For any recurring problem, there is a path to sorting things out: Take the inefficient system apart and fix the pieces one by one. Sleep intertwines with numerous other biological, social, and relationship processes, but in that broad conception, one can’t begin to find a solution to improving it. What did I do via systems methodology to cure my serious sleep problem? I envisioned sleep as an independent, primary system that is composed of subsystems.

The vision led me to a doctor who specializes in sleep disorders. The doctor’s recommendations had a strong theme: reduction of stress. This led me to the subsystems of yoga, more sensible exercise, and meditation. I would substantially reduce my intake of caffeine, alcohol, and sugar. There were other systems to modify: changing the layout of my bedroom, removing the clock from the nightstand, refraining from reading in bed, and turning the lights off at the same time every night. I would adopt a more consistent system routine for preparing for sleep. Another thing: Testing indicated my requirements for sleep were less than average—six hours was enough—and so I should avoid lying awake in bed, expecting to get eight or nine hours. Lying there waiting for sleep to arrive was stressful in itself. Instead, I should get up and read, work, or even exercise.

With the help of my regular doctor, I found my blood chemicals were out of balance. Those chemical imbalances affected my sleep pattern, and it was a simple matter to fix those subsystem imbalances with supplements.

I had to reduce my hours at the office and that meant getting the company to run itself without me being there every minute. That transformation was already underway, using the same Work the System thinking.

I got back to a healthy sleeping routine over the course of just a few months, literally doubling each night’s sleep duration.

Now, if I find that my sleep is less than what it should be, I can trace the problem back to a violation of one of the dozen or so system guidelines I initially identified in my “sleep system–improvement” project.

I attacked the overall problem by isolating the primary sleep system and then breaking it down into subsystems that could be manipulated. By taking an outside-and-slightly-elevated vantage point, I was able to tweak my sleep process to more and more efficiency, one piece at a time. It was pure mechanics.

Sam Carpenter is the author of the new book, Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less. Available in book stores in May 2009,the book is available now at A free download of “Six Steps to Working Less and Making More” is also available on the site.

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