I think that some might be surprised to hear how much I sleep and how important it is to me. I average right around eight hours per day (tracked for a few months), and prioritize sleep very strongly, even over most work.
Once ten pm comes around, I have four options for things I'm allowed to do: I can play violin, read a book, work, or sleep. Computer is off at midnight every day, at which point I usually read for an hour or two, and then go to sleep.
The other night I was tired at ten, but I was really excited about my work so I tried to push through and keep at it. I was stuck trying to fix something, but I managed to try five or ten solutions out before getting in bed. At the time, it felt like a good choice.
I woke up the next morning, took one look at the code, and spotted the solution instantly. Within five minutes it was fixed. Once is a fluke, but I've noticed this pattern over and over again with work when I'm tired-- it feels like I'm working, but often I'm just spinning my wheels.
Normally when I'm tired I give myself the option: continue working or sleep. Both are equally good to me because I don't believe that a person will naturally oversleep in the long term. When I tracked my sleep for three months I'd occasionally sleep for ten or even eleven hours, but then the next week have a coupl days where I only sleep for five or six. Without trying, it always averaged out to eight.
Just as good work is a function of both quality and quantity, good rest is also function of both quality and quantity of sleep. Here are some of my best practices for sleep:
-- I keep the same schedule every day, which includes a no-screens period before falling asleep. This one change to my life took an erratic and crazy sleep schedule and made it consistent and functional.
-- The only caffeine I drink is from tea, and only early in the day. Usually before noon, but always before five pm.
-- I drink water before going to sleep.
-- I also drink water during the day any time I feel tired. Usually it wakes me up within an hour.
-- I try not to use an alarm clock. Exceptions are made for flights and early meetings.
-- I sleep with ear plugs. I sometimes sleep with a sleep mask, which I think is a really good thing, but I'm not consistent about it.
-- I take naps if I need them because I know that tired work is maybe 20% as effective as rested work.
-- I set the thermostat to 65 degrees. There seems to be some debate about it, but I've seen a few studies that recommend that temperature.
-- I stop eating by 9pm. I'm not confident that this matters, but not having simple carbs late is almost certainly helpful.
We definitely have a culture where lack of sleep is glorified. I think that it's a good skill to be able to operate as well as possible on low sleep, but that doesn't mean that that skill should be exercised regularly. By getting a full nights rest and sleeping as long as your body wants you to, you can easily overcome the raw time shortage through better focus and higher quality work.
If you want to start towards better sleep, my top recommendation is to set a specific time to turn off all screens. That one simple hard rule will have a serious positive impact on your sleep within a week, which will motivate you to try out some of the lower impact strategies.
Photo was a drunk salaryman in Tokyo sleeping in a squat on an otherwise empty train. Probably not great sleep...
But are you really just spinning your wheels when you work late?
It's also possible that the time you spent the night before was precisely what allowed you to figure out the solution so quickly in the morning.
I've had the same experience, where I've tried lots of strategies that don't work, only to have the solution hit me suddenly, hours (or even days!) later. Perhaps you would've discovered the resolution to your problem without spending time on it the night before, but I wouldn't underestimate the power of putting in your due diligence and then sleeping on it.
I've started sleeping with earplugs as well, but I wonder if there are any negative long-term impacts to spending 6+ hours with them in every night?
I find them quite uncomfortable physically. I also have slight tinnitus, so once they go in I can really hear it. But I find the tradeoff for uninterrupted sleep worth it (I try to sleep without them on the weekend when I don't have to get up early for work).
I also tend to sleep a minimum of 7h30 to 8h. I agree that sleep is crucial to productivity. Tynan, I was wondering whether you took regular breaks during the days? Have you ever tried something along the lines of the Pomodoro technique, or do you feel it hurts the flow of your work?
I spent the first 30 years of my "career" living on 4-6 hours a night, with extended periods my recording studio days when I worked non-stop through the weekend: Friday to Monday morning. During that period, I made at least 6 "lazy" goofballs into millionaires. On the music side of my life, I burned through two business partners and three small businesses; all profitable but unsustainable because I wouldn't quit my full time "real jobs." For the most part, I had no focus for my own career path or personal welfare of any sort. In my early 50's, I burned out. Couldn't even read a newspaper headline and I'm, normally, a 5-8,000wpm reader. I was, literally, forced to quit my high paying, high pressure job and wait for the sky to fall. After about a year, I took a part-time teaching job at a music school and figured that I'd keep that going until I ran out of money and had to go back to "work." 14 years later, I'm retiring with a healthy retirement bank balance and an opportunity to do all sorts of things I could have never considered when I was in the grind.
