We Are Killing Ourselves and Most Don’t Know It

Are you killing yourself everyday and do you know it? #business #entrepreneurship #sleep


I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert at sleep, because I’m not. What I share here is a combination of my personal experience as a professional athlete / entrepreneur as well as statistics / findings to which you may or may not be aware of, along with some things that are working for me, to help manage this silent yet absolutely deadly epidemic globally.

We are in this 21st century digital age where we have this culture of glamourising sleep deprivation, yet depriving ourselves of sleep, much like cigarettes which were deemed as not harmful in the 1930’s, is just as detrimental for us and we are speeding up our mortality. The sad thing is, most of us do not know it until it’s too late.

The cliche of saying “getting enough sleep is important”

We’ve all heard it before. Do not deprive your body of sleep. As cliche as it may sound and unfortunately for you, it isn’t a myth. There has been enough studies done to-date to prove the link between sleep deprivation and adverse health consequences. There is some truth in stating that everyone’s different, however when you consistently get below 5 hours every night and you are human (and because you are reading this it means you are), there will be dire consequences. If you are looking for a debate, sorry but it’s over before it has even started.

And then you die

Speaking of consequences, everyone dies, it’s inevitable. Dying early from a medical condition linked to sleep deprivation is a different story altogether. Worst yet, suffering from diseases such as Alzheimer’s and not remembering what caused the demise of your health, whilst having to live with it.

There has already been numerous studies that found an increased build up in beta-amyloid, which is the protein associated with impaired brain function and Alzheimer’s disease. Links to high blood pressure, diabetes, weaken immunity and heart disease are amongst some of the many other consequences linked to sleep deprivation.

I get it, whether it’s catching a plane at an odd time, or you have a newborn at home, we are all pressured into sleep deprivation at some point. Consistency is the differentiator here; it is possible to have a sleep debt that you can recover from, however there’s always going to be a level of debt beyond recovery, much like how the WEF announced that the Earth’s Overshoot Day is getting earlier every year to which we are inching closer to a point of no return, but that’s a topic for another day.

Waking up super early = success?

Success is often linked to waking up early, or so the hype states. Names like Tim Cook, Howard Schultz and Michelle Obama are often associated with the success stories of having an “insanely early morning ritual”.

The keyword is “ritual” and not “insanely early morning”. Many people missed the boat with this one. Finding the routine that works for you where sleep deprivation is out of the equation is what you should be shooting for.

This is not to say waking up at 4am is a bad thing, everything has to have context. One would be foolish to think that going to sleep at 1am and waking up at 4am is sustainable. There are no doubt an array of benefits for waking up early, such as peace and quiet, free from the rest of the world and the feeling of accomplishment as well as productivity. If you are sacrificing precious sleep time to fulfil the prophecy of waking up super early though, you are the worst out of the bunch by far.

Sleep v.s. Screen Time

One of the many modern problems of today; ah it feels good to get some youtube videos in bed before dozing off and to wake up to a plethora of missed notifications on social media. I’ll be the first one to put my hand up to admit that this habit is notoriously hard to get rid of, more so if you are time-poor during the day.

If you step back and read the above again and again, you will realise it sounds increasingly miserable with every iteration. What happened to those valuable bedtime conversations and what did we get up to with ourselves in the morning when we didn’t have mobile phones?

Studies suggest that we should leave our screens alone an hour each side of our bedtime. Some even go as far as saying that when our cells are exposed to artificial light late in the night, our internal clocks can get confused leading to health issues. Screen time could be equally impacting in the morning, as your body is still going through processes of waking up to get ready for the day ahead. Being sabotaged by notifications generally does not help and will inevitably confuse the mind’s ability to prioritise tasks for the day ahead.

Oh, the heroism

Almost all of us have been on the giving and receiving end of what I refer to as “sleep deprivation heroism”. We’ve all heard the glamorous stories of associating entrepreneurship with all-nighters; very little sleep in exchange for success, so the story goes.

We all want to be successful, and a choice we have to continually make is whether it is at the detriment of our health. When we are young, this may not seem like a big deal as we have a feeling of invincibility no matter what we did to our body. Who needs sleep, right?

Worst yet, all nighters and sleep deprivation in the workplace is often associated with qualities such as productivity and hard-working. This cultural phenomenon is especially prominent in start-up / entrepreneurship and in Asian countries. Why do we continually mistaken sleep deprivation in the workplace to be heroism when there is already enough scientific evidence to suggest counter-productivity and negative health impacts of such habits? As long as there is an association between sleep deprivation and heroism, this culture will never truly go away.

The Actionables and Takeaways

I’m not here trying to convince you what you should and should not do. Everyone has autonomy to make their own decisions and ultimately be responsible for them down the road. What’s important is having the ability to make an informed decision. “You can’t know what you don’t know”, so the saying goes.

So the key takeaways and actionables that I can give you are these:

  1. Routine and Ritual: As mentioned previously, it’s not necessarily about the super early morning. It’s about finding and adopting a routine and ritual that works for you. Formulate one and discipline yourself to stick to it.
  2. Super Early Morning: In case you are dwelling on this, it’s a good thing if it isn’t at the cost of shorter sleep. I have a routine where I wake up at 4:45am that I’ve been working on. This means I sleep at latest 9:30pm and most nights around 9pm. Yes, that means in bed ready to sleep by 8:30pm, a nightmare for some.
  3. That Snooze Button: Waking up early is anything but easy. What has helped for me is drilling a quote into my head borrowed from one of the speeches by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson; “No one can out-work me.” This continually echos in my head when the alarm sounds every morning.
  4. I don’t have time to sleep for that long: I’m not going to judge and everything is contextual. The right question to ask is; is depriving yourself of sleep in place of whatever you are doing, consistently, worth it for premature mortality? When I ask myself this question it is helpful to think about friends and family to get a better perspective and context.
  5. Screen Time: This one is harder to traction given the digital world we live in today. What I’ve implemented is to completely cut my habit of lying in bed and starring at my mobile phone altogether. So bed / bedroom has now been disassociated from mobile phone completely. I’ve also introduced a soft-rule of having 30 minutes either side of sleep to terminate screen time. Is it perfect? No. But at least it is pragmatic.
  6. Heroism Inversion: Until we all collectively push the fact that sleep deprivation is the real enemy in disguise and the unsung hero is sleep, sleep deprivation heroism will always exist. We should all be able to proudly say that we got a good night’s sleep, and because of this we are at 100% productivity; responsible to ourselves whilst responsible also to our family, friends and employees.

With all that, I sign off and sweet dreams.

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