Thirty per cent

For most of us, sleep takes thirty percent or so of our available time on the planet. Every person has his/her ideal amount but, for the most part, thirty per cent is a good approximation. So, for nearly all of us, it is the one activity that accounts for the largest portion of our time.

And, yet, for years, we sold sleep short. You were a loser if you slept eight hours. After all, the high achievers were getting by on two hours of sleep a night.

This has changed a fair bit over the years. Research has confirmed the obvious – it is smart to sleep well. So, there’s been more conversation around sleeping well over the past few years.

I’m still amazed it took us so long to catch up, though. By all accounts, I wake up every morning blown away by the effect sleep has. Aside from physical rest, it completely recharges every internal battery. A good night of sleep brings with it a certain optimism about the day ahead. Dreams help us resolve the many the untied knots during the day. If you’ve ever decided to sleep on a problem, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

It isn’t easy to just fall off to sleep either. Sleep typically works best after mental tiredness. It also requires us to learn to let go of worry. And, it helps greatly to have the right environment and a good evening shut down routine. A good night of sleep is hard earned. And, it is, by every account, a wonder activity.

When things go well for us, we tend to take wellness for granted. If you have a stomach bug or a sprained leg, you might find yourself wondering what a fully functioning stomach or leg feels like. But, you and I have fully functioning body parts on most days and almost never notice them or give thanks. Sleep works the same way.

If you aren’t sleeping well, there’s plenty of resources out there that might help. I hope you check them out and try them. I did so a few years back and it is a gift that keeps on giving.

We all are prone to complain about how there’s little time or energy in our lives. But, with sleep, we have an activity that makes very good use of thirty percent of our time while transforming us and our energy on the other side. It is a wonderful thing.

Nap clarity

Every time I have a problem that gnaws at me, I find myself taking a quick nap. And, very often, I wake up with absolute clarity on what needs to be done next.

I remember a post from Fred Wilson on ‘subconscious information processing‘ a few years ago when he spoke about a lesson he’d learnt from his father about starting on projects as early as possible. In Fred’s words –

“He explained that I should start working on a project as soon as it was assigned. An hour or so would do fine, he told me. He told me to come back to the project every day for at least a little bit and make progress on it slowly over time. I asked him why that was better than cramming at the very end (as I was doing during the conversation).

He explained that once your brain starts working on a problem, it doesn’t stop. If you get your mind wrapped around a problem with a fair bit of time left to solve it, the brain will solve the problem subconsciously over time and one day you’ll sit down to do some more work on it and the answer will be right in front of you.

I’ve taken that approach with every big problem I’ve faced ever since. I used this technique to get through high school, college, and business school. I’ve used this technique to develop a career in investing and technology. I’ve even used this technique to deal with our own parenting challenges.”

I’ve begun to appreciate this concept since I read this on Fred’s blog 4 years back. It is true and it works.

The reason it works is because our brain processes information when we give it time and space. This process can’t be forced. All we can do is create space and wait. And, sleep/rest is a wonderful way to create space. To me, it also speaks to the importance of getting more than our fair share of sleep. It is when we get past our deep sleep phase / the minimum required for us to feel rested that the magic really happens.

And, it is magic – let’s make no mistake about it.

Finding root causes

Every once in a while, there comes a day when I feel like I’m just stumbling through it. One mistake or misstep seems to follow another. And, within a few hours, they all seem to snowball into something bigger than they really should be.

This happened again a week ago and, for the first time, I did something that was unusual. I was waiting for the an event I’d organized to start in 20 minutes and was thinking about how best to use the time. Instead, thanks to a suggestion from a friend to relax and slow down a bit, I did just that. I stared into space for 20 minutes.

This ran completely counter to how I was feeling, of course. I was feeling all over the place and it felt like I’d only get better after a few corrective actions. But, I realize now that those are the moments when you need breaks the most. Slow down and take a step back – especially when you don’t want it and particularly when you are making mistakes. It is very similar to the idea of doing less and going to sleep early when having a bad day. The previous distinction in my mind was that bad days were when the universe seemed to go against you while these days were your own doing.

Second, I spent time in the 20 minutes thinking about the snowball of mistakes I’d made in the morning and attempting to find the root cause. I did this by working my way through each of them and asking “why did I do that?” I soon realized the root cause issue was straightforward – I hadn’t slept well. I’d woken up in the middle of the night and, as I was worried about something, thought I’d start working. Bad decision. Always prioritize sleep. After an hour, I’d realized that was futile and tried going back to sleep. And, I didn’t sleep so well. This really hit home as sleep has been the single biggest root cause for days when I’ve felt error prone over the years. I guess a lack of it robs you of willpower, bandwidth and thinking capacity. In short, you say the wrong things and make bad decisions.

A study done a few years ago found many executives and politicians barely got 4 hours of sleep.

Can you imagine what that can do to companies and the world?

Things always look better in the morning

Our willpower gets depleted over the course of the day. While food (specifically glucose) helps ensure we refuel on our willpower reserves, a good night’s sleep is the best way to recover from willpower depletion. So, if you’re either having a bad day or are just feeling exhausted after a day involving multiple decisions, go to bed.

Things seem to go from bad to worse by the evening as you get completely drained of your willpower resources and our natural instinct is to keep working at our to-do lists. Don’t. Sleep.

Things always look better in the morning. And, besides, those tasks that will take you 3 hours at night will probably be done within 30 minutes in the morning.

Pay attention to your willpower reserves. If there isn’t enough fuel in the tank, it isn’t possible to drive… let alone drive well and have some fun along the way.