Tynan, you are brilliant to be so focused on the things that matter while you are young. For a change, youth isn't being wasted on the young.
It is easy to get burnt out. I have a "career" that allows me to retire at age 50. Or, age 53 since I quit for a 3 year stint to try my own business. Everyone there wants to get to their date, as if that is when happiness starts. Co-workers walk in the door in the morning, and say, "3 years, 2 months, 14 days, 10 hours, 27 minutes until I get out of this hell hole.....uh, not that I'm keeping track".
The weird thing is when some of these guys retire, they turn around and come back to work there as part time employees. After they hated the place for years. It's like they are programmed to show up there everyday. They have no other life. Most of their friends still work there, so they want to be there too.
I will never forget this one guy that did his countdown over the years. He loudly said his time left each day as the days got shorter. He was saying how he will be fishing on the river while we are slaving away. His big day came...he retired. The next week, he was sitting in the lunchroom everyday asking what's going on and how are we doing.
I have been so busy working all these years that I can't hardly relax and have a good time without some adult beverage to help loosen me up. I want to ease into relaxing and stop putting pressure on myself.
Twday was saying how it is good to see young people enjoying their youth. I think that's great too. I think you have to have a balance of work and play. I see these young people at my job and they are already into the grind. They compare their overtime hours against each other to see who can work the most. I take my hat off to them, they are some really hard workers and rarely complain. Yet, I see that they can't wait to spend that money on new cars (with payments), credit cards, new clothes, high rent, etc.
I totally agree about the importance of good sleep, and limiting late-night screen use is a great first step to getting a consistent sleep schedule.
However, I couldn't just let my body decide how long I want to sleep. If I don't set an alarm, I almost always end up sleeping for 11 hours, day after day. Obviously I don't want that, especially since I don't feel any better after sleeping for so long.
Some time ago I wrote an article about tracking sleep on a smartphone. Some of you may find it useful.
Yeah, I also have issues with sleeping too much. I think it stems from my sleeping habits while depressed. Sleeping to escape the world, shit like that. I should start alarming again.
Scientists who study sleep seem to have different opinions on the issue of oversleeping.
Some say that it's impossible to sleep more than you need because of physiological processes meaning that once your body is fully rested you will wake up and won't be able to fall back asleep.
Some say that it's possible to sleep too much and it affects your health negatively.
To me, the theory that it's impossible to sleep more than you need seems more plausible, but I'm not an expert.
However, about the pattern of sleeping for 11 hours a day, you might simply be a person who needs that much sleep.
There are people who need very little sleep on a regular basis and people who need loads of sleep on a regular basis.
Also, it might be that you've built up sleep debt over many years, and now your body is trying to clear it, or that you have unhealthy habits that disturb your sleep (three big ones being alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine), or that you exercise a lot and therefore need more rest, etc.
I read a study awhile back (sorry, I don't have the story) about how if people are put in an environment where they can't tell the hours of the day and are given as much time to sleep as they want, they eventually start sleeping in 2 chunks during the night (with a brief break inbetween sleeps) which is how our ancestors would have slept before modern culture.
BUT, before their sleeping schedule normalized, they would spend up to 15 hours a day sleeping for many days because of how chronically underslept most people in modern society are.
You probably actually do need those 11 hours.
That's a very good point.
I think most people don't understand how sleep debt works (or don't even realize that such thing exists).
It's very likely that a person who sleeps ridiculous amount of time if they don't put an alarm clock on has accumulated a massive amount of sleep debt over the years.
Usually, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep in order to function well, but that doesn't include adults with a serious sleep debt (which is the vast majority of them).
It's very likely that if a person who needs a lot of sleep actually gets as much sleep as they need the amount of sleep they need will decrease over a period of time once the sleep debt is cleared.
Here's an article in Scientific American on sleep debt:
While it makes sense on some level, I'm having trouble picturing this happening physiologically. By what mechanism does the brain/body know it needs sleep? What exactly is happening to the body/mind as you catch up?
