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productivity Archives - Adam Leeb

An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sleep – 3 Simple Ingredients

You’re not special. That’s the first thing you need to realize. Yes, I know you think your mind races especially fast, which is probably the same reason you tell yourself that meditation won’t work for you, but we all have a lot on our mind, especially entrepreneurs.

Sorry to burst your bubble but your mind isn’t racing because you’re especially smart or have too much going on. It’s because you don’t know how to relax.

But here’s the good news, relaxing to sleep is easy. You just have to be willing to try.

I’ve heard every excuse so before you say you can’t, ask yourself how much a good night’s sleep is worth to you? If you ask me, I’d say a whole lot.

Over the years I’ve developed a sleep routine that works 100% of the time. Yes, seriously. Regardless of the craziness that happened during the day and the level of insanity I’m feeling, by following this simple routine, I fall asleep quickly and sleep through the entire night.

Do you have trouble falling asleep? Once you fall asleep, do you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night? When it’s time to get up in the morning, do you feel groggy?

If the answer is yes to any of the above questions, there is something wrong. It’s not in your genes, you just have bad sleep habits.

Now is the time to be honest with yourself because recognizing that there is something to work on is the first step in getting better. EVERYBODY can have the type of sleep experience I am talking about where you fall asleep within minutes of putting your head on the pillow and wake up feeling fully rested.

If that’s not enough of a reason to give this system a try, you don’t want a good night’s sleep bad enough and you may as well stop reading right now.

For the rest of you that value your sleep, read on. It’s actually a very simple system.

Here are the ingredients to falling asleep fast and sleeping through the night:

  1. No screens in the bedroom
  2. Light alarm clock
  3. Kindle w/frontlight

That’s it!*

So it does involve buying a couple of things. But again, I ask you how much a good night’s sleep is worth to you? To me, investing a few hundred dollars on my sleep pays for itself in less than a week. And these things last a long time e.g. I’ve been using the same light alarm clock since high school!

Don’t believe me and don’t want to spend the money on items 2 and 3? For 99% of people with terrible sleep habits, just doing number 1 is a game changer. And it’s free!

I always get the same reaction from the most obstinate, and of course happen to be the worst sleepers: “without my phone, how will I wake up?!?!” [face palm]

BUY A $5 ALARM CLOCK ON AMAZON LIKE EVERY HIGH FUNCTIONING HUMAN ON EARTH HAD BEFORE 2007.

If you’re unwilling to spend $5 on an alarm clock so you can leave your phone in the kitchen, you’re not ready to win sleep.

If you have an open mind and are tired of being tired, it’s time to try something new. Give this system a shot. What’s the worst that could happen??

If you’re skeptical, let me explain why each piece of this trifecta is necessary. No, I am not going to cite any studies; these are all simple things that you can try with zero side effects. Make the leap!

No screens in the bedroom – There is a lot of talk about blue light but I think this is a small factor compared to the anxiety attached to our devices. Phones are the absolute worst and should be permanently banished from the bedroom (and anywhere else you truly want to relax). No, turning your phone off or putting it on Do Not Disturb is not enough. IT IS NOT ENOUGH. Put your charger in the kitchen or living room and let your phone sleep there. I don’t bring my phone into the bedroom ever. Laptops, tablets and TVs aren’t off the hook either. If you think you need TV to fall asleep, you need to break that habit. It’s bad. See number 3 and read. Here’s the thing, our devices have our entire lives on there. “Let me just check my email real quick, where’s my amazon package, I forgot to respond to XYZ about her party, let’s see what my friends are posting about, etc.” Anxiety prevents us from falling asleep and also keeps us from sleeping as deeply. That’s why removing any sources of anxiety from reach is crucial to relaxing and finally, falling asleep. Don’t think your devices cause you anxiety? Think again. If you have social media or email, your devices ARE causing you anxiety. You ARE NOT special. You’re human like the rest of us.

Light alarm clock – Without a phone’s alarm to wake you up, you need another way to be up before work. The best method I’ve found is to use a light alarm clock that gently brings up a light 15 or 30 minutes before you are supposed to be up. I was an early sleep explorer and realized that light was far preferable to waking up than a buzzing alarm all the way back in High School. In the summer I’d wake up and feel great when the sun came up early washing my bedroom in light. At that time X10 was at it’s peak for home automation so I rigged up this crazy system connecting my lights to my desktop in order to bring up my halogen floor lamp to full brightness over 30 minutes. It was a game changer and haven’t used a regular alarm clock since then. That’s, ahem, almost 20 years without a buzzing alarm clock. These days, I use an all-in-one light alarm clock instead of the X10-based system from back in the day. I have used a few different models over the years and truthfully, none of them are as good as they should be (nor as good as my X10 system!). That said, any of the decent models on the market are far better than a traditional alarm clock. Here are the units I’ve used to date: 

