Sleep and Your Productivity

Several months ago, Gail and I were sitting in the den after a quiet dinner. I had been traveling extensively, and this was the first evening I had been home in days. I said to her, “I don’t know what it is, but I feel really discouraged.”

Man comfortably sleeping in his bed - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #9674561

Photo courtesy of ©

We talked about several possible causes. Nothing seemed that significant. Finally, in a moment of typical insight, she said, “Do you think you are discouraged or just tired?”

After thinking about it a moment, I replied, “Yes, I think that’s exactly it. I am just tired.”

It’s easy to confuse the two. The symptoms are similar. It reminded me again of something my parents used to tell me when I was in college: “You can’t burn the candle at both ends.”

By that, they meant that you can’t get up early and stay up late. You might be able to get away with it occasionally, but eventually you burn out—just like a candle would eventually do if you could light it at both ends.

The psalmist said,

It is useless for you to work so hard
  from early morning until late at night,
anxiously working for food to eat;
  for God gives rest to his loved ones.” (Psalm 127:2 NLT)

Once again, I was reminded that I have to actively manage my energy level. If I don’t take care of myself, I’m not going to be much use to anyone else.

Of all the things that affect my energy and productivity, nothing is more important than getting a good night’s sleep. Exercise, diet, and mental focus are all important, but they can’t make up for a lack of rest.

Here’s how I make sure I get a good night’s sleep:

  1. Avoid caffeinated drinks in the evening. When I was younger, I could drink coffee after dinner. No more. I cannot drink caffeine after 4:00 p.m.
  2. Eliminate all negative input. I am a worrier by nature. If I watch or talk about anything negative after about 6:00 p.m., I will stew on it all night.
  3. Go to bed on time. This is huge. I have to be strict with myself. For me, this means no later than 10:00 p.m., unless it’s a weekend.
  4. Make sure the room is dark. We have blinds on the windows that cut out 95 percent of the outside light.
  5. Keep the temperature cool. In the winter, we keep it at about 68°. In the summer, about 70°. I sleep more soundly if the room is cool enough to require a blanket.
  6. Listen to relaxing music. This doesn’t work for everyone, but I listen to the same exact music every night. It’s become an audio queue that says to my subconscious mind and body, “It’s time to go to sleep now.”
  7. Run a fan. The “white noise” mutes outside noise and puts me to sleep. When I am on the road, I loop “Ambient White Noise for Sleep,” which I downloaded from iTunes.

It is surprising how much more productive I am when I have had a full night’s sleep. Problems that seemed insurmountable at the end of the previous day are manageable with a full charge on my biological battery.

Questions: How important is sleep for you? What do you do to insure adequate rest?
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  • Nathan W. Bingham

    A really helpful article Michael. It has taken me a long time to see the need I have for consistent sleep. Without a good night sleep (or a week of interrupted sleep) I simply don't function properly.

    If people are after some "white noise" without wanting to buy the linked track on iTunes, then there is a great site (SimplyNoise) that can generate custom white / pink / brown noise. They also have tracks you can download for free. I often have it looping when I'm working on blog posts / or essays. I've not tried it at night, but may take your tip.

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  • alisa hope

    Brilliant! Sometimes we just need to end the day and go to bed!

    I do the loud fan with my daughter. It dulls the noise of her brothers playing and chatting in their room. I also drink chai tea lattes when I write at night. I should probably change to decaf.

  • Nikole Hahn

    My schedule has been off. I usually get up early, work out, go to work, come home, relax, put in fifteen minutes more of a work out and get to bed on time. This week I've been going to bed late and struggling to get up early. I've been working out, but it's been a struggle instead of a smooth transition. So tonight…I am not staying up late. I'm going to bed on time. Although, caffiene doesn't affect me….yet.

  • Sarah

    Good points in this post. I did a good bit of research in sleep medicine when I was in med school. Not only will sleep affect your productivity, but also many facets of your health! Studies continue to reveal that sleep is important for healthy immune fuction–you're more likely to catch the latest cold or flu without at least 7 hours a night. There's also a good bit of evidence that missing out on sleep increases insulin resistance–leading to a pre-diabetic like state and increased weight gain over time. Yikes!

    Some other good tips to maintian proper sleep hygeine:
    Don't read or watch TV in your bedroom. Especially don't try to do anything work related there. Your mind may have trouble shutting down for sleep.

    If you are having trouble falling asleep–tossing and turning–get up after 20 minutes or so if you haven't been able to fall asleep. Go do something around the house for a few minutes and then try again to fall asleep.

    Don't think alcohol will help you sleep. It decreases REM (restful) sleep, so will actually work against your attempts for a restful night.

  • Luke

    This is such a great article, I often confuse the two (discouragement and fatigue). Despite how easy it should be to keep in check, this is an area I struggle to keep under control, I often stay up late for no reason. It’s good to be reminded to keep sleep as a priority.

  • adam_herod

    I need to rest more, but Miles Davis' "Blue Like Jazz" has been my nightly companion for some time now.

  • Nathan

    I haven't been sleeping great recently and my productivity is definitely way down. Thanks for the reminder. Think I will go to bed early tonight.

  • Theresa haskins

    Oh my gosh, I JUST went through this! This past week/weekend was crazy and by Father's Day I was in a foul mood (and slept most of the day). I finally feel back to normal TODAY (it's Tuesday). Sleep is critical!

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  • Juan

    Hi Mike,
    This is a tough one, difficult for me to accomplish as I always have a need to do something else more, I like caffeine but I also am a A personality. I understand I have to slow down, great tips to avoid caffeine drinks and negative people.
    Also maybe avoid huge-plate dinners.

  • Rocco Capra

    We run a fan. The only down side is that when we travel and there is no fan, we can't sleep!

    Since we're on the sleep topic…What do you think of the "napping at work" that gets talked about?

    • Michael Hyatt

      I have a play list on my laptop that has an “Ambient White Noise” track. It sounds just like a fan. I turn iTunes on repeat, and it plays all night.

      I think napping is great. All the research shows that it boosts productivity. Unfortunately, I don’t practice it very well. Thanks.

  • Brian Hinkley

    I find that I rarely get enough sleep because I work nights and then get up early to send kids off to school. Reading before I go to bed helps me wind down although I probably don't retain as much. I like the weight of a blanket on me even if it is a little warm. The one thing I have not concidered though is avoiding negativity. It is easy to dump a days worth of what the kids did or didn't do on your spouse just before going to bed. It would probably be best in general to just avoid negativity throughout the entire day.

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  • Christopher Scott

    Sleep, it is so important!

    I find that I need an average of about seven hours of sleep a night. I can get back with five or six hours for a few nights in a row, but it starts to get to me after a while. And there is no way I can function on less than 5 hours of sleep. My body just can’t handle it and won’t wake up in the morning.

    My key is to not read in bed. My bed is “my” place to sleep–nothing else. No reading, talking, watching TV, or anything else. Sleep is the only activity that happens in my bed.

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  • Sinea Pies

    Sleep is so important in being on top of my game.  My family has had several very stressful events in the past year.  Two parents’ deaths and the illness of another.  I have found that some days I feel good if I can remember how to get my car to drive to work.  Without a good night’s sleep, I’m finished!  

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  • sleep disorder centers

    This reminds me of a former co-worker who had trouble sleeping. He ignored it so much, his productivity nose-dived and he was let go. If you suffer from a sleeping disorder and value your job, see an expert right away.

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