Entrepreneurs are willing to work 80 hours a week in order to avoid working 40 hours a week for someone else. It’s a crazy bargain, but entrepreneurs do gain more freedom and control over their destiny in life.
So, if you’re working 80+ hours a week – dealing with stress as an entrepreneur – how does sleep impact you?
Quite frankly, I chose this topic because my sleep cycle has been all over the place the past few weeks. Working as a freelance writer gives me the freedom to work during the hours I feel most productive. And, as a natural night owl, that means writing until the first glimmers of morning sun hit my desk.
But the demands of life change. Missing morning and afternoon messages from clients can be a challenge. Being awake while friends and family are sleeping also hurts your ability to achieve some semblance of work/life balance. So, I find myself in a constant push and pull between working late and waking up early. Only one can win in the end.
Night Owls vs. Early Birds – Who wins the battle for increased productivity?
If you interview Fortune 500 CEOs, you’ll have a hard time finding one that isn’t up at the crack of dawn. Sir Richard Branson, for example, has an infamous sleep regimen. He prioritizes healthy sleeping habits that allow him to reliably get 5-6 hours of rest. What’s interesting is that he utilizes a strict nighttime and morning routine.
He argues that having a consistent pattern at the start and end of everyday allows for him to be most productive. He also emphasizes the importance of making dinner an opportunity to gather with thought-leaders and toss around ideas for improving how Virgin operates.
Since he’s up at 5am, that places him in the early-bird category. But that doesn’t mean you have to be an early riser in order to succeed as an entrepreneur.
Are night owls more intelligent?
There is some evidence to suggest that your natural sleep cycle could have something to do with your intelligence. The London School of Economics commissioned a study to better understand the link between intelligence and your sleep cycle.
The study involved more than 20,000 adolescents from a variety of schools across the United Kingdom. They were given an IQ test at a young age. Then, five years later, they were interviewed regarding their sleeping habits.
Even when you factor in demographical variances, the night owls consistently scored higher on IQ tests.
Anecdotally, I’ve found that the vast majority of full-time freelancers that I’ve worked with are night owls. And the vast majority of corporate clients are early risers.
But you need more than intelligence as an entrepreneur. A hard-working, driven entrepreneur will outperform a smarter entrepreneur with poor work-ethic every day of the week.
Embrace your natural sleep cycle whenever you can.
I think a fair conclusion is that we adapt to what we need to accomplish. For a corporate executive at a Fortune 500, you’re going to finely tune your sleep cycle to allow you to be awake when the rest of your team is operating. Being the first in and the last out of your office is one way to differentiate yourself from your peers and improve your chances of being recognized, promoted and better compensated.
I’ve worked in retail sales. I could push for shifts later in the day, but if I was on the schedule, I was on the schedule.
One of the reasons I’ve embraced the freelance, digital nomad lifestyle is that I’m free to work when I choose to. I’m able to stay up until I’m tired, and sleep in until I feel well-rested.
This means my sleep cycle is constantly shifting. But it also means that I’m better able to listen to my body’s needs.
I think the jury is still out on whether it’s best to be a night owl or an early bird. There are plenty of successful entrepreneurs that like to work into the early morning hours and sleep into the early afternoon. And there are endless Fortune 500 CEOs that treat their sleep cycle as a fundamental building-block for maximizing personal effectiveness in their management of complex organizations.
The key is to find what works best for you. Every job is different. If you can embrace a career that supports your natural sleep cycle, I think you’ll be happier and more productive. But I can only offer that opinion on the basis of personal experience.