Fit It In: Sleep for the Entrepreneur

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is a colorful, common self-motivator for entrepreneurs and small-business owners powering through increasingly busy days (and nights). They’re partially correct, in that bad sleep habits could get you to an eternal rest sooner than you’d like. High blood pressure, weight gain, and higher risk for diabetes and heart attack are all potential side-effects of not getting enough sleep.

If it doesn’t kill your business first. Lack of proper rest can also lead to diminished mental capacities and decision-making, as well as depleted energy levels and coordination. Would you hire that zombie to run your affairs? No, and you don’t want to become one yourself.

There’s no app or pill that allows you to work 24/7 (yet), so get over the notion that sleep is a waste of productive time. Here are some tips to make the most of your sleep and, ultimately, your work:

Get Some Exercise

If you’ve been neglecting sleep, chances are you’ve been making excuses for not working out, as well. Physical activity promotes healthy slumber patterns, releasing serotonin and dopamine, which regulate the 24-hour sleep/wake cycle known as the circadian rhythm. In less technical terms, for a better night’s sleep, work up a better day’s sweat.

Prep for Tomorrow

At bedtime, take a moment to consider what you’ve accomplished today, and then make a list of what you want to get done tomorrow. Not an extensive, overwhelming agenda—just the top three or four must-dos of the day. Also, plan tomorrow’s outfit and lay out your clothes, just like you might have done back in your childhood school days. Now you have less to think about in the morning.

Optimize the Room

Don’t stare at a LED clock all night; turn it to the wall, as even small exposure to such light can disrupt your sleep patterns. Then, make sure the room is cool: the National Sleep Foundation recommends setting the thermostat at around 65 degrees. And when was the last time you upgraded your pillow, mattress or mattress topper? If you can’t remember, it’s probably time.

Try Some Herbals

Valerian, chamomile, and melatonin aren’t planets in the Star Wars universe, but rather natural supplements that are safe, non-addictive alternatives to over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids. Keep in mind, “natural” can sometimes mean the effects are too subtle to detect right away, though melatonin does have an established record of treating jet lag well.

Refrain From Alcohol and Sugar

Booze before bedtime can help you sleep… lighter, but by no means better. The alcohol interferes with REM (rapid eye movement), the deepest stage of sleep, so it’s best to cut off the cocktails three hours before you hit the sack. The rush-and-crash cycle of sugar and simple carbs is no better; late-night snacks containing protein and fat (such as yogurt) are a smarter choice.

Shut Off Electronics

Your TV, laptop, tablet, phone, or whatever screen you’re watching late at night emits a light that tells your brain to stay awake, not to mention that simply interacting with electronics tends to keep people more in “work” mode than “rest” mode. Adjusting the blue light filter on your device can help, but it’s more for eye-strain than shut-eye. Best to power down an hour before bedtime.

Read or Write

Relaxing with a good old-fashioned paper book (remember those?) is one of the easiest and fastest ways to de-stress and decompress at the end of the day, kind of like yoga for your brain. Likewise, writing pen-to-paper can have the same effect and, circling back to “prep for tomorrow” earlier in this article, can also help you map out plans and set goals for the next day.

Wake Up Naturally

Getting sunlight in the morning helps reset your body’s circadian rhythm, ensuring that you’ll be properly tired and ready to sleep the following evening, it’s an ongoing process. If you can rise with the sun and not the alarm clock, even better, as that jarring, noisy start to the day can leave you feeling “off” no matter how much sleep you’ve gotten during the night.

Busy entrepreneurs and business owners shouldn’t view sleep as a waste of time or a weakness; if anything, it’s empowering. Sleep health is a key component of success. Make it a priority, and you’ll be more efficient, accomplish more, and, most importantly, feel better. The best make time for rest.

Hilary Thompson is a health and wellness expert specializing in sleep issues who has been featured in publications like Reader's Digest, Girls' Life, Purpose Fairy, and Today.​

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