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What if I told you there’s a way to unleash your high-performance potential? And it won’t cost you anything but your time. No drugs, doctor visits, or overpriced Internet guru mastermind required. And when I say high performer, I mean top performer across the board: physical and mental. You’ll crank up everything. From your health and fitness to your focus and your relationships, you’ll improve. And you can do it all with this one strategy.
From Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dream, Matthew Walker, Ph.D.:
“Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and the flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Are you interested?”1
Of course, you’re interested. We all want something that will ratchet up our performance. And propel us toward that independence we’re fighting for.
So, what is it? Is it some new performance-enhancing drug? It’s not. Is it some secret productivity hack only the ultra-successful know? Nope.
I know you’re foaming at the mouth to know what it is. So, I’ll go ahead and tell you the answer right now.
It’s sleep. Get more of it.
Most people need about eight hours of sleep. If you don’t get that much, you’re hurting your performance. And you’re harming your physical and mental health as well. And I’m sorry to tell all you beta males in denial who think you’re the exception to the rule. You’re not. Think you can be healthy and thriving on 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night? You can’t. Sure, even in your sleep-deprived state you may achieve some mediocre success. But you’re leaving a lot of potential on the table.
This post is part 2 of my three-part series on sleep. In this post, I’m going to do my best to give you an overview of the benefits to getting enough sleep.
In part 1 of my sleep series, I ranted about the fetishization of overworking yourself. I also discussed the tradeoffs you must consider when going without sleep. In this post, I take a more thoughtful look at the benefits of sleep and how sleep improves your performance. In part 3, I’ll go over some tips that I’ve found to improve my sleep.
Remember, our goal at Strength and Reason is to become independent. And we do that by taking control of our income streams and building wealth. That means not having to live like the cubicle zombie life. And it means not depending on brain-dead bosses, family, government, or charity. Independence is hard. You have to perform at a high-level to get independence and keep it.
By the end of this article, I’ll have you convinced that sleep is essential to a healthy and prosperous life. If not, check out the books under Additional Resources. Especially Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dream, by Matthew Walker, Ph.D.
Getting Enough Sleep Leads to a Strong Mind and a Strong Body
Like I mentioned in part 1, we here at Strength and Reason HQ believe in a healthy body and a healthy mind. Sleep is the foundation on which everything else depends. So, you must have it optimized to get the most out of your nutrition, exercise, and decision-making.
Sleep is an all-natural remedy to whatever ails you.1 And it’s free. Sleep is your therapist, who helps you maintain your emotional state. It’s your personal trainer and nutritionist. It pushes you to exercise. It also gives you the power to overcome temptation and poor decision-making. Sleep is your life coach, strategic coach, and athletic coach. Sleep gifts you with the ability to learn. It’s your source for reason and creativity to overcome life’s challenges. Sleep prepares you to face the day better than anything a doctor, or an Internet guru, can prescribe.
Sleep is the foundation for the high performer’s focus that maximizes your productivity. And sleep is your gateway to better health. Lose sleep, and you’re guaranteeing yourself a life of mediocrity. You’re also committing protracted suicide.
I know from my own experience that sleep is the most important thing I do. Without it, I’m an unproductive grouch. And I’m prone to binging sugar cookies and drowning myself in chocolate milk. With sleep, I’m an unstoppable force.
Sleep’s Benefits: You Can’t Change Reality. You Need Sleep.
“Sleep is an active period in which a lot of important processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs.” Much of your day to day functioning, such as memory, mood, and physical activity, depends on sleep.
More from Matthew Walker:
“By transferring memories of yesterday from the short-term repository of the hippocampus to the long-term home within the cortex, you awake with both yesterday’s experiences safely filed away and having regained your short-term storage capacity for new learning throughout that following day. The cycle repeats each day and night, clearing out the cache of short-term memory for the new imprinting of facts, while accumulating an ever-updated catalog of past memories.”
One of sleep’s vital roles is to solidify memories and prime your brain for learning. Sleep improves memory performance. People show a 20% to 40% improvement in the ability to perform memory tasks with proper sleep.3 It does this through a process called consolidation. In consolidation, new information you took in during the day gets moved from short to long-term memory. Without sleep, your memory becomes impaired because consolidation doesn’t happen.
Consolidation clears out your short-term memory by moving new information to long-term memory. Doing so gives you room to take in more information while also making it possible to remember what you learned the day before. So, you benefit by sleeping both before and after you learn.4
One of Strength and Reason’s core values is to be productive. Constant learning is one key to maximize lifetime productivity. When you learn, you strengthen your intellectual foundation. Doing so allows you to increase your human capital and improve your decision-making. Because sleep puts you in a state to maximize your ability to learn, it’s essential to increasing the quantity and the quality of what you produce.
Cognition & Focus
We’ve seen that sleep consolidates memories and prepares your brain for learning. But that’s not all. Sleep also improves cognition, concentration, productivity, and performance.
