Some entrepreneurs are willing to sacrifice everything, including sleep, health, relationships and sanity, all in pursuit of success. But a growing body of research shows the importance of sleep and the negative ways that poor sleep can damage our health and our productivity.
Through her sleep consulting business, Sleep Like a Boss, Christine Hansen coaches people around the world to improve their sleep. StartupNation talked to Hansen about why sleep matters to entrepreneurs, how they can make it a higher priority and more. The following has been edited for clarity and brevity.
StartupNation: Why is sleep important?
Christine Hansen: We really could not survive without sleep. When we are awake, our brain cannot perform all the tasks that it needs to do such as nerve repair, muscle repair and so forth. Flushing away toxins in our brain is really important to understand as well. We work through our emotions, as well, which is why we dream. All of this is just not doable when we are conscious. Sleep is just as vital as hydration or nutrition.
Why do you think sleep has become trendy recently?
One (reason) is that people are getting a lot more vocal on the internet. Then you have someone like a sleep evangelist like Arianna Huffington who’s trying to support the cause of sleep which has done a lot of shifting, especially in the U.S. I really notice there is a trend to coming back to the obvious, such as eating unprocessed foods or getting rest or trying to live more healthily. Sleep, for me, is one element in this whole picture of realizing that you need to be healthy and fit (above all) else.
What are some of the biggest mistakes that entrepreneurs make with their sleep?
Sleep is sacrificed so easily simply because it’s a chunk of time and time is limited. They say time is money and it’s very easy to push and make your day longer by sacrificing sleep. That’s the first thing to go. The truth of the matter is, you have probably put in more hours, but the work that you’ve done is by far not the same quality that it could have (been) if you had been nicely rested. It’s not just your production, it’s also your social skills. Your social skills go out of the window when you don’t sleep. You’re literally not able to recognize people’s body language as well.
If you’re someone who has a startup and you start hiring a team or if you have to pitch for investments and you can’t detect sarcasm or if you mix up numbers because you’re so tired your brain just isn’t functioning, huge mistakes can occur. People say, “I can sleep when I’m dead.” That’s not how it works. Actually, there’s been a study that has shown that a lot of startups that have made major mistakes were led by people who completely sacrificed sleep and haven’t seen red flags that were coming up.
For entrepreneurs who want to prioritize sleep, how should they get started?
As entrepreneurs, we tend to be the all or nothing kind of people. The first thing I want to say is that sleep cannot be controlled. You are not powerless, but it cannot be controlled. The second thing is to not put too much pressure on yourself and do not try to be perfect with this. It’s going to take some time for you to get to know your sleep and to understand what is impeding your sleep.
One thing that I always say is to not worry if you don’t get the perfect amount of sleep. People think that it’s always seven to eight hours. It doesn’t need to be. If you’re lying there and you cannot sleep, don’t stress yourself about it, it’s going to be fine. It won’t be perfect the next day but it’s going to be fine.
People need to be aware that sleep issues can be external, but a lot has to do with your mind, as well. You need to be able to recognize what kinds of things trigger you that you take to bed with you and try to diffuse them during the day, whether that is by journaling, exercising or taking a walk, or talking to a friend. Start to observe what kind of things you tend to think about at night and then try to diffuse them during the day.