I mean, I know that sleep basically condenses/consolidates what you've learned/experienced that day. But imagine you don't get enough sleep for a while. Is all that info still there, waiting to be consolidated? I doubt it. It's just turned into noise by that point. I don't know what your brain could actually be doing during that time.
With the body, I imagine it's somewhat similar, though there could be a lot of 'repairing' to do to take up the time. But I'm still a little skeptical.
And the other thing that doesn't fit is that whenever I've slept over 9 hours, I wake up MORE tired than if I hadn't. It's called sleep inertia, from what I hear.
Are we sure that the 15-hour sleeps that you see in this experiment aren't just a side effect of having your day messed with?
Well, sleep debt is something that is accepted by the majority of sleep scientists, so although I can't explain you the processes behind it since I'm not an expert, I'm sure you can look it up.
The reasons why people say that they feel worse when they "oversleep" is usually:
a) They are sleep deprived. If you have accumulated a lot of sleep debt, you won't erase it by sleeping for 12 hours once, therefore surprise surprise, you will still wake up sleep deprived. I'm not sure if that's correct, but I understand that it works in the same way as being starved, if you weren't getting nutrients for an extended period of time, once nice lunch won't solve the problem.
b) They wake up in a time when temperature drop is happening. There's a temperature drop that happens that usually happens in the afternoon (it obviously varies on your sleep cycles though). Therefore, if you usually wake up at 8am, and one day you wake up at 12pm, that means that in few hours there will be this drop that will make you sleepy.
I suggest you to read up on sleep, there are plenty good books on the topic, plus loads and load of scientific papers as well.
Got any recommendations? I could not be lazy and look myself, but I don't feel like reinventing the wheel.
As an developer, I can attest to this happening to me tons of time, lack sleep creates bad code and no slutions. Good post Tynan.
Great post, I love the picture. I couldn't agree more with all your advice, it's imparative that we keep our circadian rhythm in tact for optimal health and maximum performance. The one thing I was hoping to see was the importance of sleeping grounded, especially from a nomad. Sleeping in an earthing sheet can help tremendously when regularly traveling to different time zones, it helps to synchronize the body with the local time zone and bypass jet lag. Check out what the Bullet Proof Executive, Dave Asprey, has to say about sleeping grounded> How I Killed Jet Lag and Got More REM Sleep Too
Yes I agree with U tyan... This is your first post i read and i love it....
My suggestion is we all should start attending college because it helps in getting better sleep at night :p
Yes, good sleep is an incredibly effective and productive tactic. I should really implement the no-electronics-after 10 policy. I have a habit of being in the middle of doing a few things on the Internet at that point in the night, IRC, facebook, IM chats. It would probably be a good idea to gradually shut each off in turn, one by one, to kind of cool my head down so I'm more able to transition to a restful state of mind. Then probably read some books, or converse with a roommate, or reflect on the day, or write out my thoughts (with pen and paper, of course). What else is there to do without electronics... Stretching, cleaning, taking a walk outside maybe.
Would probably be extremely beneficial for my work productivity, as well as general happiness.
(I'm typing this out not really because I think you guys necessarily care, but more to make it stick in my mind)
* By the way, Tynan: a bug submission. This "write your post" form disappeared after I had submitted my replies to the other comments.
I love getting a good night's sleep. I struggled with sleep in my early years, lying in bed for hours waiting for sleep to arrive. It was awful. I'd wake up tired every morning and remain sleepy for a big chunk of the day.
I do most of the same things you listed here, but the thing that helped the most was learning some good techniques to fall asleep. I struggled with this in the pre-Internet days, so there wasn't much good information available on how to fall asleep. I ended up figuring out my own technique and through much practice learned to fall asleep in about 5 minutes.
About a year ago I revisited the idea of learning to fall asleep and documented my technique in an ebook. Here's a link in case anyone is in the same boat of not being able to fall asleep. http://www.amazon.com/Set-Your-Sleep-Autopilot-ebook/dp/B008DVCHIG
The things that helped me the most was to learn some muscle relaxation techniques and some meditation techniques. The trick that often gets overlooked is that you need to relax your body and quiet your mind. Even if you aren't interested in the book, you can research these types of techniques to develop your own going-to-sleep process.I also agree with Tynan that setting a time to turn off all screens (or in my case a set bedtime) really helps a lot.
All of these techniques work really well if you are single, and living by yourself.
