The Sleep-Life Balance

Awareness of the fact that you can always improve your career outlook – by studying more business books, networking with more people or by simply getting more work done – creates a special kind of pressure.

Every minute that you don’t produce anything (or don’t work towards increasing your capability to produce) is a minute wasted.

I’m convinced this pressure is extremely useful. It make us quit watching TV series or stop spending endless hours reading our Facebook News Feed and clicking through our friend’s friend’s holiday pictures. It made me stop killing my evenings and weekends playing Starcraft II, even though even now, after two years of abstinence, I remember those times spent in front of the screen with love and nostalgia.

One particular area of time-wasting that many of us try to reduce is sleep. Because not everyone is playing Starcraft II but all of us do sleep (more or less), this is the single area most discussed – and therefore under the biggest peer pressure.

Chances are that this particular pressure depends on our peer group. I work in management consulting, and this industry is notorious for its focus on individual performance. The company I work for is not different. The less hours we sleep daily, the cooler we are. Who is able to send & respond to emails between 3 and 6am is the hero of the day. I have to admit that with my sleep hours being only slightly below 6 I am only “moderately cool” and so far, I never managed to send an email after 1am. But I hope that maybe one day, I will be able to do with even less sleep and extend my productive time further into the night.

Or perhaps not.

This Saturday I woke up before the alarm clock rang. I took a look at the time – 5:50 in the morning. I jumped out of my bed and felt super-cool. I turned on my computer to start the day with some reading. A friend of mine had sent me an article the day before with the title “Tired Managers Behave as if They Were Drunk” (in German). I took a look at the time again. Somehow this article seemed to be relevant.

One of the main statements was that reducing daily sleeping hours from 8 to 5 results in 50% decrease in decision making capability and 20% decrease in memory performance.

All right, this was just one article, you might say, and not even a scientific one. But it just made me think. I realized that when I sleep 5 hours, the world is much gloomier place for me. That I’m able to perform routine and simple tasks, but I don’t have the mental capacity to develop new ideas. The worst about it – I don’t even want to. I don’t see the point. I’m not motivated to get into doing anything complex. I just want to survive the day by ticking off simple tasks from my to-do list.

I also remembered how I felt during Christmas holiday three weeks ago, when I went to the mountains. The room in the cottage we were staying at was dark, so it was easy to sleep until 10.  I also had to manage without my alarm clock, as I had the feeling that the people staying in the other rooms wouldn’t share my excitement about personal productivity maximization if my alarm clock woke them up at 6.

I got a lot of sleep. And it felt just great. I felt I can do anything in the world. No risk was too big to take, no idea was mission impossible. And new ideas were coming at a tremendous pace.

You might say, that this was just because I was on holiday and didn’t have to worry about work or other tiresome things of the day-to-day life. But I remember the feeling of being fresh and full of energy. I wonder what would it be like if I could feel like this throughout the whole year.

Could I perform better, produce more and develop myself faster if I cut 2 hours every day from my productive time – and invest it in good sleep instead?

I think I’ll give it a try.

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2 thoughts on “The Sleep-Life Balance

  1. Totaly agree with your story! I have tried to find my own balance and it seems to be 6hours a day, but when I get occasionaly more the creativity and extra energy coming up:)

    • Interesting, and good you found your balance! But it suggests a follow-up question – wouldn’t it be worth it to add some more sleep regularly, to get this improved creativity and extra energy every day?

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