How to Sleep Your Way to the Top

How to Sleep Your Way to the Top

So how’re you sleeping these days?

If you’re like many freelancers, you’re probably not sleeping well at all. That is, when you sleep, because chances are you’re cutting corners all over the place to make ends meet.

Admitting that your sleep patterns are all screwed up and that you can’t hack it? Wow, you’d never admit that to friends, colleagues, family, clients or peers – unless it’s in a back-room whisper during a private conversation. You feel like you’re sharing a shameful secret.

We’re supposed to be able to handle it. We’re tough. We’re freelancers. Too much work and not enough hours? No problem. Our ability to produce creative quality on just five hours sleep is a badge of honour that’s applauded and lauded! Hurray for us!

Yeah, no. Kind of stupid, don’t you think?

To be honest, I’ve only recently come to regard sleep as a priority. For years I’ve burned candles at both ends, worked crazy days that began early and finished late, and slogged through midday sleepiness knowing it’d pass as soon as I caught my second wind.

Then there was that day I fell asleep working at my desk. One minute I was staring at my screen feeling so exhausted I could barely see straight, and the next I’d smacked my head hard on the desk after nodding off.

(Yes, it hurt. And stop grinning at me. Sheesh.)

I’m not the only one who’s lost the sleep battle either. Arianna Huffington of Huffington Post once passed out from exhaustion – she broke her cheekbone and ended up with five stitches. Ow.

The problem is that we freelancers all know healthy sleep habits are good for us. We’ve heard the news, read the info and bought the book. We’re not stupid. There’s advice all over the place about what to do to get the recommended 8.25 hours of sleep – most of it begins with, “Go to bed.”

But many freelancers just don’t follow that oh-so-simple-and-sage advice. There’s work to do. And pushing through fatigue is a hallmark of productivity, a sign of stamina, of strength, of glorious stubborn determination to reach success.

We’re awesome! Sleep? Who needs it?!

Um, moment of truth here, people: You do.

When you aren’t getting enough sleep, you’re short-changing yourself badly, not only in productivity but in many other areas that contribute to great work. Check out these fast examples:

  • You’ll make mistakes. It only takes a few seconds to curse under your breath and fix the little ones, sure, but those wasted moments add up to big costs over the year. And you might make a big mistake one day that costs you a lot, like deleting a critical file by accident.
  • Your positive outlook, your attitude, and your customer service takes a hit. It’s easier to get frustrated or discouraged when you’re lacking snooze-time, and you might find yourself struggling for creative ideas or feeling snappish with clients – the guys who pay your bills, remember?
  • Decision-making becomes more difficult, and you’re not going to make the best, smartest choices for your business success. Or you’ll spend too much time on a task and neglect a more important one, because it takes more energy than you have available.

This is just a taste of some ways lack of proper sleep habits can derail your freelance career. There are far more negative effects, and if you’re interested in just how many side effects there are from lack of sleep, go ahead and Google up “sleep deprivation”.

It’s scary.

It took me a hard head-smacking to realize that I produced much better work when I wasn’t tired and had the right amount of sleep. I worked faster, with more creativity, and I focused much easier, zinging through my workday. I got twice as much work done, in fact, if not more.

But don’t take my word for it. Test the theory. Take the challenge. Tell yourself, “Yes, I want to produce my best damned work ever and stun clients with my fantasticness because I am just that dedicated and awesome to do what it takes to make superstar success happen.”

Or something like that. Whatever works for you.

But try, is the point. Not a half-assed effort, either. Make a serious, firm resolution to get a full night’s rest – come hell or high water, every night, without fail, for a month. Set a curfew and stick to it. You can do that, right? It’s just 30 days.

Doesn’t work? Hate it? Go back to your old habits, by all means.

Maybe, though… just maybe… You’ll find that something’s different.

You feel better. Your work is changing, a little sharper and more creative. You’re getting through tasks faster. And enjoying them more. Things are getting done, and you feel more on top of your game.

Because you need to be on top of your game. You need to be rocking the world, producing brilliant stuff that makes jaws drop – and by that I don’t mean your own. No one ever looked brilliant falling asleep with their jaw hanging open.

