Most business bosses get less than six hours’ sleep a night, according to a recent US study by Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine. That puts them firmly in the category of those suffering the worst sleep quality.
In other words, their own sleep habits are creating more stress for them.
Just when you need to be bursting with energy and busting stress to enable constructive, creative business thinking, lack of sleep instead reduces your ability to concentrate, calculate, think logically and remember, says Harvard sleep expert Dr Charles Czeisler.
I know from my own experience that sleep often comes last on an entrepreneur’s To Do list so this is a bit of a case of don’t do what I do, do what I tell you! I think all of us recognise that there are times in business when you need to work flat out – but the key to surviving is making sure that those times when you go short of sleep are intermittent and kept to a minimum.
The first crunch point with sleep for entrepreneurs inevitably comes early on in your journey – when you get the green light for start-up. Launching the first Cash Converters franchise in Paarl was like boot camp for me.
Doubling up in this case, though, meant working twice as long as normal working hours. There were even some all-nighters when I needed to unravel particularly knotty problems.
But I was lucky in one really important way. I had great family support – in fact, I moved back in with my mom and dad for a while during the launch phase. That meant they made sure I was fed, watered and wearing clean clothes. They understood what I was doing and why and didn’t mutter about me “treating the place like a hotel”.
Having that kind of buy-in from your family and life partner is essential to counter-attack the devastation that long working hours and very little sleep can wreak on your world.
But for everybody’s sake – especially yours and your health – you have to make sure these intense, low-sleep phases are limited.
Sort the support
That means ensuring your staff are well suited to their tasks, performing them well and receiving good training when systems or products are updated.
It also means setting up reliable business support structures to carry some of the day-to-day load of running ordering, despatch, financial and IT systems.
And it means, as well, having good consultants to contact when your computers go into meltdown after deciding that they can’t cope with an unexpected systems conflict, when SARS is sending you mysterious tax-related queries or when you’re battling to get your imported goods cleared at the docks.
These kinds of challenges are an inevitable part of doing business. To be agile in responding to them, you need to make sure that you’re waking up refreshed and alert to face your day by keeping yourself well-tuned mentally and physically.
Be night wise
Everybody needs different amounts of sleep so monitor yours for a couple of weeks. Pinpoint which days you wake up feeling your best and how long you had slept the night before. Many smart watches now track this for you.
Give yourself a double dividend from a regular exercise routine, too. This makes you better able to respond to stress in a balanced way and ensures you sleep more effectively at night as well.
Finally, give yourself a sleep gift and do not use your bed as an office. Turn away from your gadgets and screens at least 30 minutes and preferably two to three hours before you settle down to sleep. The blue light they emit affects the circadian rhythms that control our sleep patterns – and has even been used to reset astronauts’ body clocks for night-time missions!
Choose to sleep well and know that you are investing in the health of your business in the process.