Sleep is a Necessary Part of the Workday

In an article in Scientific American Mind called “Sleep on it, How Snoozing Makes You Smarter,” Robert Stickgold and Jeffrey Ellenbogen conclude that at least six hours of sleep per night is essential to cognitive function (hat tip to Hacker News)

…while we sleep, our brain is anything but inactive. It is now clear that sleep can consolidate memories by enhancing and stabilizing them and by finding patterns within studied material even when we do not know that patterns might be there. It is also obvious that skimping on sleep stymies these crucial cognitive processes: some aspects of memory consolidation only happen with more than six hours of sleep. Miss a night, and the day’s memories might be compromised—an unsettling thought in our fast-paced, sleep-deprived society.

I read Sleep by Gay Gaer Luce and Julius Segal in high school have long been fascinated by concepts such as REM sleep and the circadian rhythm. Even before I started drinking coffee when I was 15, I have looked for ways to minimize the amount of sleep I needed (or thought I needed). I started meditating when I was 17 and continue irregularly to today. It’s only recently that I quit “pulling all-nighters.” OK, I take that last one back, at least once every two or three months I will be bothered by the sun coming up while I am working at my desk.

One of the risks of a start-up is the loss of structure compared to the regular workday world:  many teams take this as an opportunity to work more hours, or at least spend more time in front of the computer. The scientific evidence that cutting back on sleep is counter-productive is now overwhelming: if only this data allowed me to develop the self-discipline to work a regular schedule. It’s harder than it looks–after all wasn’t one of the reasons for becoming your own boss was that you could set your own hours?

There is something strangely difficult for me about surrendering to the need for sleep. I don’t know whether it’s a lack of recognition of limits and budgets, or an inability to work too far in advance of deadline (WARNING – dates on calendar may be closer than they appear!) and the need to prioritize and make trade-offs.

I like to think of myself as a little smarter than when I was in kindergarten, but the objective evidence may not support it.

I notice that when I get enough sleep I will sometimes spend the last dream of the morning solving (or at least advancing on a solution) to a problem I have been wrestling with. I keep a notepad and pen next to my bed that I use at least once or twice a week, sometimes in the middle of the night (or early morning) and often just as I awake. So perhaps I should re-frame and consider sleep to be a necessary part of the workday where memories get processed and summarized into more useful patterns. Easier said than done but probably a very necessary habit for long term success as an entrepreneur.

3 thoughts on “Sleep is a Necessary Part of the Workday”

  1. As someone told me once upon a time — “The great thing about working for yourself is that you only have to work half-days. And you get to pick which 12 hours that is.” If only 12 hours were enough…

  2. There is even evidence that a mid-day nap is extremely beneficial to intellectual work, more efficient than night sleep. And it reduces coronary disease risks too. Simply try it, I would say. I noticed that not only French and Spanish do it, but many of the youngest and brightest Chinese I know do it as well.

    A fresh mind is what brings a fresh and elegant product/service. Manic relentlessness for hours in a row may be necessary sometimes, but only seldom, once in a month at the most. One knows when he starts tinkering, after 20 minutes tops, and he knows he can either go on for hours to no avail, or admit that the idea will only reveal its shape the next day or after a real break. Being independent means that indeed you can freely decide to do that and not be trapped by the vicious systems of keeping up the busy appearance. The sleepless nerd myth is just that: some immature flight of fancy.

  3. Pingback: SKMurphy » Quotes for Entrepreneurs - June 2009

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