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To Sleep or Not to Sleep...?

We all have read blogs and articles highlighting successful entrepreneurs, and we all have excitedly skimmed the paragraphs looking for their "secrets to success" and tidbits on how to make the most of the day. While it's great to aspire to be like our more successful entrepreneurial counterparts, and while it's perfectly okay to take some of their tips and tricks and see how we can best apply them to our own situations, there is one aspect that I boldly challenge: how much sleep does an entrepreneur need?

Over and over, I see young, up-and-coming entrepreneurs boasting about averaging 3 to 5 hours of sleep, per 24 hour period. I will unapologetically say to you and to them (if they're reading this *hi!*) that is absolute madness.

There seems to be this idea floating around out there that you cannot expect to realize success if you clock 7 or (heaven-forbid!) 8 hours of sleep a night. My immediate response to that is two-fold:

  1. What is your definition of success? Yours. Not the definition that you read on that Instagram meme last week.
  2. "Work smarter, not harder" is one mantra that I absolutely try to live by, and I think it absolutely applies where getting adequate sleep is concerned. Indeed, working smarter should leave you with adequate hours of sleep each night, agreed?

Multiple medical sources will confirm the adverse effects which stem from a lack of sleep, namely moodiness, weight gain, lowered immune resistance, frequent illness, inability to cope with stress, sexual dysfunction and even early death. Essentially, sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. Here are some of the other negative changes you can expect to see when you don't average 7 to 9 hours a night.

That brain fog you're experiencing? That's your brain cells napping! When you lack sleep, during periods of wakefulness your brain cells (called neurons) may randomly take "naps" and quit firing, causing you to experience lapses in attention, exhibit poor judgment, be more irritable and/or make more mistakes than when you are well rested; even if you don't feel tired.

Lack of sleep prematurely ages your brain. Too little sleep can cause cognitive deficits that cause your brain to function at an age equivalent to 4 to 7 years older than your actual age. It also diminishes your reasoning skills...not a good trait for any budding entrepreneur.

Your decision-making becomes riskier (read: worse). The areas of the brain that are known to be linked to positive rewards are more active in sleep-deprived people; so they tend to be more deluded about decision-making abilities and expected outcomes of those decisions than well-rested people.

Think you're doing well averaging 6 hours a night? Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, discovered that some people have a gene that enables them to do well on six hours of sleep a night. This gene, however, is very rare, appearing in less than 3% of the population. For the other 97% of us, six hours doesn’t come close to cutting it.

So? What's so great about getting enough sleep?

Repair and rejuvenation of the body occurs during deep sleep. It's not just about getting adequate hours of sleep, but you should aim for enough hours of deep sleep. Deep sleep is a time when the body repairs itself and builds up energy for the day ahead. It plays a major role in maintaining your health, stimulating growth and development, repairing muscles and tissues, and boosting your immune system. In order to wake up energized and refreshed, getting quality deep sleep is essential.

There's some value to the term "sleep on it." Better, more rational decisions are made by persons who sleep on their decisions, than by those who decide in the moment. The idea is that by sleeping on it, you allow your unconscious processes to take over and evaluate the issue.

Sleep solidifies memories. I learnt this while I was in university and used it to my advantage! Sleep boosts learning by consolidating memories as connections between brain cells responsible for memories are solidified, and useless memories or bits of information are pruned away.

Aim for natural sleep, and avoid using sleep aids such as benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax) or non-benzodiazepines (e.g. Ambien). If a sleep aid is needed, a natural one such as melatonin, which is a sleep inducing hormone naturally produced by the body, is a safer, better option.

So, how many hours do you average a night?