Shut Your Brain Off When You Can’t Stop Thinking


You may not realize just how important sleep is

The gung-ho hack-all-night attitude of startup culture isn’t a smart one.

I’ve overheard macho entrepreneurs in NYC coffee shops proudly one upping one another over who’s slept less. Meanwhile, some famous entrepreneurs run insane experiments on themselves with the explicit goal of radically cutting down their eight hours.

Even if you’re not actively attempting to limit your sleep, you’re probably not sleeping as well as you should be.

Dr. Charles Czeisler, a Harvard sleep researcher, has proven that getting four hours of sleep for five nights in a row has a similar impact on memory, attention, and thinking-speed as being legally intoxicated.

Though Dr Czeisler’s study results may not conform to a standard curve, it’s fairly safe to assume that even a little less than adequate sleep, repeated nightly, will eventually result in the kind of ineffectiveness you might expect after a lunchtime beer or two.

Which is all to say: Sleep is really important for the kind of mental function you need as an entrepreneur. You might be able to “get by” with less than ideal, but it means you’re working hard… not smart.


9 tips on how to sleep smart and work better than ever

1. Re-evaluate your relationship with caffeine 

If this wonder drug is your preferred entrepreneurial productivity tool, it could be massively contributing to insomnia issues. Even if you’re not drinking coffee in the afternoons and evenings (if you are, stop), the withdrawal symptoms you experience while you’re sleeping at night can result in teeth grinding and all kinds of nasties.

And if you’re waking up with a need-coffee-NOW headache, your sleep quality isn’t as good as it could be. If you want a productivity fix without the caffeine, check out Commit Action.

2. Check what you’re eating before bed 

I can’t not mention this, even though I’m supposed to be psychologically focused. If you’re eating high sugar foods before bed, you’re going to give yourself a sugar rush that’ll mean you toss and turn longer than you should be. Cut the sugary snacks and try good-fats and protein (hard boiled eggs work great) if you need to eat near bed time.

Emotional state (sleep included) is far more connected to nutrition than any of us like to admit.

3. Leave the iPhone in another room

Smartphones are simultaneously the best ever and worst things to happen to our productivity. Just because you can check email and basically every component of your business as you’re dozing off doesn’t mean you should. Doing so is likely to activate several conditioned responses in the Pavlovian sense. Best case, you’ll start having great ideas to implement tomorrow. Worst case, you’ll start stressing out about whatever bad news your company is wrestling with right now.

Solution: Keep your smartphone’s charger plugged in, in another room. Switch it off.

4Find a way to record last minute “OMG-DO-NOT-FORGET-THIS” thoughts

You’re an entrepreneur, so you’re juggling about 150 ideas of things you should and could be doing to make your business better. Naturally, your unconscious mind is going to throw up “reminders” in the form of bed time epiphanies. And, these will be some of the best ideas you ever have.

The secret is to keep a notebook beside your bed. When you can’t sleep because of good idea overload, just write stuff down until there’s literally nothing on your mind that isn’t on the page. Works for anxiety-inducing ideas too.

5. Wind down before bed 

Transitioning from furious emailing straight to bed is stupid. “Sleep” and “Business” are two very different train tracks and your unconscious mind needs time and space to switch between the two. For the sake of your business’s bottom line, you need to schedule 2 hours or more of work-free relaxation before bed.

Tips for serious players: Start dimming the lights 45 mins before bed. Switch off all electronics at the 30 minute mark. Talk to your family. Read fiction.

6. Make your bed a dedicated sleep/sex temple

Do not desecrate your bed by using your laptop, watching TV or carrying out any other task besides those it was built for. Not even in the morning. If you’re really smart, you won’t even permit reading in bed.

The reasons aren’t even remotely spiritual. When you use your bed exclusively for sleep, you powerfully and deeply condition your mind to anticipate sleep when you find yourself there. In the same way police sirens evoke vague feelings of guilt in your heart, your bed will start to actually induce drowsiness. It’s Pavlov at work again.

If this strategy works too well, you might find yourself falling asleep at the penultimate moment of a hot date. Not to worry – simply utilize any number of other horizontal surfaces in your home and solidify your reputation as a fun loving individual.

7. Invest in quality equipment 

You’re an entrepreneur, so your time is precious. Not only are you spending a third of your life in bed, the quality of your experience there determines your bottom-line output the rest of the day. So optimize your experience.

It’s not a business expense that the tax man will understand, but a fantastic mattress will pay a productivity dividend that is undeniable. If you need to experience it to believe it, book a night at a Four Seasons – home of the world’s greatest mattress – and prepare to float away on cloud of sweet dreams and comfort. A firestorm of business achievement will follow. Don’t skimp on this stuff.

8. Schedule your day to allow for a bit of morning flexibility 

If you’re suffering from serious insomnia, this is an important one. Many people believe a rigid sleep schedule is important – that you must make yourself get up consistently, bright and early. However, if you’re wrestling with serious insomnia it’s likely that a good portion of the anxiety keeping you awake is centered on the fear that you won’t be well rested enough for that 8am appointment.

So for at least a few weeks, trial this: Avoid commitments earlier than 10 or 11am. Allow yourself a window to sleep in if you need to. Get out of the habit of stressing about having to wake up early, on top of worrying about whatever you’re worrying about. Once your sleep gets better, start setting your alarm earlier.

 9. Allow yourself to think.

Most people with a history of troubled sleep grow to be extremely hard on themselves when they hit the hay. Have you caught yourself groaning and cursing when you lie down and immediately explode with thoughts?

Chances are, you’ve probably lost track of what normal a normal falling asleep experience actually feels like. And you’re probably placing massive, unrealistic expectations on yourself. Duh, you’re an entrepreneur.

That’s why the final tip is to ease up on yourself. If you’ve got a bad track record of sleep, you’re probably getting unnecessarily angry at yourself far too quick. In a terrible spiral, your instant “not-another-shitty-night” realization is probably half the problem.

Instead of beating yourself up about thinking too much, do the opposite: Systematically think through your day, aiming to recall each and every detail.

You may find that you start thinking weird, unusual thoughts – this is because you’re on the edge of dreaming. Go with it – don’t worry that you aren’t getting to sleep – just allow your brain to do it’s thing.

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