepy Time tea, a warm bath or reading a book for 30 minutes (perhaps a business book?). This should be “you time” and you should discover what helps you fall asleep. I have the routine of brushing teeth, bathroom and straight to bed. My body knows and starts shutting down. Even most F ortune 500 leaders have these same habits. Hopefully you can make room for two hours, but any amount helps.
5. Figure out your natural, necessary sleep.
Ideally, you wake up without an alarm clock. However many hours of sleep it usually takes to achieve this is how many hours you need to be rested (barring any sleep disorders). My wife needs nine to 10 hours a night, while I only need seven. The average is eight hours, but you might need anywhere from six to 12. Everyone is different.
6. Find what foods agree with you.
It’s best to not eat anything two hours prior to bed and to lighten up on beverages so you don’t have a full bladder in the middle of the night. However, some foods are easier to digest than others. Spicy foods, caffeinated foods, and creamy, heavy foods can be detrimental to your sleep habits.
Most importantly, remember the only good sleep routine is the one that works for you. Play with it and perfect it. However, make sure you prioritize sleep. Otherwise, you won’t be able to give fully to any other aspect of your life.