Your mind tends to drift when you operate with sub-optimal sleep. No matter what you’re doing, lack of sleep impairs your ability to focus on the task at hand. In a case like reading or listening to a lecture, it becomes harder to concentrate. In a situation like driving, losing focus can result in property damage or physical harm. Either way, an inability to focus lowers your likelihood of success.
The benefits of sleep go beyond concentration. Proper sleep improves your problem-solving skills. Sleep benefits you not only by making it possible to remember information. But also, in applying that information to solve problems and improve our decision-making. Better decision-making benefits us in time, money, and stress. Think about how successful an income stream you can build with sound decision-making?
A lot of an entrepreneur’s life is about putting out fires. Not all fires are your fault. Suppliers, customers, and government cause many of them. You don’t control how they get started. But how you address them is in your complete control. Sleep puts you in the best position to better fight those fires.
Something else that’s in your control is the fires you create. Fires started by inexperience are unavoidable. But fires caused by your mistakes are avoidable. Lack of sleep increases the number of errors you make. As a result, you’ll spend more time dealing with the fallout from your mistakes. Are those extra hours awake a benefit when you’re fighting fires you started?
Working for yourself is a lonely business. Even if you have employees, no one is more invested in your venture than you. If you don’t have employees, entrepreneurship means many days spent alone.
Then there’s the anxiety that’s part and parcel to entrepreneurship. Constant worry about generating income and paying bills takes its toll. The point is that the entrepreneur’s lifestyle itself can be rough on your mental state. Not sleeping can exacerbate this already fragile condition.
When tired, “[w]e produce unmetered, inappropriate emotional reactions, and are unable to place events into a broader or considered context.”5
In one study, people with sleep deprivation showed increased mental reactivity.6 Sleep-deprived people tend to have fewer positive and more negative mental reactions. This is because your brain processes emotions while you sleep. You put yourself on shaky ground when you don’t allow your brain to process your feelings.
Also, sleep deprivation increases your chances of having a mood disorder. Lack of sleep is linked to depression. Imagine how hard it is to build wealth when you’re struggling to get out of bed.
Sleep improves your outlook on life and better prepares you for the day’s challenges. As an entrepreneur, you thrive on optimism. It drives you when your friends and family tell you you’re crazy for giving up a stable cubicle zombie job. Or when that new can’t miss product or blog post bombs. Remember, don’t fail before you start.
What good is working hard to build wealth and get control over your life only to end up in the hospital or a morgue? Do you want to pop prescription pills for the rest of your life? All because you thought working 20-hour days made you more entrepreneurial? Romanticize the idea of sacrificing everything to build your business if you want. But don’t complain when you flush your health away because of it.
“Every major system, tissue, and organ of your body suffers when sleep becomes short. No aspect of your health can retreat at the sign of sleep loss and escape unharmed. Like water from a burst pipe in your home, the effects of sleep deprivation will seep into every nook and cranny of biology, down into your cells, even altering your most fundamental self—your DNA.”7
Lack of sleep has a drastic negative effect on your health. It increases your risk of heart disease. It also makes it 200% more likely that you’ll have a stroke and could raise your blood pressure.8 Lack of sleep writes checks your body can’t cash.
Sleep-deprived people are more likely to be obese. Sleep regulates your ghrelin and leptin, hormones that regulate hunger. Without proper rest, these hormones become imbalanced, causing you to be hungrier.9 Hunger leads to unhealthy food choices.
Also, sleep deprivation leads to decreased motivation to exercise. So not only do you end up eating more poor-quality food, but you make it harder to manage those extra calories.
Sleep deprivation impairs your immune system.10 Think it’s hard being an entrepreneur when you’re healthy? Try being one when you have a cold or flu? Is being awake a few extra hours during the day worth the lost productivity from being sick?
Finally, sleep deprivation can lead to Alzheimer’s.11 Why let something like Alzheimer’s rob you of the independence you struggled to win?
The typical entrepreneur schedule doesn’t leave much time for exercise. But you must make the time. Besides making you feel better, exercise improves productivity, physical health, and mental health. And it can provide networking opportunities. Proper sleep gives you the motivation and energy to get those workouts done.
I lift weights 5 or 6 days a week, and I put a lot of effort into it. My goal this year is to work up to a 400+ pound squat and 450+ pound deadlift. (Not great, but not shabby for a 47-year-old, 190-pound guy). Do you think there’s any way I’ll hit those goals if I’m stumbling around in the gym noodle armed from lack of sleep? No. I’ve tried pushing myself with the weights when I’m tired. A hundred pounds might as well be a ton. And no amount of caffeine or nootropics helps when I’m exhausted from not sleeping.
The most obvious effect of sleep on exercise is the improvement in your motivation. We’ve all had those nights with less than stellar rest. How motivated were you to go out and jog or lift weights the next day? And if you pushed yourself to workout, how strong and confident did you feel? Compare that to a time when you slept well. The difference was night and day, wasn’t it? How much do you think you’ll exercise if you’re sleep-deprived?
