Are You Getting Enough Sleep?

I changed my sleep pattern in October. Three months later, I feel like a completely different person. A much better one.

Since I was in my early 20’s, I’ve been getting up at 5am from Monday to Friday. I generally would go to sleep between 10 and 11. An alarm clock would wake me up. By Thursday or Friday I would often snooze or even reset it for 6am or 7am. But most of the time I pried myself out of bed at 5am.

This became a very rigorous routine in the last decade. I would get at most six hours of sleep each night during the week. Then I’d binge sleep on the weekend – often sleeping 12 to 14 hours. My world record is 15.5 hours – I’ve done that a few times.

When I was younger, I’d sleep through the night. Now I wake up two or three times in the night to pee. I fall back asleep immediately.

Three months ago I stopped waking up with an alarm clock. I use my Fitbit to track my sleep (and make my data public) so I noticed that my sleep pattern during the week naturally settled down at between 8 and 10 hours of sleep a night.

It took me about a month to get my mind around this, but I now go to sleep with Amy and wake up with Amy. So – there’s a triple bonus – I’m getting a lot more sleep AND I crawl into bed with my wife, and then wake up slowly with my wife. Yeah – that’s really awesome.

I had developed this attachment to the idea that I only needed six hours of sleep a night. And, given the actual time to fall asleep and the restlessness in the night, I was only getting 4 to 5.5 hours of sleep a night. I’m able to sleep on airplanes so I had rationalized that 100% of my sleep on them counted and that’s how I was catching up. I realize that’s total bullshit – while my eyes where closed, it was unlikely that I was getting deep or REM sleep on the plane, so my sleep hygiene was lousy. I knew this, but I didn’t want to deal with it.

After three months of sleeping “they way my body wants to” I feel so much better. I’m not tired all the time. I’m in a much better mood. I’m quickly adjusting to a different work style, where rather than getting up at 5am, I’m getting up between 7am and 8am. I shifted my meeting schedule from starting at 9am to starting at 11am, so I still have the four hours of “morning time” that I crave. But I feel so much better.

It took me until age 48 to figure this out. Amy has been telling me for years that I’m not getting enough sleep. She’s also been encouraging me to sleep more so that I live longer with not so subtle hints like “women live longer than men because they get more sleep.” At least she hasn’t been turning all the milk in the house pink.

Are you getting enough sleep?

  • How much of the 7-8 you are now getting is “deep”?

    • I don’t know. I have a Zeo and will break it out to do some tracking.

      • Ok… I use jawbone UP and was not to pleased to see how little deep sleep I get as a percentage of overall time in bed… Other folks have shown me ridiculously good ratios of deep to light sleep that they get which has me trying to figure out how to up my own ratio

  • The rationalizing is the worst. I get 6 hours, from 2am-8am. And at midnight I know I should be in bed but i tell myself, that playing video games or watching another episode of Boardwalk Empire is what I ‘need’ in order to decompress. It’s so hard to place an objective value on your own sleep.

  • Jonny Schnittger

    Getting a decent sleep is also very important when it comes to dealing with depression and a lack of it reduces your decision making capabilities too

    • Yeah – as I continue to unpack my recent depression, it’s clear that cumulative lack of sleep had a big impact on it.

  • The Fitbit Force has shown me just exactly how terrible my sleep patterns are. I’m definitely not getting enough sleep (averaging around 5 hours), especially on days where I don’t exercise or when I have late night coding/reading/writing sessions. Once I’m in the zone, it’s real hard for me to stop. I also need to get up no later than 6:30am to take my daughter to school, then walk the dog. After that, I’m wide awake. I try to carve out some nap time, but I’m real bad at falling asleep during the day and if I do, I tend to get real groggy.

    While I knew my sleep quality was bad intuitively, having the data in my face every day is what’s motivating positive change for me. I’ve now setup up silent alarms on the Fitbit to remind me when it’s time to start unwinding. I’ve also started using SleepBot on Android to experiment with waking up during light sleep. My wife says I talk in my sleep, so I’m curious to see if I can start capturing some of what I’m saying (this is the first sleep app that I’ve found that has that feature).


    I see that the Zeo is no longer in production, but someone is selling one for $30 on eBay. Worth it?

