Are you an entrepreneur who is finding it hard to shut your eyes? If yes, then the following tips will enable you cultivate good sleeping habits. 

A lot of people are of the opinion that they will sleep when they make it. Less sleep means more time to be productive right? Wrong. Usually sleep is the first thing that gets cut off in our lives in order to make room in our schedules. Ironically, it can be hard to realize that by cutting back on our sleep, it also leads to a decrease in productivity, creativity, concentration, communication skills and a lot of what makes one a good human and entrepreneur. This is because less sleep results in less effective brain and body functioning. In order words, with little sleep, you will end up doing whatever you are doing a lot worse than if you had slept.

So what happens to our mind when we fail to get adequate sleep? In the year 1999, two professors at Lowbrow University wanted to test the effect of lack of sleep on the brain’s ability to react to changing conditions. They developed a computer game that was set in the business world and MBA students had to promote the sales of a virtual product. Half way through the games, the dynamics of the virtual market in the game changed totally. Now, strategies that had worked in the past resulted in abysmal sales. Only students who could quickly change and adapt to this new reality could survive. Students were split into two groups. The sleep of one group was restricted while the other group was allowed to have as much sleep as they wanted. Most of the students who slept well quickly adapted to the changes in the market place and maintained their sales while their sleep deprived counterparts were unable to adequately modify their strategies effectively and as such they ultimately became bankrupt. The conclusion of the experiment was that without sleep, the brain loses its ability to consider alternative solutions to problems.

Brains scans have also shown that when you are lacking sleep, the neurons that are in the prefrontal cortex begin to slow down. The prefrontal cortex is particularly important for the behaviors that make us human. This region is associated with planning, decision making, personality expression, attention control, reasoning and problem solving and as an entrepreneur, you need to have these key areas of your person as top notch as they can be.

When you lack sleep, it will be difficult for you to be able to complete a thought or see a problem in a new way.

While at sleep, the human brain looks at all the information that you had picked up throughout the day. It them prunes out the less useful ones and keeps that ones that are worth remembering.

But some people still say that they can operate effectively with little amount of sleep. Well, studies have shown that about just five percent of the population have a genetic mutation that can let them get by with just 6 hours or a little less of sleep. But as was discussed earlier, activities in the prefrontal cortex lessens when you lack sleep and the prefrontal cortex is the only part of the brain that has the power of self-assessment. That is, it has the power to think about how it is thinking. So if you are not getting enough sleep would your prefrontal cortex realize that it is working at a suboptimal capacity?

In addition, it is not only your brain that needs sleep. Sleeping is also necessary for tissue repair, maintenance of metabolic pathways and the balancing of hormones. Sleep is also very important for your body. A study at the University of Chicago put participants on a calorie restricted diet and then randomly assigned them to sleep on a 5.5 hours or 8.5 hours each night. Those who slept only for 5.5 hours lost 55 percent less body fat. The sleep deprived group did lose weight, but they were losing more muscle. They lost 60% more fat free mass than those who slept better. They also reported to be more hungry.

Effects of lack or inadequate sleep on entrepreneurs

  1. Increases risk seeking: one of the many side effects of lack of sleep is that it results in an increase in risk-seeking. A recent study that was conducted on 14 men between the ages of 18 to 28 years found out that men who got five hours of sleep or less consistently for a week were more likely to take risks. On the other hand, there was no sign of increased risk-seeking attitude in the group that got a better night’s sleep or slept poorly in only one night. Taking risks is one of the key qualities of an entrepreneur but these have to be informed and emanate from having adequate information at hand. Lack of sleep can make entrepreneurs take risks that they should have been researched better or should have not taken in the first place.
  2. Makes you more forgetful: it comes as no surprising news that sleeping very little can result in forgetfulness, however, its effects can go beyond that. A research that was conducted by the University of Michigan found out that sleep deprivation affects the brans hippocampus specifically the region that is known as CAI. This part of the brain is responsible for long term memory therefore, when you do not get enough sleep, you will remember less.
  3. Reduces productivity: inadequate sleep has been known to leave people feeling slow and a little fuzzy headed in the morning and as such can result in low productivity at the workplace and low performance. While getting inadequate sleep on one night can be bad, two sleepless nights can be a lot worse. Studies have shown that by not getting enough sleep for two consecutive nights, the person can feel sluggish for up to the following six days.
  4. Causes weight gain: your waist line could end up being one of the many parts of your body that will pay the price if you do not get enough sleep as an entrepreneur. A study that was carried out by Gregory D.M et al. analyzed 1,615 adults who reported the number of hours they slept on a daily basis and the amount and the type of food they ate. At the end of the study, it was discovered that participants of the research who slept for about 6 hours or less every night had a waist line average of 1.2 inches larger than participants who got at least nine hours of sleep.
  5. Causes changes to your genes: as unlikely as it may sound, lack of sleep results in gene changes. By examining the blood sample of participants who had not had enough sleep for a week, it was discovered that there were changes in more than 700 genes as a result of sleep deprivation alone. Some of the changed genes were found to have effects on a person’s inflammatory, immune and stress responses of the body.
  6. Affects your ability to regulate your emotions: lack of sleep has been found to reduce the ability of a person to regulate his or her emotions. A recent study found out that just one night of lost sleep can result in a person to respond more emotionally to stressful situations than they normally would have if they had rested properly. As an entrepreneur, it is really important to have your emotions in check, else your business can suffer for it.
  7. Sleep deprivation leads to brain burn out: one of the more scary effects of chronic lack of sleep is that it causes a person’s brains to burn out and literally eat itself out. A research that was carried out on sleep deprived and well rested mice brain cells found out that the brain cells that was responsible for destroying worn out cells and debris get more intense when someone is sleep deprived. While these cells are helpful in clearing out potentially harmful debris and rejuvenating circulatory systems, when they go into overdrive and perform too much, people are at higher risks for Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders.

