Advice from the Experts: Sleep Your Way to Peak Performance

We’re driven to achieve.  Our days (and some nights) are filled with meetings, conference calls, planning and reporting, webinars, and all of the other planned, spur of the moment and tyranny of the urgent activities involved with trying to run and take our businesses (or careers) to the next level.

Who’s got time to sleep? Who can sleep?

Fact is we’re tossing and turning in bed, our minds racing with so many things: things we did or didn’t do, stuff that happened to us, the things people said to us, the things we wish we would have said to them, or now regret. Sleep?

We’re losing sleep at an astonishing rate and it’s making us less effective, more stressed out and unhappy. According to circadian neuroscientist, Russell Foster, “Sleep is the single most important behavioral experience that we have… [But] we are sleep deprived.” (TED talk: Why do we sleep?) View it here:

How Important is Sleep to Peak Performance?

Foster further states that in the 1950s society averaged 8 hours of sleep, but in 2013 the average plunges to 6.5 hours, and very commonly, just 5 hours of sleep a night is all we get. In his 18 minute talk he not only shares the consequences of not getting enough sleep, but why sleep is so important and what to do about getting more of it.

The most attractive benefit of getting enough sleep, according to Foster is in the area of “brain processing and memory consolidation.” It turns out, some portions of our brain never actually fall asleep, but through our sleep helps get important stuff done and prepares us for better performance and productivity.

Are you trying to learn a new task, solve a complex problem or be more creative? Sleep deprivation seriously hinders these tasks. On the other hand, all are hugely enhanced by a good night of sleep.  Foster finds with sufficient sleep, “there’s a 3-fold advantage in enhancing creativity.” Who doesn’t want a 3-fold boost in creativity?

“The thing to realize,” says Foster “is if you don’t sleep, you don’t fly. Essentially you don’t get there.”

We can reasonably translate that to mean: if we aspire to peak performance and taking our game to the next, higher level, we’ve got to understand that sleep is not the enemy, it’s our friend!

The Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at Oxford University does offer a couple of suggestions for getting more sleep such as making your bedroom a haven for sleep and reducing exposure to light at least 30 minutes before turning in. Studies have shown keeping your bedroom cool and dark are keys to getting better sleep. He also recommends turning off all electronic gadgets – things that excite our brains while beginning a process of winding down.

This is such a fascinating and important topic that we wanted to share more of what some productivity, time management and other professionals have recently written about developing healthy sleep habits – the kind that can help you soar. So, the following are tips, habits, techniques and suggestions designed to help all of us get a better handle on sleep.

It wouldn’t be possible to share their entire articles, but please do whet your sleep appetite here, then follow the links to read more. Who knows, you may just find a few tips that will work best for you. And when you do, we’d love it if you’d share in the comments below.

11 Sleep Habits of Successful People by Tina Williamson

Tina breaks down her list of 11 sleep habits into 5 no-no’s followed by 6 habits to consider practicing. A couple of no-no’s for consideration:

  • Don’t eat right before bed – Have your final meal about 3 hours before bedtime. Eating too close to bed will leave your digestive system working very hard and might cause an upset stomach throughout the night.
  • Shut out the lights – Bright lights actually repress melatonin, which is responsible for regulating our sleep cycles. It is also recommended to avoid reading from back-lit devices late at night. The darker the room, the better. Try using heavy curtains or a sleep mask.

Under the “what you should do” category, Tina suggests trying some meditation and relaxation techniques to quiet your mind. She also talks about a practice of staying hydrated and trying some decaffeinated Sleepytime tea before bed. Read the entire article here on the popular Lifehack blog.

Speaking of winding down and quieting our mind before bed, that’s what our next expert suggests we do.

6 Ways to Empty Your Head and Get to Bed by Craig Jarrow

Craig runs the highly regarded Time Management Ninja blog and website. In this post he offers 6 practical ways to stop our minds from the racing that wakes us and keeps us up. Here’s a few for starters:

  • Don’t Check Email Before Bed – Checking email before going to bed only leads to stress and unfinished business. Most likely you won’t be able to take action until the next morning anyway.
  • Write That Task Down – Worrying about tasks you need to do? Get those tasks out of your head and onto your to-do list.
  • Assign Tasks for Tomorrow – If it can’t be done today. Then schedule it for tomorrow…Knowing that it is assigned will let you rest peacefully.

Read more of Craig’s tips for emptying your head before going to bed here.

Sleep Like a Baby by Leo Babauta

What list of habits to help simplify and improve your life would be complete without a word from Zen Habits maestro, Leo Babauta? Writing on one of the most-read and popular blogs in the world, Babauta shares 6 techniques that have helped him “sleep like a baby.” Here’s a few:

  • Establish a bedtime ritual – It takes time to unwind the body and mind. At least an hour before bedtime, start slowing down. Turn off the computer. Floss & brush your teeth. Put away things you were using in the evening. Lay down and read a book (not on your laptop).
  • Keep your room only for sleeping – Don’t eat, watch TV, use your computer, or do other activities in your room.
  • Change slowly – Be patient with sleeping changes – they are difficult, because when we are tired, our mind doesn’t have the discipline to stick to changes.

Read more of what Babauta does to sleep like a baby.

And last, but certainly not least…

7 Sleep Habits of Successful Entrepreneurs by Barbara Mendez

Ms. Mendez, a nutritionist with a private practice in New York City wrote this article that was published on  It’s a perfect one to conclude with as it addresses specifically, business people and entrepreneurs. As she notes in the very beginning, “One common side effect of running your own business? Sleepless nights.” Here are a few of the habits she’s come up with for busy professionals.

  • Take a shower or bath before bed – Taking a shower before bedtime is not only calming, but it raises your body temperature. Afterward, as you cool off, your body temperature drops, inducing a feeling of drowsiness.. This lowered body temperature makes it easier to fall asleep – and stay asleep.
  • Create a soothing sleep environment – Make sure the temperature in your bedroom is cool enough to induce and maintain sleep. And keep your shades drawn to block out streetlights.
  • Write down the three best things about your day – and three things you plan to tackle tomorrow – One sleep study found that those who take a few minutes every night to reflect on and acknowledge the good things that happened to them that day were able to sleep better. That dose of positivity induced feelings of calm that allowed for more restful sleep. And writing down three things you plan to tackle the next day helps you get those thoughts onto paper and out of your head. That way, you won’t be running through your to-do list while you are trying to fall asleep.

Check out the rest of Barbara’s article and what she has to say about eating before bedtime, avoiding alcohol, vigorous exercise and more here. Also, check out her website: Barbara Mendez Nutrition for more of her insights on health and nutrition.

How Much Sleep do You Need?

How will you know you’re getting the kind of sleep that can boost your energy, creativity and lead to peak performance? Well, according to Professor Foster there’s no standard number of hours that can be applied, across the board, for everyone. He also says there’s no evidence that going to bed early and rising early makes you healthy, wealthy and wise!

What he does suggest is that we should listen to ourselves – be in tune to the rhythm of our mental and physical well-being.  We know when we’re wearing down, irritable, having difficulty focusing or remembering important details.  We also will know when we’re able to operate at peak performance.

Here’s to a life worth sleeping, and our collective sweet dreams. And we’d love to hear what helps you sleep your best in the comments below.


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