It’s March, and towards the end of this month we’ll all put the clocks forward by an hour. A lot of people really miss that hour in bed, and most people feel they need more. For Phil* however things were very different – he wanted my help to stop sleeping as much.
“I’m really busy” he told me during the session, “and there just aren’t enough hours in the day. I’ve set up my own business and there’s so much to do – paperwork, invoices, chasing payments, , meeting new clients – it just goes on and on and never stops.”
“I’m under pressure all the time, and I’m rushing from one thing to another – I even drove into the back of someone last week because I was racing to see a customer. I just can’t get everything done”. I’m self-employed too, and I know that feeling of there not being enough time to get everything done. I was sympathetic to Phil’s plight, but I couldn’t see exactly what he wanted me to do.
“Because I’m getting busier and busier I’ve been training myself to have less sleep” he told me, “but I’m hitting a brick wall with it now. What I’d like from you is help to sleep less – I’ve been reading about people who train themselves to sleep for 3 or 4 hours a day – like Margaret Thatcher or Napoleon.”
Phil was caught in a vicious circle. Not sleeping in order to get more things done at work was making him tired and less productive. So as the work took longer and longer to do, he was skipping his sleep to try and find the time to complete it. This had been the pattern for him for the last four months.
The answer, I told Phil, was more sleep, not less. He needed to be as strict about his eight hours sleep a night as he was about his working hours. Sleep isn’t unproductive time – it’s vital for our physical and mental health. Trying to get past his low energy levels by sleeping less was like struggling in quicksand – the harder he tried the worse it would get.
Phil was sceptical about this, but two things persuaded him to try. The first was pointing out to him that he was already trying less sleep, and it wasn’t working for him – in fact it was having quite the opposite effect.
The second was talking to him about his accident in the car. What came out was a series of misjudgements by Phil about other drivers and vehicles. These weren’t surprising, as missing just one hour’s sleep a night affects our judgement, reaction times, and coordination. No wonder then Phil had caused an accident given his sleep pattern.
In fact tiredness accounts for more road accidents than drink and drugs combined. For commercial drivers it’s even higher, with 40% of accidents being due to driver tiredness. The fact that he could have caused a much more serious accident or injury was the moment where Phil realised the effect that skipping sleep was having on him.
Getting back to a consistent eight hours per day changed Phil’s quality of life. He found that his energy and concentration returned. Not only could he get more done, his judgement improved too, about potential customers and staff.
Best of all, spending less time at work or working gave him precious time back with his partner and children. And as Phil told me, they were the reason for him working so hard in the first place.
* Phil’s real identity has been protected, and he is happy to share his story.
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