    • You’ll likely get most of what you need from the Fitbit Force. I liked the Zeo for a baseline on REM and deep sleep, but the form factor and usability was a drag so I didn’t use it for long (and is part of the reason they ultimately failed.) For $30, if you are really into learning more about your sleep, it’s worth it though.

  • Govinda

    7 to 8 hours sleep makes my day more productive. I tell my team to sleep at least 7 hours- no late night party.

  • Kyle Short

    There have been also numerous studies that show a strong positive correlation between marriage health and spouses going to bed, and waking, at the same time. This is something that I have been putting a lot of emphasis on lately…but it’s tough when there’s always one more email to respond to, or one more line of code to write.

    Something else that has really helped me…1) make your room dark, including eliminating blinking LEDs from charging laptops and cell phones and 2) keep your window shades open so you can awaken with natural sunlight in the morning…there is no comparison of waking in the dark and waking under sunlight.

    • Dark and cold – my two favorite states for my bedroom. We have done a good job of eliminating all LEDs – especially the blinking ones. And we leave the shades up so the sun comes in. Fortunately, we have very little ambient light in our new neighborhood so it gets very dark at night.

      • Conversely, I have too much ambient light in my neighborhood so leaving the shades up means that the room is never dark enough or the wrong light wakes me up.

        +1 on a colder room. Not only does it save power, during the winter at least, my family tends to sleep more soundly.

        All that aside, no amount of sleep makes me feel rested. I don’t have sleep apnea, and I’ve had 2 polysomnagrams and a daytime sleep latency test. The PSG says I have 96% sleep efficiency, and my Jawbone Up (not fitbit) shows I get more deep sleep than lite sleep.

        I’ve been thinking of trying the Neo. Any thoughts in how well it works and the accuracy if it’s measurements?

  • brgardner

    I am curious if you feel as productive and are getting as much done?

    I feel gultiy when I sleep in because I feel like I am not working hard enough. (This is I assume because a lot of successful people I know wake up at 5am, and so should I if I want to be successfull?) However, I started to wake up the kids when I would get up early, so I started rationalizing staying in bed. To tell you the truth, I feel better, mentally and physically. But I am still trying to figure out if I am getting as much or more done. As a side note, I am a lumosity user and they have started to ask how much sleep I got the night before and what my mood is. I would be interested to see what they are finding from the correlation of sleep and how user preform on the games.

    • I feel like I’m getting through as much as I ever do. I work really intensely when I’m working so I tend to cover a lot of ground. The two hours I’m now sleeping more feel well worth it.

      • This is why I really like this post. Many times people confuse activity for accomplishment. I think one of the things that I learned long ago was the bullshit chest thumping of “I work 18 hours a day during the week, and make everybody come in for 6am Monday morning meetings” was just that: bullshit chest thumping. Focus, get your stuff done

  • Brad – I bet better sleep will have far reaching affects. Very glad to hear about this change.

    The sun, my body, and/or my wife has woken me since the end of high school (with ~3 exceptions last year). I can attest to the importance of good rest. Your entire body needs it. I’m healthier, happier and more awake when well rested.

    • I think the sun is what wakes Amy up, which is now what is waking me up. So I get both!

      • Dan Shure

        I can relate, my wife must have lived on a farm in her past life. She literally goes to bed / gets up with the sun – all four seasons! OK, maybe not 100% literally but she’ll go to bed at like 8pm in the winter often

  • Omar B

    There has actually been a recent breakthrough in the study of sleep. I work at the University of Rochester and one of the scientists here discovered that the reason why we sleep and the reason why sleep is so important is because while we sleep, channels open up to “wash” contaminants out of the brain. This includes metabolites as well as the peptides that cause Alzheimer’s Disease. Here’s an article describing the work: Get enough sleep, everyone!

  • Very important topic. I learned almost 20 years ago that sleep is inversely proportional to stress. Sleep is when your body replenishes what it needs to, in order to help you fight against potential sicknesses, and keep your mind clear.

    The other thing I learned is the secret to a great presentation is a good night’s sleep. That’s the same secret to a better game of golf.

    • And pretty much anything else that raises your heart rate. Oh wait, does golf raise your heart rate?

