If You Want to Be Great, Get Great Sleep

For some reason this is way harder for me than it should be.

It’s not like I haven’t seen the endless research that shows how getting enough sleep improves your memory, your ability to learn, your willpower, your level of happiness, and a whole host of other things.

It’s not like I haven’t experienced what it’s like to wake up in the morning fully rested… that perfect feeling of being alive and ready to take on whatever the day may bring. When you’re completely alert. Everything just feels right in the world.

And it certainly isn’t like I have never seen what happens when I don’t get enough sleep. That heavy weight of bricks that seems to be hanging from your eyelids. The headaches. The dense fog that seems to cloud your mind, blocking your ability to perceive nearly anything positive in your life.

Getting good sleep is important.

If you want to do amazing work in the world, giving yourself permission to get enough sleep is critical.

You can’t serve people as effectively if you’re tired and grumpy. (At least I can’t.)

Yet so often I find myself struggling to go to bed on time. And I’m rarely doing anything critical either. I don’t have any real reason to stay up. But I stay up anyways…

There are some nights I choose to stay up late
I’ve yet to understand why that is so
It’s not because I craft a work so great
Or am learning of what I do not know
What makes me stare out with my sleepy face
And on that rigid chair decide to sit
What makes me to remain within that space
And read of things that matter not a bit
For right nearby my mattress rests on beams
Begging I enter to its calm delight
I could soon travel to the land of dreams
Instead of giving sleep a weary fight
And though I have not understood it yet
This morning it is something I regret?

Why exactly, I’m not entirely sure. But I have figured out three helpful rules. Maybe they’ll be useful for you too.

1) No computer after 8pm. Some research suggests that not looking at a computer screen right before bed helps your body get better and deeper sleep. That’s not why I have this rule.

What I’ve discovered is that by turning of my computer at 8pm, I remove my primary means of distraction. And by 9pm or so, I generally think to myself… Well, nothing else to do right now, I might as well go to bed. And so I do.

2) No reading fiction in bed unless my wife is awake. Fiction is like a drug to me. Get me caught up in a good story, and I’ll read until morning. Just one more chapter… I tell myself. Yeah right.

So now I make it a practice to close my book whenever my wife is ready to turn the light off. It’s a way to force myself to put the book down.

3) Remember to have my nightly cup of tea. Right before bed, I brew myself a cup of chamomile tea. I’ll sit with it for five or ten minutes, just staring out into space. Or maybe I’ll spend a moment jotting down something I’m grateful for.

The individual actions aren’t that critical. The key though is having a routine each night that informs my body that it’s time for sleep. It helps me unwind.

You should remain awake a little more
There’s much around for you to do and see
Do not elect this time to go and snore
From all the sheeted bonds of bed stay free
Go browse a while on the internet
And then to your email again go look
Read news that in the morning you’ll forget
Stay up for long with an audio book
Heed nothing that the mad voice may suggest
Saying its lies to you inside your brain
Go restore all your energy and rest
To stay up any longer is insane
I do not want to hear a single peep
Lay quiet in your bed and go to sleep

This is something I’m still working on. And I’d love to hear your thoughts too. What do you do to ensure you get a good night of sleep?

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2 thoughts on “If You Want to Be Great, Get Great Sleep”

  1. Joshua, you always seem to address the exact issues I’ve been dealing with. You’ve got me pegged.
    I stay up way too late, mostly because I have so many emails (subscriptions) I haven’t read. And each one isn’t just text, there’s usually a video or podcast I’m supposed to listen to.

    Then there’s always a business book I should be reading so I can write my actionable summary.

    And because it’s summer, my kids are usually watching a movie every night, so of course I get distracted (plus they want me to watch it with them.)

    In the end, I learn stuff and have fun with my kids, but I don’t produce much, and by the afternoon the next day, I’m really dragging.

    So, I’m going try something to help me get to bed earlier. A routine is a good idea.

    The greatest concept that has sunk into me recently is that every day can be Day 1. No matter how many times we fail, or don’t do what we want, today is day 1. We can choose to start over today.

    Thanks for your wisdom and poetry. It’s a treasure.

  2. Rex, One hack that I learned from Cal Newport is to filter all your subscriptions into a label and automatically mark them as read. Then it feels more like dipping into a stream of interesting information rather than another thing to keep on top of.

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