You Suck When You’re Not Sleeping

Cole Harmonson

When did we stop prioritizing sleep?

I once overheard a manager giving a piece of advice to his team members.

“One easy way to impress a new client: send them an important email late at night. They’ll be impressed; they’ll know you’re hustling hard for them, even after work hours.”

It wasn’t the advice that was horrifying. It’s that I knew it would, in fact, impress many people I know. This is the society we’ve built, then. A professional culture that puts #TeamNoSleep on t-shirts; where all-nighters are accepted as part of startup life and we all compete to be visibly working at all hours of the day and night; where it’s normal to show up to work at 6 AM and stay past dinner.

Did you know that after 20 hours of being awake, you are as cognitively impaired as you are when you’re legally drunk? So why do we overvalue the employees that undervalue sleep?

In one of his recent podcasts, Kevin Rose interviews Professor Matthew Walker, Director of UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab. Walker discusses what he’s learned about sleep, explaining how we can connect its transformative power to fight disease and change our lives for the better.

Listening to this podcast terrified me – and empowered me. But it’s also a 90 minute podcast, and if you’re already not sleeping well, you definitely don’t have time for that – so let me fill you in on the high points.

The basics of sleep…

There are two critical stages of sleep. REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM. REM is defined as bizarre horizontal eye shift movements, whereas non-REM… well, you get it. Throughout the night these stages play out in a battle for brain domination, where the cerebral war will be won and lost every 90 minutes, and replayed again.

Non-REM consists of 4 stages – 1 & 2 being light sleep, and 3 & 4 being deep, slow wave sleep.

Remember this part: you can only have a deep sleep in non-REM.

Deep non-REM sleep is essential to help absorb new memories into the brain. It essentially functions like a save button. REM sleep, however, basically collides your memories into a hallucinogenic experience, connecting the pieces of information together. You need both, so your memories are both solidified and correctly associated with each other.

Bad sleep affects your whole body….

It’s not just about protecting your memories, or even your brain. Studies show that deep non-REM sleep helps recalibrate the cardiovascular system, reset hormone balance, regulate appetite, and refresh the immune system, among many other things. After just one 4-hour night of sleep, you can expect to see a 70% reduction in killer cells, which ultimately puts you in a state of immune deficiency and increases your chance by 4-5x to catch a cold. Another hard truth: if you are getting an average of 5-6 hours of sleep a night, you are 200% more likely to suffer from diabetes due to your consistently impaired glucose regulation.

But how do you know if you’re getting the proper amount – and kind – of sleep? There are many recommended wearables out there – the Whoop, Oura Ring, FitBit, and others. These devices will track your time of sleep, the length of your REM and non-REM cycles, and give you a detailed picture of your sleep quality. If you have an Apple Watch, apps like Pillow and AutoSleepTracker will do the trick.

You don’t really need technology to tell you how well you’re sleeping, though. Professor Walker has one question you should ask yourself: “If you didn’t set an alarm to wake up, would you sleep past it?”

If you answered yes, then you aren’t getting enough. And what most people don’t understand is that your brain cannot get back the amount of sleep it has lost.

Sure, there are sleeping medications – sedatives, really. But sedation is not the sleep that your body needs. Not to mention, sleeping drugs triple your risk for cancer. What usually happens with sleeping aids is that as soon as you stop taking them, your sleep is typically worse than it was before.

For better sleep, follow these hygiene tips…

Regularity: Wake up and go to sleep at the same times. Rule of thumb: it’s always better to go to bed earlier, than to sleep in later.

Temperature: Keep it cool – around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Your brain is required to drop its core temperature by 2-3 degrees to fall asleep.

Light: Melatonin rises with darkness. Dim down the lights in your last hour before bed and stay away from blue LED lights/screens. (On some of the newer electronics, you can choose to have those blue lights automatically lowered as you approach your “turn off time” – take advantage of this setting.)

Walk it out: If you’re in bed for 30 minutes and can’t fall asleep, don’t stay in bed. Your brain (similar to Pavlov’s condition) will quickly associate being in bed and being awake. Instead, walk around a little bit – but don’t pick up your phone.

I’m sure we don’t need to scare you with any more sleep statistics – but it only takes 1 hour of lost sleep to affect the human body. In recent studies circled around daylight savings time, they discovered that there was a 24% increase in heart attacks in the spring, with a 21% decrease in the fall. On top of that, your ability to concentrate and focus declines, you’re much more emotionally reactive, you become forgetful, and considerably less creative. In short: you suck when you don’t sleep.

What has been the biggest positive change you’ve made for a better night’s rest? Let me know in the comments or tweet me – I’d love to hear it.

Cole Harmonson is the CEO of Far West Capital, a company that funds the goals of high-growth entrepreneurs. Know a great company in need of capital to unleash their potential? Send them here, and we’ll give them a call.

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