Remember that sleep primes you for learning and improves your memory. Another way to look at it is that sleep enhances the benefit of practicing. And that doesn’t only apply to facts but to movements as well. Activities such as performing surgery, flying an airplane, or swinging a bat, benefit from sleep. You store actions in long-term memory when you practice them in a well-rested state.12
When stored in long-term memory, it’s easier to perform skilled actions. Basketball players showed improved sprint times and shooting accuracy with increased sleep. They also reported improved physical and mental well-being.
That sleep improves speed, accuracy, and motivation isn’t surprising. But sleep also improves workouts in other ways as well.
For one, sleep deprivation increases your risk of injury.13 Physical movement requires focus and strength. Lack of sleep decreases both. So, it’s more likely that you’ll injure yourself when you’re sleep-deprived.
Besides reducing the risk of injury, sleep helps you recover from exercise. Exercise improves your body by first exposing it to stress then adapting to that stress.
Adaptation occurs during recovery. So, you need to recover if you want to get stronger. Sleep reverses the damage from exercise by repairing muscle and reducing inflammation. It also restocks cellular energy.14 Sleep is necessary for recovery.
Sleep Deprivation Turns Men into Beta Males
Sleep deprivation causes low testosterone in men.15 You may not think that’s a big deal, given the current negativity around toxic masculinity. But it is a big deal. Much of a man’s health and well-being depend on testosterone. Low levels can cause tiredness and fatigue. It also causes difficulty concentrating and low libido.16 Low testosterone can also lower sperm counts by 29% in men making it more challenging to start a family.17
Women need testosterone, too, albeit at a much lower level than men. Testosterone in women supports producing new blood cells and maintaining a strong libido. Low testosterone can reduce follicular-stimulating hormone by 20%. This condition makes it more difficult for women to get pregnant.18
Sleep is essential for optimal testosterone in both men and women.
When You’re Sleep-Deprived, You Don’t Know How Sleep-Deprived You Are
“No facet of the human body is spared the crippling, noxious harm of sleep loss.”19
Sleep-deprived people are bad at estimating how poor their performance is.20 So, you may think that you’re performing at a high level without sleep, but you’re not.
According to Matthew Walker [emphasis mine]:
“Based on epidemiological studies of average sleep time, millions of individuals unwittingly spend years of their life in a sub-optimal state of psychological and physiological functioning, never maximizing their potential of mind or body due to their blind persistence in sleeping too little. Sixty years of scientific research prevent me from accepting anyone who tells me that he or she can “get by on just four or five hours of sleep a night just fine.”21
The truth is, only a rare group of people can perform with minimal impairment when sleep deprived. The presence of the BHLHE41 gene determines your inclusion in that select group. But that gene is rare. So, don’t get excited, thinking you’re the exception.
“There is but a fraction of 1 percent of the population who are truly resilient to the effects of chronic sleep restriction at all levels of brain function. It is far, far more likely that you will be struck by lightning (the lifetime odds being 1 in 12,000) than being truly capable of surviving on insufficient sleep thanks to a rare gene.”22
The problem is that over time you acclimate to your lower performance level. It becomes your new baseline. So, in the end, you don’t realize how affected you are by your poor-quality sleep habits.
If you’re committed to building wealth, you must perform at your peak. And you can’t do that if you’re suffering from lack of sleep.
Sleep allows for the processing of memories and improves your concentration. Together, these improve your capacity to learn. They also lay a foundation to apply your knowledge to improve your decision-making.
Sleep improves physical performance, as well. By helping you master physical activities, it improves your athletic performance. It also enhances other physical tasks like driving or playing an instrument.
Sleep improves health by reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. It improves glucose metabolism, reducing the chance of developing Type II diabetes. Also, sleep improves food choices and exercise.
People underestimate how bad their performance is. So, you may be sleep-deprived and don’t realize it. Over time, you’ve become accustomed to your sleep-deprived state.
The fallout from not sleeping may seem acceptable if it means getting a little more done. But there are tradeoffs. The negatives compound so that years of sleep deprivation take a massive toll on your body. And you end up leaving a lot of performance on the table.
Try going to bed an hour earlier every night for a couple of weeks. See how much better you feel and how improved your performance is.
Like I mentioned in the first part of this series, you must consider the tradeoffs. Is staying awake for a couple of extra hours at lower productivity and poorer health worth it?
How has sleep improved your performance? Leave a comment.
Want to learn more about the benefits of sleep and how to improve the time you time in bed? Check out these resources:
- Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dream
- Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body Better, Health, and Bigger Success
- The Circadian Code: Lose Weight, Supercharge Your Energy, and Transform Your Health from Morning to Midnight
1 Walker, Matthew P. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. New York, NY: Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2018.
6 Walker, Matthew P. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. New York, NY: Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2018.
11 Walker, Matthew P. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. New York, NY: Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2018.
16 Walker, Matthew P. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. New York, NY: Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2018.
21 Walker, Matthew P. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. New York, NY: Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2018.