How to Get a better sleep & be more productive

Being a hustler is overrated, and just bad advice. Society constructs this myth of the perfect businessman who doesn’t sleep. They are super productive and fit all while looking like Brad Pitt (or Beyonce). Just take a look at these popular quotes about the hustler lifestyle:

Sleep, sleep is for those people who are broke. I don’t sleep, I might miss the opportunity to make a dream become a reality.
— 50 Cent
You have as many hours in the day as Beyonce.
— Unknown
No one looks back on their life and remembers the nights they had plenty of sleep.
— Unknown

I understand why someone might believe this idea. If you sleep less, you gain more hours to be productive in the day, right? Sleeping less CAN increase your productivity for a single day. But, it affects your long-term productivity. Less sleep will make you less productive the next day. People who always cut out hours of sleep will begin to see their productivity nosedive. 

Recent studies have shown that adequate sleep is essential to feeling awake and alert, maintaining good health and working at peak performance. After two weeks of sleeping six hours or less a night, students feel as bad and perform as poorly as someone who has gone without sleep for 48 hours. New research also highlights the importance of sleep in learning and memory. Students getting adequate amounts of sleep performed better on memory and motor tasks than did students deprived of sleep.
— Dr. Epstein, instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School

Now, some of you may be thinking that 50 Cent is richer and smarter than me. This is true. He doesn’t sleep, so why should you listen to me. For starters, I would be willing to bet that 50 Cent and Beyonce actually do sleep more than they let on. On top of that, there are plenty of successful people who DO value a good nights rest. 

I like to get seven hours of sleep a night because that’s what I need to stay sharp and creative and upbeat.
— Bill Gates
I’m more alert and I think more clearly. I just feel so much better all day long if I’ve had eight hours.
— Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon
I’m usually asleep by 11 p.m. and up around 7:30 a.m. It’s a lot!
— Ellen Degeneres

You can check out more celebrities who value sleep in this HuffingtonPost article. Hopefully, you believe the importance of getting a good sleep. Now, let's get into the details of creating good sleep habits. 

01 | Figure Out if You are a Lark or a Night Owl

Larks are people who enjoy sleeping early and waking up early. Night owls prefer to stay up late and wake up late. Most people already know whether they are one or the other. If you don’t, ask someone close to you or take this quiz. Knowing whether we are Larks or Owls can help us pick the right time each day that it feels natural for us to sleep at. For example, a Lark might easily sleep at 10 PM and wake up at 6 AM. Yet, a Lark would have difficulty sleeping at 3 AM and waking up at 11 AM. 

02 | Create a Nighttime Ritual

Rituals prepare our minds for bed and help us stay consistent with our sleep schedule. Ideally, all electronics and screen lights should be turned off. Artificial lights disrupt our circadian rhythms and make it tougher for us to go to sleep. Nighttime rituals should almost be meditative. They should allow you to bring closure to your day, feel less stressed, and slow down the mind. An example of a nighttime ritual would be:

  • Brush and Floss
  • Change into comfortable clothes
  • Adjusting the temperature of the room and getting the appropriate blankets/comforters/etc.
  • Stretching
  • Drinking a cup of warm milk while reading a paper book
  • Sleeping

Things to absolutely avoid a few hours before sleeping:

  • WORK
  • TV
  • COMPUTER
  • VIDEO GAMES

Things that can help you sleep:

  • Soothing music
  • Podcasts (as long as it's not something that is highly stimulating)
  • Books (easy reads only)
  • Meditating
  • Praying
  • Writing a list of things you accomplished and what you would like to do in the next day

I highly recommend writing down everything you accomplished for the day. Follow up by writing everything you hope to do in the next day. This helps bring closure to the day and helps you get ready to hit the ground running the next day. 

03 | Track Your Sleep

If the individual is routinely tired or sleepy during the daytime, odds are that he or she is not getting enough sleep. To take it one step further, there are two primary factors that affect the degree of daytime alertness: sleep quantity and sleep quality. For the student-age population, sleep quantity and quality issues are both important. However, key factors affecting sleep quality, such as the major sleep disorders (e.g., obstructive sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome), are less prevalent in this age group compared to middle-aged or older individuals.
— Dr. Kushida, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences (Stanford University Medical Center)

As seen in the quote above, sleep quantity and quality are essential to getting a good nights rest. Quantity is a measure of how many hours of sleep you are getting a night. Quality is a measure of how much uninterrupted and undisturbed sleep you are getting. An easy way to track both is to use a sleep journal. When you wake up in the morning, write down how many hours of sleep you got and how often you woke up in the middle of the night. Another way to track these is to use an app called “Sleep Cycle”. I highly recommend that everyone use the app. I am not sponsored by them, and I don’t get paid if you download their app. The developers don’t even know I exist. The app costs about a dollar, but it's extremely useful. What Sleep Cycle does is it tracks your sleep and wakes you up at the most optimal time. It tracks the following things:

  • Sleep Quality (Percentage out of 100)
  • Time you went to bed
  • Time in bed
  • Time you woke up
  • Mood upon waking
  • Much more