  • Great post. More people in the startup world should write about this. I sleep 8 hours every night, same bed time, same wake up time, seven days a week. And it allows me to feel super human. It’s far and away one of the most positive changes I’ve made in my life. It also helps tremendously for people who struggle with anxiety.

    • That’s my fantasy at this stage in life – super human through more and better sleep.

    • Agreed! Good point about consistency of schedule.

  • Great post. Quality of sleep is so important. I felt exhausted for the past two years thinking I had been “sleeping” 8 hours a night. I went to the Mayo Clinic and was diagnosed with apnea in December. Learned that pretty much ALL my REM sleep was being disrupted with hundreds of abnormal obstructive events occurring throughout the night.

    Highly recommend the simple sleep apnea oximetry test for those that snore or feel tired throughout the day when they should feel rested. 18 million Americans have sleep apnea. Many don’t know it. I had no idea. There are a lot of future health risks if it’s not taken care of:

    • Important comment on sleep apnea. I know that wasn’t a problem for me given that I tracked with a Zeo for a while and got REM and deep measures. But I know lots of people whose lives were changed dramatically for the better after they figured out they had sleep apnea and took measures to address it.

  • Jo T.

    Very motivating, Brad! Thanks for encouraging us to self-reflect….

  • There’s a great app called “Sleepbot” that does a nice job with sleep tracking. I find it better than fitbit (I love fitbit.. but i think these apps do it better now).

    Only 10% of the population or so can get by with less than 7 hours sleep.. but the percentage of the population who try to get by without it is astounding. Kind of sad to note that most decisions taken are taken by sleep deprived (read – drunk/bereft of willpower) people..

  • Peter

    Getting up early will likely make you very sleepy after lunch, making it harder to get through the work day, even if you had enough sleep during the night.

  • Being in my early 20’s, I think it would be best for me to heed your advice.

  • After my “indestructable” 20s and 30s I learned how strategic sleep is to being my best. I still struggle with getting consistent sleep during travel or extra stressful times, though.

    Routines (processes) are my solution, so I’m always on the lookout for new tips and tools. Thanks for sharing with everyone, and keep it coming.

  • Thanks for this post Brad. I keep trying different sleep patterns. These suggestions are helpful. When I changed to starting my day at 10am I started feeling much better, but I still struggle with making time to exercise and write because I’m more in the mood to do those things around 6am, but sleep until 8am.

    My biggest challenge is trying to get deep sleep without taking a sleeping pill. After learning that ‘belly sleepers’ die about 8 years earlier than ‘back sleepers’ and ‘side sleepers’ I trained myself to be a back sleeper. It’s amazing how important how we sleep, how long we sleep, and how deep we sleep matters.

  • Sathya Thambusamy

    Brad Thanks for sharing.
    I used to manage with about 5 hours of sleep and catch-up sleep during weekend. About 6 months back had a nasty bout of headache and within a day root-caused it to sleep loss. I have trying to get better at sleeping (sleep no latter than 10:30pm) managing sleep is still work in progress because I am not able to figure how to be more organized and get work done in available time.
    When I make business trip, my peers in California are able see difference in my appearance!

    • jingal indi

      Sathya please try one table spoon Ashwagandha powder and two pinch of Nutmeg powder in warm 350 ml glass of milk drink every day 1 hour before going to bed it will give you good sleep than after three four month stop using nutmeg please this is Ayurveda remedy if you de-toxin your self by using two table spoon of medical-castor oil taking for three days in row every night begin with fri-day night than go for above milk would help for life

  • For years, US studies and public health have educated people to do a mix of “diet and exercise.” But recently, researchers have felt so strongly about sleep that they’re pushing to make it the third pillar. Sleep, plus diet and exercise lead to overall health improvements.

    • jingal indi

      Semil please try one table spoon Ashwagandha powder and two pinch of Nutmeg powder in warm 350 ml glass of milk drink every day 1 hour before going to bed it will give you good sleep than after three four month stop using nutmeg please this is Ayurveda remedy if you de-toxin your self by using two table spoon of medical-castor oil taking for three days in row every night begin with fri-day night than go for above milk would help for life

  • rosscarlson

    Thanks, I’m a terrible sleeper.