Who’s in? Are you up for it?

Originally posted at The Web Squeeze

Just in case you didn't read the book on kicking your sleep problems to the curb or need some extra help smashing those insomniac habits, check out A Good Night's Sleep by the serious pros over at Harvard Medical School.

If anyone can get you sleeping your way to success, they can.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. I’ll admit that I’ve definitely learned the hard way that sleep deprivation can be physically painful. For me, it wasn’t slamming into something that hurt me, but just the full-body aches that happen when you haven’t slept. During college, it got to the point where I had pretty much convinced myself that I only required about 3 hours per night, simply because that was all I was getting. But, if I went for a week with only 1 hour per night, I would be physically sore. Finally, I had to force myself over the past few years since graduation to sleep more.

    Sadly, now that I’m a reasonably new mom, I can say that I’m sleeping more than I have since elementary school, and I’m loving the sleep I get.

  2. Hi James. First off…
    @Maquis: sleeping *more* as a new mom? wow.

    I just wanted to press the importance of trying to sleep 8 hours a night *for some time*. It takes at least a few days for our body to adjust. For some, sleeping the whole night might mean being incredibly tired the whole day (like not having slept at all), while for some it might work like a charm from night one.

    Don´t make the same mistake I´ve done a few times and decide it works much better for you to sleep just 5 hours, based on one or two days of trying the healthier way. Hmm? 😉

  3. Well I did read somewhere that the recommended hours to sleep are 6-8 Hours. And I do exactly that! I sleep between 6-8 Hours.

    And you’re right. It does increase productivity. I cannot even work right if I am sleep deprived.


  4. I don’t have a problem getting to bed at a reasonable hour, my normal bedtime is 10.00pm and I make it most nights. But when I’m stressed I wake up around 3.00am with my mind going at a hundred miles an hour and it doesn’t stop until around 5.00am.

    Things I didn’t get done that day, emails I meant to send, bills I haven’t paid, posts I haven’t written, product launch process – they all keep me awake in the wee small hours.

    The good part of waking up then is that I’ll often write whole blog posts or emails in my head, and they’re generally quite good. I keep pencil, paper and a little book light with me so I can write notes. It doesn’t quite make up for the lost sleep, but at least it’s productive in those hours sometimes!

  5. Ho ho ho. I’m normally asleep by 7pm and ideally when in workmode, get up at 4am or so. Sleep is *extremely* important – I learned that the hard way indeed!

  6. I wasn’t getting anywhere with changing my sleep habits until I got a good assistant. Before there was just too much to do and I was concerned about what happened when I wasn’t available. I tried a number of different sleep ‘systems’ with no real success.

    Now with my assistant, I go to bed at a regular hour and should I choose to stay up and work all night, I know I can take that long nap during the day while she keeps everything running smoothly.

  7. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    I’m not a good sleeper. I conk out and go to bed at a reasonable time but often wake up at 3ish tossing and turning and problem solving the latest personal or world crises.

    My latest solution is to read a romance novel before bed. Even if the story is full of suspense, drama… I know it will have a happy ending.

    The worse thing I can do is watch the news. I mean really, even if I try to picture a forgiving god who knows how to stop oil spills, I want to force all of the BP board of directors to have to live on the beach with the human and animal families who are suffering–NO air conditioning, no million dollar bonuses, just, up to their armpits in black sludge…

    You get the idea.

  8. It took a bout with pneumonia (with one night in the ICU, five nights in the hospital, and one month out of work) for me to realize that all work and no rest makes Kathleen an ineffective (and, apparently, almost dead) girl. Lesson learned. 🙂

  9. It’s so true. Not taking care of your health will make you sick (and sleep is a big part of taking care of your health). Getting sick is more costly than anything you would have earned by working during your sleeping hours.

    I tend to fall asleep right away (between 10 and 11 pm), but like Melinda wake up at 3:00 and can’t get back to sleep.