Everything changes when you get married, have children, and have to work all the time to pay bills.
First, every person on Earth is kind of moody at times. This will be NO different when you get married. Your loving sweetheart has a way to get under your skin, and it very well can happen during your "meditation" time. In fact, it probably will since you will be so calm and it will be the perfect time for them to unload all their frustrations on you. Just try falling asleep after that.
Then, when you start having children, you will wake up constantly to soothe the baby, change diapers, feed them, etc. They usually sleep great once you get up and leave for work. Yet, the day you have off and want to sleep in, that's the day they wake up early full of energy.
Don't forget, you will be tired during the day at work, and expect little sympathy from your co-workers. They will look for every opportunity to pick at you and point out anything you do that wasn't perfect. That junk will be on your mind also as you try to fall asleep at night.
When all of this occurs and adds up, that's when the sleeping pills become a ritual instead of the meditation. The spouse can't argue with a zombie.
These are just some of the things that cause people to not sleep well for many, many years of their life.
"They usually sleep great once you get up and leave for work. Yet, the day you have off and want to sleep in, that's the day they wake up early full of energy."
This cracked me up :)
Sounds like I have a lot to look forward to, hehh.
Since there is negative evidence that any of those things (marriage, children, occupational responsibility) will make you happier in the short or long term, there is an obvious solution.
Well, the first two, those are incredibly stressful, especially for a socially weird person like me. But occupational responsibility? What are you suggesting here - to basically take advantage of society, and try to find ways of surviving with minimal effort? Please elaborate
SOB: You are direct and honest....about yourself. I can appreciate someone that admits their faults and has little to no ego. I have met a variety of people in my life, and have seen it all. I have seen people that seemed like they had it all in life lose it all. And, I have seen the "socially weird" people find their calling and be revered in society. It takes self confidence to get going, which you have.
One of my friends in high school was "out of step" with everybody else...at that time. I lost contact with him after school for about 10 years. The next thing I see is him on the T.V. as a prosecuting attorney winning a big case. A few more years later he was elected Commonwealth Attorney. His story was so cool. He went from high school dropout to the top of the food chain.
I know everybody has it in them to succeed. You have to go with your interests, and hopefully a burning desire will take over. Once you find that thing, nothing will hold you back!
Thanks for saying so. Yeah I could use a burning desire. Right now I'm trying to make myself effective at work. It's a long and tedious process, that doesn't work at all. It probably is related to the depression I've been dealing with. Every day is different. Today is a really slow, tired day.
I've got a lot to say to you. I know you have the ability to open a lot of doors....the right doors. You have to target those opportunities like a rifle instead of a shotgun. Here's what I would like you to do:
1. Write down the 5 most important things/goals in your life
2. Write down why these things mean so much to you
3. develop a plan to make these goals become a reality
4. Seek out people that will assist you to reach your goals
Totally ignore the talk from others and your internal talk that dissuades you from reaching the goals. You will take the process on, no matter the challenges and annoyances, to complete the process.
You will learn a lot during the process. You will learn about yourself and how much you are able to get things done.
I really don't have the motivation for that though. And I don't have enough trust in myself to create a solid plan. So many things mean a lot to me, but I feel like I may have cut myself off from my most important thing. This is actually the cause of my depression, that I've been dealing with for 7 years.
Also, my brain isn't really set up right to hook up with reality. I'm really kind of a weird person. Sometimes I think I'm on the Autism spectrum.
I completely understand being depressed and not having motivation. It is not like a light switch that you can turn on and off whenever you want. Although, that is what some people seem to think that haven't experienced depression. I know that it is like being in quick sand. The harder you try to make yourself feel better, the more it seems like your getting no where and/or sinking.
I feel like you have to start small (baby steps) to get going again. Just nibble away at the things you like doing and get better at them. Try to surround yourself with positive, motivated people that really love you. Find that person that wants to help "coach" you and give you the encouragement you need. You know, Tiger Woods is probably the greatest golf player in history, yet even he has a coach.
Some of the things I enjoy:
Cooking- I watch the BBQ cookoff challenges on the Food Network. They slow cook the meat with various rubs and add sauces. I like to try my on BBQ challenge with friends. I think we came pretty close to the best. Even if we don't, we sure have a good time trying.
