So I really messed up on this one. I had fallen for a common myth: “Busy, productive people need less sleep. Sleep is for lazy people.”
And for a while, I was attempting to hack my life to survive on 6 hours a day of sleep so I had more time for, well… just about everything else.
But it was only recently that I realized how wrong I was.
Most of us are actually getting far less sleep than we need. And lack of sleep is affecting us in more harmful ways than we think.
Ok, so remember the famous Malcolm Gladwell book Outliers? Gladwell wrote that to become world-class in anything, you need 10,000 hours of practice. As an example in the book, he suggested that the Beatles had 10,000 hours of practice playing in cheap dive bars before they became a world phenomenon.
10,000 hours. Sounds simple, right?
The study Gladwell was referring to actually came from a Swiss Psychologist named K Enders Ericsson. Ericsson proved that no one is born with innate skills. To be a great musician or artist, for example, it’s not about gifts. It’s simply about practice.
But there was a second factor he observed in these great performers
They slept. A lot.
You might even label them lazy.
The average American gets 6 hours and 51 mins of sleep a night.
Top performers on the other hand. Get 8 hours and 36 mins.
That’s almost 90 extra minutes of sleep!
The effects can be profound. If your body requires 8 hours of sleep and you’re forcing yourself to get up after 6 and a half hours you’re skipping on 90 mins of sleep. This, according to one study, leads to a one-third reduction in your cognitive ability.
That’s like showing up to work having downed a pint of beer and trying to get in a productive day.
And it’s not just cognition.
If you aren’t getting enough sleep you’re more likely to hold on to access fat. A key component in Mindvalley’s WildFit program is essentially getting a good night’s sleep. According to a 2004 study, people who sleep less than six hours a day were almost 30 percent more likely to become obese.
And according to some studies, getting sufficient sleep helps the body process glucose. If you usually sleep less than five hours per night, your body is unable to effectively perform this function, and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases. Yikes.
Not getting enough sleep is also the top risk factor for burnout on the job.
And lack of sleep can also impact your moods. You’re more likely to be moody, and experience anxiety or depression. In fact, in a 2007 study of 10,000 people with insomnia, it was found that insomnia sufferers are 500% more likely to develop depression.
Finally, sleep deficiency dumbs you down. You learn slower, think slower, and solve problems slower. Not a great state to be in at work.
And for those of you who care: lack of sleep ruins your skin. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body releases more of the stress hormone cortisol. In excess amounts, cortisol breaks down skin collagen, the protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic.
And I could go on and on. But Google it for yourself.
So the question is: HOW do you get more sleep?
I’ve made sleep a key part of my personal growth practice. Here’s what I’m doing.
1. Time yourself to discover your optimal time of sleep
This means to go without setting an alarm for a few days and see at what time you naturally wake up. Mine is around 7 to 7.5 hours. I now set my iPhone timer to ensure that I get that amount of sleep every night. If I need to be up by 7:30 to drop the kids at school, I’m in bed by midnight.
2. Control your coffee intake
I love that black liquid. But caffeine has a half-life of around 6 hours. This means if you drink a cup at noon by midnight, around 25% of that caffeine is still in your system. So try to NOT take coffee after 2pm. The general rule is this — and I asked this Bulletproof coffee inventor Dave Asprey — take 2 cups a day of caffeine. And if you must, keep the rest decaf.
3. Learn to nap
But not longer than 26 mins. A 1995 NASA study found a “26-minute nap improved performance 34% and alertness 54%.” Bio-hackers have learned to nap for no more than 26 minutes to avoid disrupting their usual night-time sleep cycle. I don’t nap during workdays but napping for no more than 26 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays is a weekend ritual for me.
4. Try to avoid sleeping pills (I’m talking to you America!)
They get you hooked. WebMD has a whole list of side effects you need to be aware of. When I lived in the USA I used to take sleeping pills when I had trouble sleeping. In America, you can get a pill for just about anything. Then I married my wife who’s a European. She’s anti-pill and wouldn’t touch these things. She just uses natural ways to adjust her sleep.
I followed and now would never pop a pill again. When I was on sleeping pills I was hooked. I needed them. Breaking off was hard. But once I did I went a decade without ever using them again. Be wary of addiction and “quick fixes”.
So I hope this helped. And if you’re reading this and thinking, “I’m fine with my six hours”, I want you to remember THIS study.
Philip Gehrman, Ph.D. of the University of Pennsylvania Sleep Center says:
Studies show that over time, people who are getting six hours of sleep, instead of seven or eight, begin to feel that they’ve adapted to that sleep deprivation – they’ve gotten used to it. But if you look at how they actually do on tests of mental alertness and performance, they continue to go downhill. So there’s a point in sleep deprivation when we lose touch with how impaired we are.
Don’t be in denial. Test out your sleep.
Silence that alarm and see how much you need for a few days.
Good night from all of us here, at Mindvalley.