The Sleep Habits of Successful Entrepreneurs

Posted by Shannon Toole on 2014-07-31

So much has been written about the traits and skills one must have to be a successful entrepreneur that it’s easy to forget that sometimes it is the little things in life that lead to the greatest success.

In Entrepreneur Habits, we provide you with simple yet effective habits that any fledgling founder can employ in their daily -- or nightly -- routine. With advice from top entrepreneurs and innovative practitioners, these creative customs can help put you on the path to progress.

This installment focuses on the sleep habits of successful people. Whether they’re early birds or night owls, almost all entrepreneurs commit to a nighttime routine that helps them maximize their productivity. After all -- with almost all of their waking hours committed to their career, making the most of their limited hours of precious slumber is of utmost importance. If you’re an entrepreneur or have entrepreneurial aspirations, the following are a few good habits to get into if you want to optimize your sleep:

1) Avoid alcohol before bedtime

In order to feel refreshed in the morning, it’s best to stop drinking alcohol at least three hours before you go to sleep. In a recent article titled The 7 Sleep Habits of Successful Entrepreneurs by Lisa Evans, Dr. Lisa Shives offers expert sleep advice.

According to Shives, 

Sleep is lighter, you have less REM (the deepest stage of sleep). Many people wake up after about four hours, because that’s how long it takes to metabolize alcohol, then they have trouble getting back to sleep.”

2) Turn off electronics

Before you start winding down for bed, take the time to turn off your electronics and disengage from technology. Shives says, "The light that's emitted [from the screens] slips your neurotransmitters into an awake position.” Take away the temptation to answer a vibration or ring notification by simply turning all your devices off.

In an article titled What Successful People Do Before Bed by Vivian Giang, both Arianna Huffington and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg reveal that they make sure to unplug at night. Giang writes,

Arianna Huffington recommends banning iPads, Kindles, laptops, and any other electronics from the bedroom to unwind. Instead, she likes to read the old-fashioned way, ‘real books.’ 

Sandberg tells Jefferson Graham at USAToday that it's ‘painful,’ but she turns her phone off at night so that she ‘won't get woken up.’ ”

3) Keep a journal

If you find yourself lying awake due to stress, many successful people find it helpful to keep a journal to help them organize their thoughts, worries, and goals. According to Evans,

For those who find their heads swimming with to-do-lists, Shives says putting the list on paper rather than thinking about it can help to clear your head and shut off your mind before bedtime.”

Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express, is in the habit of listing a few of his short-term goals before bed. “Chenault [...] writes down three things he wants to accomplish the next day,” says Giang. “This helps him prioritize first thing the next morning.”

In the article Daily Routines of 7 Famous Entrepreneurs & How to Design Yours, Belle Beth Cooper describes Ben Franklin’s meticulous nighttime writing routine.

[Ben Franklin] famously detailed a thirteen-week plan to practice important virtues such as cleanliness, temperance, etc. Each day he tracked his progress on a chart.”

4) Create a Good Sleep Environment

Make sure that where you’re sleeping is conducive to a good night’s sleep -- your room should be free of any disturbances that could potentially interrupt your rest. Evans notes,

The optimal sleep environment is one that's cool, dark and quiet. [...] Eliminate noise and light distractions by charging smartphones outside the bedroom door to avoid the glow, the ding and the temptation to get up and check on something.”

5) Exercise

Evans states that regularly exercising is beneficial for sleep, as it releases the chemicals serotonin and dopamine that help regulate your circadian rhythm.

Joel Gascoigne, CEO of Buffer, has a nighttime routine that includes light exercise to help him get ready to go to sleep. Gascoigne says,

For me, this is going for a 20 minute walk every evening at 9:30pm. This is a wind down period, and allows me to evaluate the day’s work, think about the greater challenges, gradually stop thinking about work and reach a state of tiredness.”

6) Avoid Sugary Snacks

Snacking before bed isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but make sure to avoid snacks that are high in sugar. Instead, opt for snacks that are higher in protein or fat, which are less likely to result in a sugar crash in the middle of the night that can potentially disrupt your sleep.

[Protein and fat] have very low glycemic levels which means they will give a steady release of energy throughout the night." -- Dr. Lisa Shives

While sleeping less and working more is a pervasive, if not alarming, trend in the startup scene, founders should never underestimate the power of a good night’s slumber. For, according to Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, “early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

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(Ready to Go Working image via Shutterstock)

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