Is sleep killing your business?

Posted on Jan 18th, 2016 | Productivity

A New Year brings many promises and resolutions. If you’re a freelancer is might be to file your Self Assessment on time, if you’re a small business owner it might be to keep on top of your bookkeeping, as a contractor it could be to take on more fulfilling work contracts. Whatever your commitment this year, it’s important to have a hand on your work / life balance, too.

Working whenever you want is one of the greatest things about being in our sector. You have as much freedom as you desire. However, working at different times of the day compared to a regular 9-5 employee can have an adverse affect on our maintaining harmony between work and play, not to mention our sleeping patterns.

Sometimes we’re up burning the midnight oil, sometimes we’re awake at 5am working on a tight deadline, and what with family commitments and relationships thrown into the balance, making sure we get the 7-9 hours recommended by the National Sleep Foundation can be hard to come by.

Margaret Thatcher, Silvio Berlusconi and Bill Clinton claim(ed) to get by on less than four hours, whereas Bill Gates, Arianna Huffington and Jeff Bezos need between 7-8 hours kip each night. Whilst it’s clear that some may be able to function on less than the recommended amount, are the majority of us getting enough to run businesses successfully?

Why sleep at all?

It may seem like a period of rest and relaxation but sleep is actually a time full of brain activity. The sleep cycle consists of five stages, moving from 1-4 and then REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.

It’s throughout these stages that the brain processes and stores information from the day. REM sleep is the most important of the cycle as it’s when the brain recuperates the most. According to Psych Central:

“Sleep begins in Stage One and progresses into stages 2, 3, and 4. Then, after Stage Four sleep, Stages Three, then Two are repeated before going into REM sleep. Once REM is over, we usually return to Stage Two sleep. Sleep cycles through these stages approximately 4 or 5 times throughout the night.”

Without these precious sleep cycles, humans don’t function at their full potential. Slacking off in the sleeping department can mean a loss of memory, impaired cognitive thinking, confusion, poor decision making and risk taking behaviour. Physical strains include depression and low sex-drive. Long-term sleep deprivation can lead to heart attacks, stroke, type two diabetes and obesity.

The need for sleep is controlled by our own internal body clock. Known as the circadian rhythm, it “regulates the timing of periods of sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day” according to the Sleep Foundation.

Sleep for success

If chronic illness isn’t enough to encourage you to sleep better, think about the effects that a lack of sleep could be having on your business.

Tiredness and irritability aside, productivity isn’t going to be at its highest if you’re about to nod off at any given moment. state that “The negative effects of sleep deprivation are so great that people who are drunk outperform those lacking sleep.” How can you ensure a peaceful nights rest over the coming months?

Kill the caffeine

Caffeine has a half life of between four and six hours. This means if you’re knocking back a large coffee (200mg caffeine) at 3pm to get yourself out of the post-lunch slump, half of that will still be buzzing around your bloodstream at 9pm, potentially making it harder to nod off.

It might sound like we’re teaching a Grandmother how to suck eggs but cutting down on caffeine can seriously help your sleep. A morning cup of Joe is fine, but anything after that could majorly impact your REM sleep, leaving you feeling groggy and sluggish the following day. And guess what? You’ll probably pump yourself full of more caffeine to get over that feeling and the vicious cycle begins.

Switch off the tech

“Blue light at night, businesses owner’s delight” is not how the famous proverb goes. Engulfing ourselves in artificial light before sleepytime can be damaging to our circadian rhythm.

Technology emits blue wavelengths – known as blue light – that during the day keep us alert and upbeat. At night time, this blue light still stimulates us and suppresses “the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that influences circadian rhythms” meaning that we don’t get the proper signals that send ourselves to sleep.

Putting down your tech a few hours before bedtime can help improve sleep. Why not read an actual book instead of a tablet, or a newspaper instead of an App on your phone? Firing off that important work email can also wait until morning, too.

Nail a routine

It can be hard to have a consistent routine whilst freelancing or running your own business. More often than not you’re fitting in work around other commitments and adhering to clients’ needs. But, giving yourself a set bedtime and rising time each day will help set a consistent internal body clock and allow for a more fulfilling night’s sleep.

Choose a time where you naturally feel tired. Personally, I’m very content sleeping at around 10.30pm and rising around 6.30am, whereas others may benefit from a 1am bedtime and sleeping until 9am.

Is there another way?

The amount of sleep you need does depend on individuals. There are alternative methods to getting the regular 7-9 hours a night, some of which may be more practical for those of us not tied to a regular hours job. Known as polyphasic sleep schedules, they vary from 2 – 4 hours of sleep a night.


The Uberman sleep schedule means you get three hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. This is taken in six naps of no longer than 30 minutes and reportedly people wake up feeling rested and refreshed. This sleeping technique was rumoured to be favoured by Leonardo Da Vinci.


Sleep between 1am – 4am, and then take three naps of 20 minutes in the daytime. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Great flexibility and the ability to skip naps has also been proven.

Siesta / Biphasic

Yeah you heard that right; a siesta in the middle of the day, just like the on the continent! We Brits can finally live the Spanish dream by getting four hours from 1am – 4am and then a 90 minute nap at midday.

However you choose to hibernate, think of the benefits a restful night can bring to both your business and homelife.

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Written by Claire Beveridge

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