How to improve sleep quality and habits as an entrepreneur

Without a doubt, sleep is a top priority for good health and to a large extent success in business. Before you decide to stay up late in order to get additional work done, think out the things that you need to do and the decisions your need to take tomorrow and decide if all that will still be okay to do after a couple of beers in the morning. Weird right? But several studies have compared sleep deprivation to drunkenness. One in particular found out that just 17 to 19 hours of going without sleep was equivalent or worse than a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 percent. After 4 days on five hours of sleep you are almost in an equivalent of too drunk to drive.

So how can we improve the quality of our sleep as entrepreneurs?

Our body is formed on a principal and was made to respond to rhythms. We have a daily dose of Cortisol in the morning to wake us up from sleep and a rising Melatonin at night to put us to sleep. Unfortunately nowadays, we are either moving so fast or medicating these rhythms with caffeine to the point that we are no longer aware of them. However if you can act in synch with these rhythms, falling  asleep and waking up in the morning will be very easy for you.

What we strive for is to fall asleep a few hours after the sun goes down. This will differ depending on the part of the world where you stay in, but ideally, it should be around 10pm. If your body is chronically deprived of the regenerative sleep between 10.00 pm and 2:00 am, then you may still feel fatigued when you wake up in the morning. An easy way to set yourself up to fall at sleep by this time is by resetting your biological clock by getting some sun in the morning between the hours of 6:00 am and 8:00 am. Research from the journal “Innovations in Clinical Science” found out that exposure to sunlight in the morning significantly decrease Cortisol levels later in the day. By getting some sunlight when you wake up, you set your Cortisol and Melatonin to be at optimal level for a good night sleep and falling at sleep at the right time.

A caveat here is that your body is very good at sticking with any rhythm that it can, so if for whatever reason you schedule does not allow you to go to bed by 10:00 pm, then you should try to keep the same bed time each night. If you can “train” your brain to recognize a certain time of the day as the time for sleep, then you will be able to always fall at sleep by that time of the day.

If you can also develop a pre sleep routine that always happens in the same sequence such as take a bath, make some herbal tea, read a book et al. It will help to create anchors associated with sleep and will be even easier to help you pass out as soon as your head hits the pillow.

The human brain is also very good at automating processes. Take advantage of this and establish simple positive associations.

Other tips that can help you improve your sleep quality

  1. Stay away from screens before sleep or wear blue light glasses at night: the light that is perceived by the eye is one of the most important regulators of your biological clock. The photosensitive retinal ganglier cells in the human eye are highly sensitive to blue light in particular. Originally, the light from the sun was the only blue light that made it to our eyes. So having specialized cells in the eye to look for blue light was very effective for regulating our biological clocks. However, technology has advanced dramatically. Sadly the human body is yet to make the necessary adaptations and still makes use of these blue light sensors in our eyes to determine if it is day or night and whether we should be alert or resting. When it comes to sleep, blue light is as distressing to the eyes as a loud noise is to the ears. The artificial blue light that is produced by electronic screens triggers the body to produce more day time hormones such as Cortisol and suppresses the secretion of the key sleep hormone Melatonin. Instead of reading a novel in your mobile device at night, why not just read a regular book? Try to stop looking at screens at least an hour before you sleep so that your sleep hormones can normalize. If you must get on the internet, make sure that you use blue light filters. Blue light blocking glasses are also good for this purpose, but in any case, staying away from any bright screen is the best.
  2. Get more sunlight: studies have shown that having more exposure to sunlight helps to improve sleep at night. This is due to the fact the sunlight boosts the bodies Serotonin level, sets the body clock to daytime, improves alertness and boosts performance.
  3. Stay away from alcohol: granted alcohol can make you fall asleep faster, yet, it also disrupts your sleep cycle. If you have been drinking, it could lead to your body not rejuvenating fully.
  4. Have a morning and evening routine: once you wake up, you should resist the temptation to delve into work related emails and other such stuffs. This is because you are not fully alert to process and respond effectively to them. Also, the stress hormone cortisol is also at its peak by this time of the day. It is best to leave those tasks for 15 to 90 minutes later so as to be fully awake.

On the other hand, low impact evening activities like swimming can help to clear your mind after a hectic day at work. You can reduce the brightness of the light in your house, meditate, pack your bag for the next day so that you do not have to do it in the morning, irons your cloths, clean the house et al.

  1. Take a magnesium supplement: magnesium is known to have anti stress properties which help to improve sleep. Magnesium deficiency is a very popular one. In fact, it is the second most common deficiency in developing countries and can lead to insomnia. A magnesium supplement in the form of magnesium glycinate, magnesium spray or Epsom salt bath can go a long way to improve the quality of your sleep.
  2. Create the perfect sleep environment: the ideal sleeping environment should be cool, dark and quiet. If your bed is located in a place that lacks any of these, it can greatly affect the quality of your sleep and as such you should do all that is in your power to modify your bedroom if it does not adhere to these parameters.

As an entrepreneur though, it has to be noted that there may be times when sacrificing your sleep may be inevitable. That is, you may have to stay up very late or wake up very early in order to get some tasks done. But it should be noted that every hour spent sleeping is not a waste.

Ajaero Tony Martins