  10. I’ve found that people have this obsession with working lots of hours. It gives the ego a false sense of accomplishment and then you can go out an tell people “dude, I didn’t sleep at all and I worked 100 hours last week.” Nobody asked you what you actually got done. I don’t work crazy hours, but I work highly effective hours. Of course being well rested is one of the things that enables me to do that.

  11. @ Laura – Sleep studies typically show that people who fall asleep within five minutes of their head hitting the pillow show signs of sleep deprivation (in fact, that hit-the-pillow is a tipoff).

    But yeah – when you’re sleep deprived because you wake up and can’t fall back to sleep… time to work on some anxiety-reducing strategies!

    @Kathleen – Ouch. S’all I’m saying. Ouch.

    @Mary – I stopped watching the news a few years ago. Now, when I happen to catch them at a friend’s house, I’m absolutely stunned and blown away by the extreme coverage and the violence and fear-mongering. And more stunned that this is just an average news catchup midday. Wow.

    @Heather – That sounds like heaven. “You’ve got my back? Good. I’m going napping.” Ooooh…

    @Barbara – Yeah, you have some really great habits, I’ve noticed, and you’re usually pretty cheery in the mornings. S’awesome!

    @Melinda – If I ain’t gettin’ paid to work in my sleep, I sure as hell ain’t pickin’ up that pen. Not for NO one, lol

    @Nabeel – Sleep needs change with age, actually. The older you are, the less you tend to need it. But 6 to 8 is a good rule of thumb, with 8 being closer to the 30 to 45 age group, if I remember well.

    @Thorey – Let’s stress it a third time, because it IS important: Try it for AT LEAST two weeks. A few days and quitting doesn’t count.

    @Maquis – Hey you! Good to have you here 🙂 And yeah, take total advantage of sleeping whenever you can. Bank it up!

  12. Sometimes, deep in the trance in writing late at night, I have to take a step back and convince myself that the project still be there in the morning.

    Yet my real concern isn’t that the writings would have disappeared over night, but instead I would lose the momentum I had gained during that session of writing.

    This is why I think it’s important to not write past a certain point in the evening. If I have an idea I write it down on a notepad and set it aside. The idea, now that it’s been cataloged, will be waiting for me in the morning. This makes sure my mind isn’t occupied by anything else but sleep.

    But isn’t it interesting how, just as the most difficult part with writing is making the commitment to put the pen to the paper, the greatest challenge to sleeping is putting your head against the pillow.

    And, if you find that your mind isn’t as ready to sleep as well as you would like then maybe there should be closer look at personal fitness. Truly, sleep and fitness are hand in hand, not only under the umbrella of healthiness, but also in terms of mental productivity.

    Take 30 minutes in the morning to run around the block a few times. Not only will it help in your long-term health but also in waking up your body and mind. Most importantly, though, the daily fitness helps clear a person’s mind of what I like to call ‘cluttered noise,’ those distractions that our mental habits sometimes get consumed by.

    It’s a great feeling to be able to sit down at the keyboard, fully confident in your ability, clean of any doubt or future-worry and, is especially great when the recommended 8.25 hours of sleep is achieved.

  13. I,,,aaaaawaaaaawh,,,I agree, James. I,aaaaawaaaaawh,I………………………..

  14. James,

    Love the title. I was studying sleep a lot about a year ago and I found the most concise book about it on the planet.

    It’s called “The Promise of Sleep” by Dr. William Dement. Warning: It’s a lengthy tomb. He’s a genius and you will learn that you actually have a bank of hours that you owe yourself over the course of a few weeks.

    If you short yourself 2 hours a night, by Friday, you have to sleep and additional 10 hours on the weekend just to get back to normal.

    It will change the way you look at sleep forever, and this is coming from a person that is a total night owl and hates getting up in the morning until there are double digits on the clock.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  15. James, sleep is very important. I try to get to bed around 10-10:30 every night. It’s crucial for me because I usually wake up around 5-5:30 every morning regardless of what time I went to bed the night before. (Especially now that it’s light outside at 5)

    I’m also a big fan of power naps. Most days I snooze for 20 minutes after lunch. I set an alarm so I can really let myself go deep without worrying about when I’ll wake up.

