Sleep is an important thing, but it’s not the only thing

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Sleep is important

The great American philosopher, Vince Lombardi, warned us that “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” He forgot to mention that it also makes us dumber, sloppier, and bad decision makers. Sleep is important and lately I’ve been reading a lot about it.

Jason Fried wrote “Being Tired isn’t a Badge of Honor” and Nick van Dam and Els van der Helm tell us that “There’s a Proven Link Between Effective Leadership and Getting Enough Sleep.” Last year’s NBA finals MVP “Andre Iguodala Attributes Strong Play To Better Sleep Cycles.

Those articles and many others reinforce what I’ve learned by tracking my personal productivity for close to forty years. When I get enough sleep, I do better in almost every area of my life. But there’s a catch.

The catch

The catch is that you have to track sleep and productivity over more than a couple of days to see the connection. You can push hard and cut your sleep short for a couple of nights and things look OK. So you’re tempted to think that sleep doesn’t matter. Or, maybe you think that it matters for other people, but you’re the exception.

You keep cutting back on sleep to “just finish this project” or “get caught up.” Soon you’re tired all the time, but by then you think it’s normal. Your energy is down. Your memory and decision making are degraded and your emotional intelligence is on hold, but you won’t notice because you’re too tired.

Another catch

Getting enough sleep isn’t enough. You also need good, deep sleep. So, if you’re home try to go to bed about the same time every night in a cool, dark room. Use a white noise generator. Empty your bladder before you do to sleep.

If you’re on the road, take the white noise generator with you. Sure the hotels are having bed wars, but they still have thin walls and doors where light streams in from the hall. The curtains don’t often close all the way. Do what you must to get as much good sleep as you can. I used a sleep mask and ear plugs.

But wait, there’s more

Sleep is an important thing, but it’s not the only thing. If your situation is common, sleep and exercise and sensible eating form a Magic Triangle of personal productivity.

Get some exercise. Your body was not designed to slump in a chair most of the time. Learn some strength exercises that you can do almost anywhere. If you run, great, but walking is good, too. Try to do something every day that makes you breathe hard and break a sweat. If you haven’t exercised in quite a while, just start with whatever you can do without having the paramedics on call.

Eat sensibly. You don’t need an instruction manual for this. You know what’s right for you. And you know that you’re more likely to eat when you’re tired. So beware. When you’re on the road you probably eat full meals, complete with dessert. It’s a bad idea at home and it’s still bad away from home.

But wait, there’s still more

Sleep and exercise and sensible eating will help you be more productive. But pay attention to your natural rhythms, too. If you’ve made it through college you know if it’s better to stay up late to finish that proposal or get up early. You know when your energy dips and when your self-discipline is at its peak. Plan accordingly.

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