How lack of sleep can damage your business.

You’ll sleep when you die?  Carry on, and that day will come sooner than you realize!  I am not trying to be morbid or anything, but that yuppie saying has always annoyed me.  “I’ll sleep when I am dead”, they say…good for you buddy, I’m taking a nap!

Too many of us take a masochistic pleasure in depriving ourselves of this crucial “nutrient”.  And for new business owners and entrepreneurs, it is almost expected of us.  As if sleeping is a guilty pleasure you just can’t afford when starting up a new business.  What if I told you that you were wrong?  What if I told you that research has shown that lack of sleep is detrimental to your health and to the other areas of your life (i.e. your business)?  What if I told you that if you actually got enough sleep, you and ultimately your business will perform better?  Don’t believe me?  Keep reading.

Lack of sleep causes more mistakes

Former US president Bill Clinton once admitted, “Every important mistake I’ve made in my life, I made when I was tired.”  This is a refreshing statement that I certainly can relate to.  Ever heard the saying:  Sleep on it, when trying to make a decision regarding something important?  This is actually really good advice and is well worth heeding.  There is research to back it up.  Studies have shown that sleep-deprived brains lose the ability to make accurate judgements.  Good judgement is vital in the day to day running of your business.  Without it, you may well make some regrettable and costly mistakes.

Sleep deprivation reduces your self-control

A good night’s sleep also reduces our emotional reactions in highly charged situations.  A study from researchers at the University of California, Berkley and Harvard Medical School showed that sleep deprivation causes the brain’s emotional centers to become 60% more reactive, almost as if “the brain had reverted back to more primitive patterns of activity [and] was unable to put emotional experiences into context…”  This impairment puts you at an immediate disadvantage if you need to remain calm when dealing with employees or the bank or any sticky situation that comes along in the process of building and running your business.

“Sir, are you drunk?!”  “No officer, I am just tired…”

If you are awake for roughly 18-20 hours (i.e. say you get to bed around 12:30am and have to be up by 6am), your cognitive ability is about the same as that of a person with a blood alcohol content of 0.1%!  A level which meets the legal definition of drunk in the United States.  In the UK and South Africa, the limits are 0.08% and 0.05% respectively.  Therefore, if you consistently get 6 or fewer hours of sleep each night, you operating throughout your day as if you were drunk!  Would you ever consider letting a drunken monkey run your business?  Well, if you do not get consistent, quality sleep, you already have passed the reigns.  You are the tired, drunken monkey!

So, what can you do?

Basically, your body needs to sleep.  The amount may differ from individual to individual, but the standard is typically 7 to 9 hours.  Now, the better quality sleep you get, coupled with decreased stress may lower this amount.  However, taking into account that running your own business causes stress, I am going to say aim for 7 hours at least.  I know that we have believed for a long time the mantra “no pain no gain” and if you are stressed and busy then you are more successful.  But this isn’t as true as we would like to believe.  Yes, you can push and fight and struggle, and you get to some of your goals, but you will eventually reach a breaking point.  You will burn out.  Using more effort and tension than what is needed is a strategy that breaks down because it breaks us down.  And you’ll likely feel miserable.  You may achieve your goal, but how you feel about it once you get there lacks the value you crave.

How to get more sleep when you’re an entrepreneur?

Well, one way to ensure you get enough down time is to plan it.  As they say, what gets scheduled gets done!  This will take discipline, as I know, sometimes you can get so excited and so “lost” in your work that you don’t feel tired or won’t go to sleep.  But actually planning time to sleep will benefit your business in incredible ways.  Leslie Perlow, a professor at Harvard Business School, introduced a good way to catch up on lost sleep and actually maintain good sleeping and rest patterns.  She coined the term predictable time off (PTO).  Taking a planned night off, with no work, no email, and no smartphone, actually increases productivity.   I know it may feel counterintuitive, but you may come to enjoy and anticipate having predictable time off, especially as the benefits for your business become increasingly evident.  I know it will not be always possible.  But learning to take predictable time-off often during the week and shutting down 30 minutes to an hour before bed on other days, ensures healthy sleep hygiene that will benefit you in various ways.  Your partner and family will also enjoy having a more present, rested you to spend time with!

Sleep, so you don’t die!

At the end of the day being sleep deprived can have negative effects on your ability to run a business.  Sleep deprivation can also have extremely damaging effects on your wellbeing and health.  Getting sufficient sleep is an investment into your company, and should be considered something as important as having a business plan or start-up capital.  You may believe that sleeping 7-9 hours will be costlier to your business and that the time could be better spent to just keep working.  But here’s the thing, that is simply not true.  Dr. Travis Bradberry discusses this here in his article about how successful people work less, yet get more done.  An interesting study researching productivity actually found that productivity per hour decreases significantly when your workweek exceeds 50 hours (working 10 hours or more in a 5-day workweek) and your productivity drops so drastically after 55 hours that there is no point in working anymore.  If that doesn’t ease you mind about getting more shut eye, I don’t know what will.

So, get to bed on time and make sure you have enough shut-eye to make your workweek truly productive!

It’s your turn.  Are you getting enough sleep?

How do you know?  Download our free Sleep Health Inventory and find out!

Have you ever felt any of these side effects or do you thrive on less sleep?