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.
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.
I've had a rough week. No deaths in the family or anything seriously bad, but it's been a bit emotionally draining. Finally got in touch with the guy who owns Tynan.com, and he refused to sell to me at any price. A writer I was really hoping to work with decided not to contribute to a project I'm working on. Some girl stuff. And it's been rainy. I'm not complaining, just briefly illustrating how my week has been so far.
The past two days I've sat down to write my thousand words, and it's been frustrating. I sit and stare at my computer, come up with an idea, write three paragraphs, and then get stuck again. I've never before in my life been in a situation where I've started a post and then got a few paragraphs in and lost so much momentum that I can't finish it.
But above this one I have two three-paragraph posts.
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.