I have invented my own BBQ sauce that I love. My best dish is Brunswick Stew, which is a big favorite in my area. I have made it for parties (especially Football playoffs when it is cold outside).
There are so many things to try on a small scale. You will find joy in doing these things and it is so good inside to share your good things with others. It is flattering when people call me to ask my recipes.
Yeah, I've been trying to surround myself with positivity, though I kind of forgot that I'm doing that, so thanks for the reminder.
I'm not sure I have anybody who can really coach me. But I'm trying to get myself back in the groove by getting back into dating (my last relationship was an absolute disaster). It's lifting my spirits pretty well. Have a date tonight, actually! The first one since breaking up with this last ex. I'm freaking pumped.
Also I've been allowing myself to do the things that I'm good at but are weird, such as playing Super Smash Bros N64. So what if I'm retro? I have Asperger's Syndrome for Christ's sake. I spent nearly all my free time alone and was terrible at making friends as a kid. I'm gonna just have to accept that I'm quirky. I've been trying to accept myself more. Anyways, that's probably more than you needed to know, lol. But whatevs
Pretty cool about the date tonight. Just relax and be yourself. I always liked going to somewhere I've never been when I was dating. It was like a first time experience for me and my date. I would ask the person if they had ever done the activity before to make sure it would be new for them.
Some pretty cool dates were going horseback riding trail (slow, horse just walking because I don't like it when they run and bounce me), festivals and street fairs with craft vendors, historical sites with narration, walks in the park, and basically the simple things that allow you to be with the person and talk. If you go to a movie and dinner, you don't get much time to actually learn much about the other person.
I, too, kind of like being by myself. I love helping people, and that's where I find some of the best positive people in my life...other people that are kind and like to help others. I visit a local missionary that is always doing something good for a downtrodden neighborhood. I only knew one person that invited to come over there. Once I got there, everyone was overly friendly and welcoming. I can go when I want and don't feel uncomfortable or pressured to do anything.
Everybody has their personal deficiencies. Some people are better at disguising their shortcomings.
As for playing the video game, I get hooked on certain games too. And a lot of people do. I loved the NASCAR game. Once again, I got to know some people that liked playing that game and we would get together and play for hours and one time stayed up all night playing. My eyes were burning from looking at the screen.
I've had a few friends who've gone through quitting smoking. The hard part, they say, is that certain things trigger wanting to smoke. Stressful situation? Time to smoke. Driving a car? Time to smoke. Drinking at a bar? Time to smoke. The reason that bad habits are so hard to quit is that we have these many triggers that start us down that path almost automatically. A compulsive eater might get into a stressful situation and have a hamburger halfway into their face before they even consciously think about whether or not they should be eating.
The silver lining of this nuance of human nature is that we can also harness triggers to create positive habits. Just as bad habits are so hard to break because of our triggers, good habits can be made resilient using the same mechanism. And just as bad habits are built slowly and incrementally, so are good habits.
I meditate for five minutes every day. As soon as I wake up, I grab my phone and press the start button on a five minute meditation timer. Waking up is my trigger. At first I had to remind myself to do the meditation every morning, but now I do it almost automatically. It would feel strange not to meditate. Just as a veteran smoker is likely to have a harder time quitting than a new smoker, the longer I keep my meditation habit, the easier it becomes to maintain.
There are two main types of triggers: contextual triggers and constant triggers. Waking up is a constant trigger, since I do it every single day and want to meditate every day. A contextual trigger is something that happens at an inconsistent frequency. For me, feeling tired during the day is a contextual trigger. Whenever that happens, I drink a glass of water, because I've found that sometimes I'm just dehydrated and not actually tired.
I woke up at 4:30AM this morning, and went for a run in the dark and empty streets of Kuala Lumpur.
It's peaceful. I walked at the end of my run, and I could see delivery trucks getting set up to start the day. On my way back to the little place I'm staying, I picked up a coffee and some water. The first light of day was breaking over the city, and men were loading large stacks of newspapers onto the back of trucks.
14 hours later, I'm starting to get tired, even though it's only the early evening. Some part of me wants to sleep, but I'm in a highly creative state right now. Right now, I'm making all sorts of connections and I'm seeing things really clearly.
I just did an exceptionally good half-hour of work. I solved about five hours worth of bang-head-against-wall type problems with some efficient, elegant work. It flowed smoothly and naturally.
I'm tired. I want to sleep.