  16. @Cal – When I interviewed a famous songwriter, he mentioned that creatives tend to catch the perfect idea or words like slippery fish in their hands. The fish wriggles out and it’s gone forever – but his phisolophy was good – there’s plenty of fish in the sea, and everyone gets a chance at catching the big ones 🙂

    @Shane – Yeah, you know who you are, eh? 😉

    @Joshua – You (and the author) would be correct. You create a sleep debt that you need to pay off. The good news is that I believe the ration is 1.5:1, so if you miss ten hours, you need to sleep five to replenish your bank.

    Or something like that. I suck at math.

    @John – That’s my problem right there. If I shortchange myself at night, I’m awake at 5am whether I like it or not. But then the more I let myself shortchange, the more I alter my patterns and eventually start getting up later and later, which shortchanges my mornings, which means I make up at night… vicious circle, that.

    And naps! They’re apparently phenomenal, but I haven’t quite gotten that 20-minute power snooze down just yet. I end up falling into deep sleep and wake up groggy (and cranky). Oy.

  17. I agree James! I have only understood the importance of sleep in the last few years. I was diagnosed as an insomniac a year and a half ago and spending a couple of days with no (and I mean zilch) sleep at all really makes you appreciate it. You’re absolutely right, many studies have proven that those who “fall asleep right away” are often more sleep deprived than those who don’t. I’ve always been told that the average person takes about 30 minutes to drift off (in perfect conditions).

    I also have a tendency to get my bouts of creativity at 10 or 11 at night… which doesn’t work well for the insomnia haha. But when I get sleep, I’m better throughout the day and I feel better all week. One night of not enough sleep can throw off my entire week.

  18. James, set an alarm for that 2-minute power snooze. I find that 15-30 minutes refreshes me for the entire afternoon.

  19. This explains a lot. As a work at home mum, I’ve forgotten how to write in the daytime. Need to reset that body clock (before I require stitches :-)).

  20. Great post. I often have to remind my self of the importance of enough hours of sleep. Usually after getting a good nights rest I realize that its important.

  21. You are so right. I have developed terrible sleep habits which leave me feeling tired all the time. I am not sure if it is true that I am more creative at night or I am just not a morning person, but I need more sleep.

    It doesn’t help that I am making this comment at 12:45 AM. OK…I am going to bed.

  22. I quit the Day Job and my last day was Friday. Every night since then I have slept atrociously as my brain will not shut up but instead must run through all the things I gotta take care of tomorrow and associated product ideas. Argh!

  23. I agree with Laura Spencer. As freelancers, we have to take care of our health: we don’t get paid if we get sick. I had about 3.5 hours’sleep the other day but was able to make up the lost sleep a bit later in the day, as I had no meetings planned. Felt as right as rain after. The flexibility of freelancing!

  24. I think I’ve cursed myself. This post went live yesterday and guess what? I got exactly three hours sleep last night, because the cold meds that said, “Makes you sleep all over so don’t drive or talk to strangers,” should’ve actually read, “James? This’ll make you bounce off walls at high speeds. Try the daytime meds for extra zoom.”

    @Carole – I’ll be making up for lost sleep myself later today!

    @Catherine – Best advice for freelancers ever? “The world won’t end.” But it will if you don’t lower the stress levels so you can snooze! (and congrats on the move!)

    @Clara – I’m a bit biased because I feel that way too many people use “night owl” as an excuse for what’s really a bad habit, but they’ve been doing it so long their bodies have adapted to the change. And since trying to flip the clock after that is so hard, they only perpetuate their own theory.

    However, there’ve been way too many studies on sleep to account for the number of people who have insomnia and night owl personalities. I’m sure some people have it, sure! But I’m sure most people just fell into bad habits.

    I’m glad you went to bed 🙂

    @Allen – Yeah, sometimes one good night is enough to remind us of what we’re missing.

