Some people are secretly proud that they don’t get much sleep, and they wear their sleep deprivation like a badge of honour: “I’m damn shag today because I had soooooo little sleep last nigh…..zzzzzzz.”
But when you don’t get enough sleep, you pay a bigger price than simply feeling a little groggy.
First, there’s the whole host of health consequences like obesity, permanent memory loss, and increasing your risk of heart disease and cancer.
But not sleeping enough also has profound side effects on your mood, alertness, and your ability to be a top performer.
An experiment conducted by the University of Pennsylvania (alma mater shoutout!) and Washington State University studied 4 groups of people: Group A slept for 8 hours a day, Group B slept for 6 hours a day, Group C slept for 4 hours a day, and Group D was forced to stay up for 3 days straight (owtch). Their performance was measured over 14 days.
You can already guess the results: The less sleep you have, the worse you perform.
But there were 2 other surprising findings (hat tip James Clear):
- When you sleep 6 hours per night for 2 weeks, your performance is NO DIFFERENT as someone who stays awake for 48 hours straight
- Even when participants graded themselves, most people didn’t realise that their performance was steadily worsening every day
Most studies find that the average adult needs between 7-9 hours of sleep. Yet, I’ll bet that most of us don’t even come close to that amount.
Many of us insist that we feel fine, but that’s because we’ve become accustomed to feeling sleep-deprived. But if we truly did get more sleep, the results could be dramatic. Think about how it could affect your career and relationships… and your ability to hatch a rich life.
Why Is It So Hard To Get Enough Sleep?
Sometimes, we don’t have a choice. There’s urgent work to do, we just had a newborn child, etc.
But most of the time, we only have ourselves to blame.
For example, I’m usually messing around with Facebook and email and YouTube at 10pm on weekday nights. That, in itself, isn’t bad. It helps me relax and unwind (like these hilarious tweets from people complaining about updating to iOS8).
The trouble comes when they make me stay up waayyyy past bedtime.
We’ve all experienced what it’s like to read post after post after post without being able to stop. It’s almost like a drug: I keep telling myself that I need to go to bed, but there’s always one more link to click, one more video to watch, and one more email to open.
And before we know it, it’s 1.40am, we’re wide awake from the stimuli, and we feel guilty about not sleeping. Dangit!!
After experiencing this over and over again, I decided to take some steps to go to bed earlier.
First, I tried commitment. I wrote down “I WILL SLEEP BY 10.30PM EVERY DAY” in big letters and pasted it on my wall. That worked for a couple of days, and then I found myself pushing the limits by going to sleep juuuuuussst a little later: 10.32pm, 10.35pm, 10.45pm… and before I knew it, I was back to sleeping an hour later again.
I had to try something a little more drastic: Barriers.
Using Barriers To Your Advantage
There’s well-documented research that you can curb a bad behaviour by deliberately placing OBSTACLES in your way:
- If you’re trying to stop splurging, keep your salary into a separate bank account from the one you spend from
- If you’re trying to stop snacking, make sure there aren’t any chips or ice cream in your house
- If you’re trying to stop smoking, put your cigarettes on a high shelf in your storeroom and lock the door
Most of these methods don’t force you to do anything – you can still spend, snack or smoke if you really, really, really wanted to. But most of the time, the added inconvenience is more than enough to discourage your lizard brain from doing the behaviour you want to avoid.
So when it comes to sleeping earlier, I decided to place a barrier between the Internet and myself by using an app called Freedom.
Freedom is an app that CUTS OFF my Internet when I want it to. Let’s say I want to go to bed by 10.30pm, which means that I should get off my computer 15 minutes before so that I have time to fall asleep. All I have to do is tell Freedom to shut off my Internet at 10.15pm on weekday nights. (I cut myself some slack on Friday and Saturday).
So at 10.15pm, I might be watching some dumb YouTube video when BOOM! My internet gets disconnected. I can’t access Facebook, Gmail, YouTube, or even my own blog. No negotiations.
When that happens, I’ll shake my head, blink a couple of times, and close my laptop. Then I usually grab a book, climb into bed and read for a few minutes before I’m off to lala land.
Of course, if I really NEED the internet (like if I’m rushing an urgent work email) I can always restart my computer and get online again. But this has happened exactly once over the past 2 months.
On most days, I sleep on time, wake up refreshed, and get ready to take on the world.
The Twiddly Bits And Details
Freedom isn’t free: it costs $10 USD (with a free trial for 5 uses). But for the price of a movie ticket, it’s totally worth it – I’ve easily made back the cost of that investment many times over.
The current version of Freedom doesn’t let you schedule your Internet cut-off times – you need to manually launch it whenever you want to disable your Internet. However, if you email the developer 80Pct Solutions, they are SUPER HELPFUL and will send you a beta version of the app that lets you schedule your cut-off times in advance (that’s the version I’m using now).
If you’re interested in trying out Freedom, you can check it out here.
If you prefer using a free Internet-blocking app, Self Control works well too although it doesn’t have the scheduling function. (It’s way more effective though – once you block your Internet, you can’t get online before the timer ends – even if you reboot your computer or delete the app. Badass.)
You can also use Freedom to focus on work if you’re the type that gets distracted easily. Just launch the app, specify how many minutes of “freedom” from the internet you want, and get to work.
Now, I’d love to hear from you. Are you getting enough sleep? If not, what’s one thing you can do today to make sure that you go to bed on time?