The Truth About Sleep, Science, And Productivity

Is five hours of sleep enough? Are you screwed if you get less than eight hours? And what about naps? Bridging the yawning divide on the way we rest now.

The Truth About Sleep, Science, And Productivity

When the topic of sleep arises, two questions invariably follow:


What’s the perfect amount of sleep to keep batteries charged and stay productive?

How do I go to sleep the right way?

Both are common questions, but the answers aren’t as simple as they might seem.

There’s No Magic Number

The fabled story of the sleep-deprived genius who is recognized for their brilliance after years of work in the witching hour might not be that far off.

Legendary inventor Thomas Edison, for example, once referred to sleep as “a heritage to our cave days.” The likes of Nikola Tesla, Benjamin Franklin, Napoleon, and Leonardo Da Vinci were notorious for clocking in roughly four hours a night–or day, as many of them relied on cat naps instead. And a host of today’s business leaders follow suit.


But that’s not to say that they weren’t getting enough sleep. According to the Sleep Foundation, it’s just that: while four hours a night might seem an insanely low figure to you, every person is different.

Just like any other characteristics you are born with, the amount of sleep you need to function best may be different for you than for someone who is of the same age and gender. While you may be at your absolute best sleeping seven hours a night, someone else may clearly need nine hours to have a happy, productive life.

Despite this, most of us are hardwired to think that we don’t get enough sleep, even though we really do.

So ignore the mantra that every person needs 8 hours a night to ensure a healthy lifestyle (though we’re not saying rest isn’t good for you!). The fact remains that if you feel rested after, say, 6 hours, it’s probably enough.

However, if you find trouble keeping awake during the day or experience a massive dip in productivity give naps a try. Leo Widrich, co-founder of social media company Buffer, and a Fast Company contributor swears by it, and shares 3 tips to getting the most out of naps in the workplace.

Especially if you work in a big office, or you tend to feel others might consider you slacking off. One of the key things I found here is to make others aware of the fact, that you are napping every day. Try and get encouragement from your co-workers or your boss, so you can set yourself up for developing a successful habit.

Timing is, if not everything, at least very important. Don’t let your naps exceed 30 minutes max. Many sleep20 minutes has proven to be the optimal timing for me.

The last tip I find most crucial is to make napping a consistent habit. Keep both the frequency (daily) and the time of day ( around 3 PM seems to be a very popular time, as productivity dips then) the same and consistent.

Now that I know I’m getting enough sleep, how do I do it right?

For optimal snoozing your bed should be used for two things, and two things only: sleep and sex.


Your bedroom should be a palace of sleep. If you have a desk or television in there, that’s okay, just make sure it’s out of the way when you’re getting ready to count the sheep so it doesn’t trigger anxiety. If your mind is elsewhere you’re going to have a hard time nodding off.

That’s not to say that the convenience of relaxing on a comfy mattress and playing on a computer isn’t glorious. But to get a good night’s sleep you need to resist the urge and do it somewhere else. Your brain should have only one thing on it’s mind when you crawl into bed.

It is best to take work materials, computers and televisions out of the sleeping environment. Use your bed only for sleep and sex to strengthen the association between bed and sleep.

You can boost this effect by incorporating sleep-signaling habits in your bedtime routine. Take a hot bath or water the plants. It could be anything, but remember, you’re telling your body that by doing a certain activity, it’s time for bed.

The bottom line: understand that sleep is highly individual, and to ensure that you can fall asleep when you need to, train your brain into knowing when it’s time to turn the lights off.

[Image: Flickr user Gabor Balogh]

About the author

Former Editorial Assistant Miles Kohrman helped run Fast Company's homepage and completed miscellaneous tasks around the newsroom. He is a 2013 graduate of The New School.