My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends --
It gives a lovely light!
First Fig By Edna St. Vincent Millay
That wasn’t the first poem I learned to recite, but it’s likely the one I’ve recited most often. In the unwritten manual for entrepreneurs it’s been reduced to, “There’s time to sleep when you’re dead.”
My flirtation with sleep deprivation started early. Raised in a fundamentalist Christian cult, I was not allowed to watch television, or listen to the radio. I was allowed to read, but my father frowned on story books. Bedtime was my chance to crawl under the covers with a book, a flashlight, and the little transistor radio my grandmother, who didn’t adhere to my parent’s restrictions for my upbringing, had given me, complete with its own headset.
I’d listen to forbidden music, and read by the light of the flashlight until I had just enough wakefulness left to hide my treasures between the mattress and box springs. The school bus came early, but if the other kids weren’t too obnoxious I could get a short nap on the way to, and often from, school.
Forgoing sleep to do everything I wanted to do, along with everything I had to do, was a deeply ingrained coping device before I ever reached middle school, which meant I was well-conditioned for life as an entrepreneur. Business life taught me that sleep deprivation is natural. Being too busy to sleep is the badge of a true entrepreneur. Being well-rested is a sure sign that you aren’t hustling enough, aren’t “crushing it,” aren’t working to potential.
But after years of studying how the brain works, how we govern our thoughts and emotions, how we make decisions, and how those thoughts, emotions and decisions impact our success, I’ve come to believe that sleep deprivation is a culprit in almost every missed opportunity, loss or failure. In fact, with all that I have accomplished on so little sleep, I suspect that I could have achieved world domination if I’d ever been fully rested (or if world domination had ever been something I cared to pursue.)
Why do I, and most entrepreneurs I know, continue to run their lives and businesses on less than optimal sleep? I won’t speak for all of you, but for me there’s simply more that I want to put into my waking hours than 16 hours will accommodate. So that seven-and-a-half to eight hours of sleep that most sleep specialists recommend continues to be less of a priority than my lists of got-to-do and want-to-do, even though I know that I cannot “work to my potential” or make the best decisions in my life and business when I’m not well-rested and at my highest performance level.
Enter the science of “ brainwave entrainment.” I’ve experimented with brainwave entrainment as part of my meditation practice and use monaural beats during my writing time. I was intrigued when I found a group of engineers who are creating a “smartpillow” they call Chrona that uses your smartphone and brainwave entrainment technology to hack your sleep.
The group of biomedical engineers, electrical engineers, software engineers, and web-based engineers who make up the company, Ultradia, call Chrona a “sleep optimization system.” Basically, it’s a thin memory foam insert that tracks the frequency of brainwaves you’re emitting while you sleep and optimizes sleep using sound. For instance, Delta brainwaves indicate deep sleep, while Alpha activity indicates light sleep. That data is then used to improve your sleep experience and the benefit you get from your shut eye.
On the first night of use, the device plays back monaural beats to encourage a somewhat generic optimal sleep schedule. By day 14 the device is mapping your ideal schedule using a machine-learning algorithm, then optimizing your sleep by triggering specific sounds during specific stages of your sleep cycle.
This group of entrepreneurs started the research for their own benefit. Like most of us, they were burning the candle at both ends and wanted to get more rest per second when they did stop to close their eyes. They had research indicating how to track sleep and change sleep patterns, but knowing how hard it is to change people’s habits, they took the existing technology of fitness trackers and mobile phone apps to create a way we can get more benefit out of the sleep we’re already getting.
As Ultradia co-founder Zimin Hang says, “Chrona was developed specifically for the go-getters who can’t always afford a full night’s sleep.” Well yeah, that’s me. I’ve gotten a lot better at putting myself to bed at a decent hour (without the book, flashlight, and earbuds) but I’m all for getting more out of any experience, especially sleep. After all, I may not want to take over the world, but I do want my candle to last more than the night, even if I am still burning it at both ends now and again.