It also shows the average for all the categories in your country. Here are some pictures from my phone demonstrating it:

sleepquality
sleep quality per day
went to bed
time woke up at
time in bed
timeinbedperday

04 | Create a Morning Ritual (include natural light)

Morning rituals are all about helping you get out of bed easily, making sure you’re wide awake when you do, and preparing you for a successful day. Natural light is so important to waking the body up. One of the first things you should do when you wake up is open a window. Light therapy is useful for those who wake up while the sun is still down. This is quite common in my country, Canada. Light therapy involves sitting in front of a special lamp early in the morning for about 20 minutes. The bright lamp is meant to simulate sunlight. The lamp will help wake you up and feel energetic. It is also quite effective at treating seasonal affective disorder. Another thing that can help wake you up in the morning is upbeat music. Get ready to some tunes that you love and that get you movingStretching is another good activity. It gets the blood flowing and gets you ready for the big day you have ahead. 

Other morning activities you can include are:

  • Working out
  • Running
  • Watching the news or reading the newspaper
  • Working
  • Checking your to-do list (that you made the night before)

05 | Time Management

Many students struggle with time management and as a result, their sleep suffers. They spend too much time watching TV (or scrolling through Instagram) and then they are forced to stay up late doing homework. Then, because they have to be up early for class, they sacrifice their sleep and it's a never ending cycle. I understand the struggle. I’ve been there too. After a long day of working, students feel like they never get to enjoy the day. This usually results in them staying up late to fit in some fun. This usually means binge watching Game of Thrones until 2 AM and then waking up for a class at 6 AM.

tvsleepcycle

It’s this constant battle between being an automaton and being a human. A battle between working and having fun. A battle between living for the future and enjoying the moment. Honestly, if you want to do well in school you have to be willing to compromise. I promise it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds. Students usually waste time on low-density fun activities and pseudo-work activities to distract themselves from working.

Five minutes later, though, I’ll see them scrolling through their Facebook feed. I call this low-density fun. Scrolling through your news feed or watching a few funny videos on YouTube is easy, and it’s sort of fun to do. However, because it’s so easy and feels so unlike “real” fun, it’s easy to not feel guilty about it – which leads to a lot of procrastination.
— Thomas Frank, Collegeinfogeek

This results in them working less but also having less fun in a day. Reading Buzzfeed articles is an example of a low-density fun activity. It's an activity that is only fun because it's more fun than doing work. An example of a pseudo-work activity is reading productivity articles. You tell yourself that you need to read this article before working. You believe it will help you be better at your work. That's just a lie we tell ourselves to avoid doing work. Instead, focus hard on your work for a few hours a day and then engage in some high-density fun for the rest of the day. The term high-density fun (and low-density fun)  is borrowed from Thomas Frank of Collegeinfogeek. Some examples of high-density fun are:

  • Playing video games
  • Hanging out with friends (watching a movie, bowling, etc.)
  • Going on a date
  • Eating at a new restaurant

High-density fun activities help you create new memories and drastically reduce stress. They completely take your mind off your work. They will also help you feel like you actually got to enjoy the day. 

06 | Coffee

I quit regularly drinking coffee about 8 months ago. Since then I’ve seen a decrease in my stress levels and an improvement in my sleep quality. I hate coffee and I think it says a lot about our society. It says that we are a society that hates the work we do and that we work too hard. We drink coffee to provide us with an artificial boost of energy to get through the work we dread. It says we are a society that hates our bodies. When our bodies say they are tired, we tell them to shut up by chugging down another coffee. Coffee changes us. Don’t get me wrong, the occasional coffee is okay. Life happens, and sometimes we need an extra boost of energy. But honestly, I think most times we need to just listen to our body and nap.You would be surprised at how effective a 20-minute nap can be.

Our bodies are smart. Think about all the things it does without you having to think about it. It breathes for you, digests your food, and basically makes you live. It reacts to your environment all on its own. By cutting out coffee you can be better in tune with the true needs of your body. 

07 | All-Nighters

All engineering students will eventually have to choose between sleeping or pulling an all-nighter. Nine times out of ten, the correct answer is to go to sleep. An all-nighter will only stress you out, and throw off your sleep schedule. Furthermore, it will negatively affect your memory and performance the next day. Honestly, a regular sleep/work schedule will be your best friend in avoiding all-nighters. Students usually pull all-nighters to prepare for tests and I think that's usually a bad idea. However, pulling all-nighters to complete assignments, projects or reports is not a bad idea. Sometimes it's a good idea. You can use that extra time to revise, and polish up your work before submitting it. It can also help you finish and hand in something that you may not have handed in otherwise. That's really the only case where I think an all-nighter is actually appropriate.

08 | Take Aways

  1. Create a nighttime routine
  2. Download Sleep Cycle (or use a sleep journal)
  3. Create a morning routine
  4. Quit coffee (or lower your consumption to one cup early in the morning)
  5. Avoid all-nighters when studying for tests (they're OK for completing assignments/projects)

What is your nighttime and/or morning routine?