“The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves. If we underinvest in ourselves, and by that I mean our minds, our bodies, and our spirits, we damage the very tool we need to make our highest contribution. One of the most common ways people―especially ambitious, successful people―damage this asset is through a lack of sleep.”

―Greg McKeown

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Sleep: Your Secret Weapon for Optimal Health & High PerformanceFor Type A perfectionists like me, working harder and longer is easy. The truly hard thing is giving oneself permission to stop, rest, and recover. For nearly all of my twenties and much of my thirties, I habitually stayed up late, drank more cups of coffee than I could count, and severely cut back on sleep in the foolish, unsustainable pursuit of “getting more done”. Sure enough, I did get quite a bit done during the witching hours. But more of what exactly? Often, the answer was:

  • More mistakes (e.g. forgetting to remove a recently diseased board member from a company wide memo at a telecom startup in Bangladesh).
  • More time wasted on unimportant minutiae (e.g. spending hours writing and formatting an investor pitch deck that never ended up being used).
  • More damage to my body, brain, and relationships caused by chronic sleep deprivation.

Studies have shown that pulling just one all-nighter or getting less than four or five hours of sleep a few nights in a row creates a level of mental impairment on par with having a blood alcohol level of 0.1% (well over the legal limit)! Like when drunk, sleep deprivation leads to sloppy work and bad decisions.

But beyond just the negative effects on performance and judgement, chronic sleep deprivation can also lead to numerous health issues:

  • Increased body fat since it affects hunger hormones, carbohydrate metabolism, insulin sensitivity, etc.
  • High blood pressure
  • Higher risk of heart disease
  • Higher levels of stress hormones
  • Decreased immune function

But enough about the negatives. What about the positive affects of getting ample sleep? How would you like to have, say, significantly higher levels of performance? Perhaps you want to be the best in the world at one particular skill. According to renowned psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, sleep just might be your secret weapon.

In Ericsson’s famous study on the world’s best violinists (popularized in Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success), he discovered two main takeaways:

  • It takes roughly 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” to master a skill.
  • High performers get lots of sleep (an average of 8.6 hours a night).

So the next time you find yourself getting swayed by the macho naïveté of overworked and underpaid workaholics bragging about how they can “crush it on only 3 hours of sleep a night”, count yourself instead the growing league of high paid high performers who unapologetically get at least 8 hours of sleep every night:

  • Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com
  • Mark Andreessen, the founder of Netscape, now known as a “super angel investor”
  • LeBron James, an American professional basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Michael Phelps, a former professional swimmer and most decorated Olympian of all time (28 medals)
  • Arianna Huffington, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post

Sleep well. Sleep long. Kick even more ass tomorrow.