  • Philips Somneo –  It’s expensive but I’m a little crazy about my sleep, if you haven’t noticed. I just bought this because my wife has been using my Verilux and I have been thinking about getting up earlier. Honestly I haven’t used it much yet because the sunlight in our apartment wakes me up naturally around 7am which is early enough right now. It does get bright and looks alright but it doesn’t have any physical buttons which I don’t like. It’s still probably one of the best on the market right now.
  • Verilux Rise and Shine – I bought this from Sharper Image in High School and have used it virtually every day since then. The nature sounds are an added bonus but now I associate birds chirping with waking up! The Verilux is awesome and my favorite but sadly no longer sold :(
  • Biobrite SunRise clock – Even though the quality left a lot to be desired, I loved the ultra simple operation of this clock. I used this for several years when living in New York. These are no longer sold on Amazon but it does look like you can buy a refurbished one from the manufacturer’s super janky website. 

Note: when first starting to use a light alarm clock, it’s very normal to be nervous that the light won’t wake you up. First, you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll get used to it, especially when you’re getting proper sleep cycles. When starting off, it’s okay to have a backup alarm or add the nature sounds feature that many light alarm clocks have. I typically do this. And when I’m traveling or need to wake up for an especially early flight, I’ll *gasp* use my phone alarm. But those are relatively rare situations and after exclusively using a light alarm clock, a phone alarm is incredibly jarring. It’s a quick reminder of how punishing it was to be waking up to that sound daily!

Kindle w/Frontlight – Yeah, yeah, you like physical books, you read on your iPad, blah blah blah. Stop right now and buy a kindle with a frontlight. You used to have to buy a Paperwhite but now even the base model Kindle has a frontlight. I still prefer the Paperwhite but any of the Kindles with an E Ink display and frontlight are fine. For ~$100 you are getting one of the most life-improving consumer electronics invented over the last century. Yes, I seriously feel that way. It’s a life-changing product and I’d pay multiples of what they charge for the value it gives me (shh, don’t tell Amazon!). You don’t need to buy the fancier models, just be sure to get one with a frontlight. And if you buy a Fire, I hate you. Just kidding, return it and get a proper Kindle. Here’s the beauty of using a Kindle for reading in bed, the frontlight allows you to turn off every other light in the room. When you find yourself closing your eyes, you can simply put the Kindle down and let it turn itself off. Reading is great for your brain and is the best way to fall asleep. For some people that are still using dead trees, the simple act of having to reach for the lamp, or worse, have to get up to turn off the light, is enough to wake them back up again. The Kindle with frontlight solves this problem elegantly. It also provides an overall superior reading experience. It’s super easy to hold, regardless of the ‘size’ book your reading. You can highlight, annotate, and one of my favorite features, lookup words instantly in the dictionary. Reading on Kindle is faster and because I now use it to read every night, I read a lot more than when I was reading paper books. One last thing about reading on the Kindle, read fiction. You don’t have to but once I decided to ‘allow’ myself to read fiction, it’s opened up a whole new world. Reading good fiction is incredibly enjoyable and what the hell is wrong with that!? I don’t know but for some reason, I and many others, especially entrepreneurs, feel like reading fiction is in some ways wasteful. We could be reading business books! Yes, but I spend my entire day learning and thinking about my business. We all need some reprieve and fiction provides that. Enjoy it! And it turns out, the moment you’re in another world, you’re not in the anxiety filled world you live in and sleep comes quickly. Soon you’ll be falling asleep so fast that you’ll be annoyed with how long it takes to finish a book!

It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3. Those are the three key ingredients to massively changing your sleep patterns for the better. 

I’ve informally told these tips to many people over the years but  I’m excited to now be sharing it with all of you. It works and you deserve a good nights sleep. Sweet dreams!

*There are some other very important things that aren’t part of my ‘system’ because they are common pieces of advice but I suppose they are worth repeating.

Caffeine – Caffeine is a stimulant and will mess with your sleep. Even if you are super tolerant and can fall asleep with caffeine in your system, you won’t sleep as deeply. I know this is a tough one because without caffeine most of us would be useless. Personally I am very rigorous about how much caffeine I ingest. I’ll have a coffee in the morning and try not to have any other caffeine after 2pm. I also go cold turkey off caffeine periodically to reset my tolerance. If the system above is not working as well as you think it should, I can almost guarantee that caffeine or other stimulants are to blame.

Sleep environment – Dark, cool, and quiet is generally preferred for most people. I can sleep anywhere but the right environment helps.

Time – I don’t know what the right number is but 5 hours is probably too little. So is 6 and for many, 7 hours is not enough. I sleep around 8 hours and it works for me. If you only leave yourself 5 hours a night to sleep, it’s probably not going to work.

A good bed, pillow, and sheets – Yup, these are things.

Alcohol – Don’t drink it, or limit yourself to one or two drinks, if you want to get a good nights sleep. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but the hangover you feel in the morning didn’t just start when you woke up, it began as soon you put your head down.