    @Allison – Yeah! Stitches! When I read that myself, I was all, “What the…” Until I nearly ended up with some myself, lol

  25. Good Sleep is probably the most important habit next to breathing in and out and eating. When I don’t sleep enough I find myself in a zombie like trance and everything is coated in a fuzziness. Not particularity conducive to a productive day. Once when I went 4 days without a good nights sleep had my one and only automobile accident. What A *cough* “wake up” call (I’m funny huh?). Thanks for for this reminder.

  26. One of my gigs involves writing copy about lights which led me to learning some info I’ll never use;)

    Disruptions in the sleep cycle directly affect the skills a writer uses most.

    Studies show that people who are working while experiencing a disrupted sleep cycle perform significantly worse on tasks that require close concentration, problem solving, extended visual focus and experience a marked loss of productivity.

    Sleep patterns can be altered, but even if you get used to odd hours, your body’s natural clock wants to follow the sun as it were. It’s why some companies have heeded studies and switched their basic lighting out for units that produce light in the natural spectrum which helps to fool an employees brain into remaining alert.

    One of the best ways I have found to keep my sleep regular and more effective is to excerise heavily at least a few times a week. I found that when I neglected heavy activity and let myself sit in front of the screen all day for a few weeks on end, I started becoming tired all the time and unable to sleep soundly. A few rounds on the wieghts every week helped a great deal in straightening that out.

  27. Yeah I know that I’m much more awake around later morning and I get tired much faster at night so I comment in the morning and do some other tasks that require more of my deeper thoughts and strategic thinking. I’ll do other work that doesn’t require so much of my thinking later on in the day, taking the afternoon for a break and late at night for one as well.

    Good tip here and something more people should do. I know building up something from scratch takes a lot of time but without sleep you’re no good.

  28. I love sleep. Working unpredictable hours and going out has affected my sleeping habits. I’m getting less that eight hours. I just have to make the change. I got in 4 this morning slept for about 4 hours and took a nap for three hours.

  29. Thank you!! I am so tired of people wearing their lack of sleep like a badge of honor and don’t even get me into the working a million hours a week thing. I never sacrifice my sleep no matter how much I have to do. I know if I don’t sleep enough, I become a zombie and that pretty much sucks.

    I’m not a nap person either. It makes me feel worse than it helps. Better just to go to bed earlier that night.

    Hubby and I had a good friend tell us once that we slept a too much because we sleep 8 hours a night. What the heck is wrong with people?

    Ok, sensitive subject Done venting now, tee hee!

  30. I often have sleep problems. I nearly fell asleep 30 minutes ago despite someone downstairs using a loud industrial drill – literally – the radiators are being replaced! I could have too if it wasn’t for the interruption, which was lucky as I’m trying to stay awake all day so as to get back to sleeping at night, and mid-afternoon are the hardest part when you’ve been awake all night. I don’t stay awake on purpose, it’s an unpredictable vicious circle, a couple of nights I had just four hours sleep and I was hoping I would get back to normal, yet despite my efforts I remained awake for over 24 hours. Gonna get a coffee and go for a walk soon, I hope I don’t wake up later on someones garden wall!

  31. Haha.. I just blog this last month i guess and come across your website. Yes, I have sleep problems too. The later the clock is, the fresher i got and I got very sleepy in the morning. Hopefully I can fix this and at least, sleep before 12 PM..

  32. Find time to rest your body and mind. Health is valuable to become productive so take time to relax and get enough sleep every day.

  33. I do think that bad sleeping habits are unhealthy and actually reduce our productivity, even if there is the feeling that less hours of sleep give us more hours to work. We feel more tired and end up making a worse job than we could if we were well rested. Therefore, I advise everyone to find a dark silent room, a good bed and have a decent amount of sleep every night!

  34. Dear:

    Though , There’s advice all over the place about what to do to get the recommended 8.25 hours of sleep – most of it begins with, “Go to bed.”
    But ; Life needs to have a rest and time to sleep. But to get that , we must learn how to make choice. We live according to what have chosen. This is my experience ,because there are times I used to sleep in my office while writing some articles. It became my daily habit.

    Good enough I did not have a girlfriend to complain about what I do. God ,I was saved!!!!



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