  • The NY Times had an extremely interesting and relevant article on sleep this weekend –

    • panterosa,

      I loved that article, which in essence showed the science behind what my mother has told me all my life. Now that I’m a mother, promoting good sleep for my kid is vital. Over xmas break I took your advice and shut off all the alarms. Was amazing. Now need to revise my work day since school is back in. 6 hours is truly bullshit, 7 is passable, 8 is optimal.

      I wonder with many people about when they feel “behind” in their work, and sacrifice sleep to do it, whether that feeling goes away when your well rested. Did you feel “behind” before?

  • Patty Laushman

    Do you think it’s possible to get a startup off the ground and still get enough sleep plus moderate exercise? Launching a company 11 years ago was the unhealthiest time of my entire life with the hours I was working. I’m in the process of doing it again and hope to find a more balanced way to do it, but honestly don’t know if it’s possible.

  • Balwinder Barnala

    I think sleep of eight hours enough.But the condition is that we must have proper scheduale of sleep mostly at night becuse our brain,s circadian clock is related from sun setting to sun rising.The sleep falls with sun setting and breaks with sun rising.So circadian clock must be adjusted for eight ours sleep with this period.You can never get full eight ours sleep in day time although have full spare time.
    Disturbed sleep becomes the cause of REM or day dreams and lacks in our daily work.
    people working in sifts face pschycological problems along with lack of sleep.The circadian clock of sleep is badly disturbed .

  • No I am totally stressed, upset about some family things and have a totally unsettled life. I have not been this unsure since I was 20. Envy your sleep. I go to bed with my wife at 10, and wake up at 4-5. Killing me.

  • Rob Ryan

    Brad – this post came the morning I literally woke up saying, “Dammit, I need more sleep.” Im work with my peeps in Boulder in the day, my staff in the Phillipines starting at 4pm and then my staff in India starting at 10p – sometimes until 3-5am in the morning. It’s always helpful to be reminded we’re not the only one 😉 So thanks man

  • Nikki Braziel

    Definitely not. And I love, love, love my sleep. I guess that’s what happens when you overcome insomnia. There were three years there in my early twenties where I was not sleeping, no matter what… Now, my partner and co-founder doubles as our production manager, which means we’re at the office during the day and he’s on the phone with China much of the night. We’re definitely both feeling it… Even if I go to bed before him, I wake up when he crawls in.

    I’m looking forward to trying this product — — from Indiegogo, when it’s ready. Their “pro” model measures sleep environment. I have deduced that I am incredibly sensitive to light and sleep better with white noise, and I wouldn’t mind more information about my optimal sleeping temperatures, etc.

    Thanks for reminding us that it’s important to power down!

  • Great post. More people in the startup world should write about this. I
    sleep 8 hours every night, same bed time, same wake up time, seven days a
    week. And it allows me to feel super human.

  • cjremus

    I can really relate to this post. About 18 months ago it became clear to me how sleep deprived I’d been for nearly 20 years. This probably started in college for me. Studying for engineering classes, DJ’ing to make some spending money, waking up early during football season to sell programs to make some more spending money, sometimes after DJ’ing the night before, and keeping pretty active socially didn’t leave much time for sleep. Doing pretty well in all these activities, while barely catching five hours of sleep regularly (many times as few as two or three hours) made it easy for me to believe I didn’t need much sleep.

    That mindset perpetuated over the next 20 years or so, until my wife helped me realize 18 months ago how little sleep I’d been getting. Since then, I’ve used the Sleepcycle app to confirm how little sleep I had been getting, and move my average night sleep to just over seven hours, from somewhere around five hours on a good night. Sleepcycle has also helped me re-learn what a good night sleep actually feels like, since I lost that knowledge a long time ago as well.

    While I realize it’s tough to catch-up on sleep lost over such a long period of time, I’m motivated by how much better I’m feeling when sleeping 7+ hours rather than fewer than five. I’m also finding myself to be more productive and less exhausted. Or, if I’m not necessarily getting more done, I’m at least getting done as much as I used to, only with less exhaustion.

    Adjusting my schedule to sync with my wife’s, who wakes up early to get to work at a school, has also been great for both of us. So, while I would’ve dismissed the need for sleep as weakness just two years ago, I’m a firm believer now in the value of getting a good night sleep on a consistent basis.