What The Most Productive People Do Before Bed

Sleep is your body's most important program. Which is precisely why you should hack it.

Breaking news: When you're asleep, you're still alive--and you'll probably be alive the next day. So it follows that your circadian style will dictate whether you greet the day like Michael Phelps or a drunk (or, possibly, a drunk Michael Phelps, but we'll leave that for later). If you treat sleep as a stopgap measure between your daily grind and Netflix binges, you're doing it wrong.

Sleep is a problem to be solved, a question to be answered, a cake to be had and eaten, too. While this post won't solve your somnambulating, we can at least help you get a handle on what's going on in bed, so you're not--ahem--asleep at the wheel.

Debunking the bed

As Leo Widrich notes on Buffer, a lot of what we "know" about sleep comes from hearsay, advice your mom told you back in the day and blog posts you clicked on when you were bleary-eyed at work. Let's clear those cobwebs.

First of all, Widrich notes, we don't all need eight hours. It's not a universal rule. He quotes sleep psychiatrist Daniel Kripke--who won't bullshit you--who says that people who sleep from 6.5 to 7.5 hours a night are the longest lived, most productive, and happier than others. And assuming everyone should sleep the same length is like saying everybody should have the same shoe size.

No one can do your sleep for you. While experts inform us that we need to take our sleeping patterns into our own hands (and pillows). Optimal sleep--for optimal productivity--is intensely individual; so do some experiments on yourself. Track what happens when you change your sleep routine. Tinker with 15 minutes earlier to bed or to rise. Flirt with a daily nap. Recognize that your mileage may vary--so track the mileage.

And heed these tips to max your rest:

  • Nap hard: Realizing that his productivity dipped at 3 p.m., Widrich decided to place a nap right then. And as ASAP Science will tell you, don't sleep more than 20 minutes or you'll fail at degrogging. And like anything else at work, there's an educational component: You need to get buy-in from your boss before you can snooze at work.
  • Ritualize it: Make going to bed your little personal ceremony. Give yourself time to read or journal, get any brightly lit screens away from you. That way your mind can tell your body that it's time to rest--and you'll soon sleep like a baby.
  • Wear yourself out: As awesome infographics note, elite athletes sleep a staggering amount--evidencing that intense activity leads to intense rest. So if you couple vigorous physical activity with vigorous mental activity, you'll do well at sleeping well.

What do you do each night to ensure you get the best shut-eye--and have you found it makes a big difference to your work the next day? Tell us about it in the comments.

How much sleep do we really need to work productively?

[Image: Flickr user Mike]

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66 Comments

  • PuzzleSolver

    Wow... Looks like most of these readers need a breakdown.. Really? Didn't know fast co readers had a hard time with comprehension & deducing information.
    1. You don't need 8 hours
    2. Most productive people show 6.5 - 7.5 hrs for sleep
    3. Take sleep schedules into your own hands
    4. Make it a routine.. play around with 15 min wake/sleep etc
    5. Naps, find out your downtime and do it
    6. Make it a ritual.. find your schedule and stick to it
    7. Wear yourself out... exercise until you are tired
    8. Experiment with all the above and that's what the most productive people do before bed...
    geesh guys... for the rest of you that got it, good job :)

  • Schemdogg

    I get 4 hours of sleep at a crack.  All humans do not need the same caloric input to reap the same energy output. All humans do not need the same amount of water to maintain optimal bodily processes. The key is to listen to what your being needs and forget about the recommended daily dose.  I have spent the last twenty-three years with a 4 hour sleep cycle. I hear, that one day, I will pay for this. 23 years later, In truth, I have no less ability to concentrate or process or perform detailed tasks or solve multifaceted problems. The reality is that I only see improvement in all areas because As the article notes the more you work the more creativity flows to the surface and solutions emerge from the dust. 
    Some-where, by someone, it is said that "a man must work out his own salvation".  I believe that the work can often be our own salvation if we just give it the effort and time.  I did not start on the 1/2 time sleep mode because I wanted to improve, but in reality that is what has happened.  Just think about this.  I have slept four hours less a day than I was told I should have, but I fall into REM (the most needed part of the cycle) almost immediately.  I have, in effect, had 33,580 more hours to be thinking working and producing.  I have listened to what I need, and not to what others have said my experience should be. 
        Please understand I do not advocate that anyone else does this but rather listen to what is the needs of your body are.  Try not to eat, drink, sleep, or anything else beyond what your need is.  (Need is not the same as want)

  • Guest

    Here is what I do. I give each alarm clock a title. 'Getting up for work' is boring, but 'Getting up to finalize the blahblah project' gives my morning purpose.

  • FrazierHughesCom

    I journal, exercise a lot, but if I don't journal and clear my mind I won't sleep well and I'll dream about work.

    I didn't sleep well last night and worked out this morning and it gave me energy all day.

    Sometimes it messes with me emotionally if its 3 nights in a row meaning more stresses or agitated more easily.

  • Phil Wilson

    Obvious that this article was written by a former backpacker, now journalist. He should have stuck his thumb in the air and kept going.

  • Hanna******

    A slightly confusing article - however, as I work in Marketing (full-time) run a business on the side and am currently planning a wedding i have to make the most of every moment. So - every Sunday i do my grocery shopping (plan the weekly menu) and pre-cook a few meals to get us through to at least mid-week. It's even better if i can freeze some soups or other meals. Every evening before leaving the office i will write my 'to-do' list for the following day - that allows me to leave my work at the office and enabling me to 'BE' in the moment at home. Before going to bed, i lay out my clothes for the following day, pack my lunch and prepare the evening meal for the following night. To ensure a restless-free sleep and to ensure I wake feeling productive, I meditate using creative visualisation. For example, I visualise and 'feel' with my entire being the feeling of an executive leader at work - i think and feel like to achieve my goal before the end of the year. I feel it as though it was here already. This week I am visualising and feeling (imagining as if it were already happening) the same scenario, but with the added inner calmness - imagining how it feels to get things done - stress-free and feeling like i have enough time for everything.

  • Benjamin

    I have a personal ritual, it's called washing up the dishes, cleaning out the kitty litter tray, mopping the floor, watering the garden, having a shower and then hitting the sack.  You wanna know my morning ritual?! :-D

  • olalekan kajopaiye

    Hi Drake, It's obvious you wanted to write on "Sleep and how to manage your desire for sleep and be productive." Unfortunately, the topic you ascribed to your write up, "What The Most Productive People Do Before Bed" is more demanding than you have handled it. Try as much as possible to go back to the drawing board, dig deep and do justice to the beautiful topic you have started writing on. You can do it if you faint not. I wish you good luck - Yomi

  • Mikejohnbob

    People who complain about a waste of time are bitter and frustrated: this article is so short it takes less than 3 minutes to read it all. So even if it wasn't informative enough for you, you don't have to make it sound like the writer should feel guilty for wasting your precious time. If you're so obsessed with using your time wisely, I guess "productivity" must be a key word for you. No wonder you have a hard time sleeping...

  • sleepy now after reading this

    this article is a typical example of thin, copy/pasted drivel that we are all wasting our time reading - as usual with this kind of stuff the comments are more interesting and helpful than the so called "article"

  • ericpeters0n

    Remember kids, the goal is to get you to the page, boost user numbers, and show you a few ads!

    Valuable content may or may not be part of this equation... Obviously...

  • Chad

    really bad... expected more out of Fast Company.  Pull it together Drake and change your bio, just about as stupid as this article was.