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Sleep as a Competitive Advantage (nytimes.com)
480 points by robg on June 30, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 174 comments

The key takeaway is this:

> The research is overwhelming that the vast majority of us require seven to eight hours of sleep to feel fully rested, and only a small percentage require less than seven.

I'm sometimes envious of people I meet that can function well with little sleep, but I resign myself to the fact that I wasn't dealt that particular card. You can't compete with those folks by simply trying to ape their habits.

> Most of us have forgotten what it really feels like to be awake.”

This may be one part of it. Some time ago, I'd definitely tell you I'm fine with little sleep. You can do it if you sleep very little every night. It's quite easy to adapt to, for example during university exam times

But then after some years you realise you're not actually fine. You just don't remember how different is it to sleep longer. I'm still fighting with myself now to sleep for a reasonable time to reverse the old habit. I did tell people I'm fine with little sleep before. I will happily tell them now that I was lying - just didn't know it at the time.

In grad school, I made it a point to cut-off my studying to get a consistent 7-9 hours of sleep in the days leading up to each exam. It worked enormously better for me than my sleep-deprived cram sessions in undergrad, and I think some of my classmates suffered for prioritizing taking another pass over the material instead of being well-rested.

Considering the brain needs to sleep to fixate memories, your approach is better. Of course, assuming you can fall asleep - if you can't because you feel you haven't studied enough...

"Considering the brain needs to sleep to fixate memories, your approach is better."

There are two other components to this that you're glossing over. Sleep helps with long-term memory. So if your plan is to study-ahead and be prepared for the exam, fine. But then the second component comes in to play. People that are cramming for the exam are doing so because they didn't study ahead. For that second group of people, sleep is actually the last thing they need. What good is remembering something long-term, if you never actually "learned" it in the first place. And let's be honest, people that are cramming for exams, are not the type to have learned the content before, either. (Though I generalize a bit there)

I know sleep is crucial for long term memories, but I also thought a lack of sleep affects all forms of recollection?

I had a period of a few years where I slept very poorly due to allergies. During that time, I was practicing guitar intensively. Despite lots of practice, my playing ability barely improved the whole time; I was not retaining the muscle memory necessary to continue to improve.

Now I practice much less and focus on my health. My abilities seem to increase on their own on a slow-but-noticeable basis.

After doing cram sessions for my exams, I've started to fall asleep during the reading of the materials I was supposed to memorize without even noticing it. The interesting part is that I would reiterate over everything I read so far in my dreams after which I would wake up and figure out that I actually fell asleep. Everytime after such short power naps, I had much better recall of information I've retained and I felt refreshed and relaxed.

>' You just don't remember how different is it to sleep longer.'


Not too long ago the combination of child, work and school forced me to completely re-evaluate how I was spending my time and what is actually important to me.

One big change I ended up making was getting to bed at the same time every night and clocking a consistent 8 hours.

Within a week or so the difference was remarkable in both my mood and acuity through the mid-afternoon - ideally I'd take a 45 minute nap around 13:30, but that's not an option with my current job.

In order of effect, the best things I've ever done for day to day clarity:

1.) Going to bed and rising at consistent times with 8 hours inbetween.

2.) Drinking plenty of water. At least 8 ounces per waking hour for me.

3.) Regular exercise. I feel best lifting weights 3 or 4 days a week, but I expect the specifics are less important than simple movement and exertion.

That was my experience too, though I think my enthusiasm for #3 was the main driver of the others. I found I really enjoyed lifting, and was much more successful when I was sleeping and eating well, so it became a virtuous cycle. With all of that, the depression and migraine issues that had plagued me through high school, university, and the following years became pretty scarce. If I change any of those things though, problems quickly become apparent.

You just don't remember how different is it to sleep longer.

Exercise is like that, too. If you stay relatively stationary for a few weeks, then get out and do some serious exercise, you are more awake than you remember possible.

Similarly, smoking (especially green) and drinking are like that, too. When you stop, it takes awhile to get over, then it's amazing.

Probably being outside in nature in general has additional benefits, re: general sensory stimulation, removal of droning mechanical/electric noise, variety of light conditions, rhythmic subtleties of tone in the shadow of a moving tree, etc.

You notice northern hemisphere people that come to the tropics revert near-instantly to depression when boarding flights back home in their winter. I saw it in a set of Russians in Vietnam earlier this year... it was incredibly well choreographed!

PS. I went on a brief hunt via thesaurus.com and Wikipedia for an effect along the lines of 'acclimatisation' but failed to come up with a trans-disciplinary term. Please post if you know of one.

> At least 8 ounces per waking hour for me.

That's 3.8L per day [(24 hours - 8 hours sleeping) * 8 fl oz = 3.8L]. Recommended intake is 2-3L[1]. Just be careful of water poisoning...

[1] http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healt...


My case is a bit unusual as I'm far above average in height and weight. On average, the recommendation for my size is around 5.0L/day. In relation to that, the top of my head figure of 3.8L seems like a good lower bound.

It's always interesting trying to do conversions in a world made for folks are 5'8" and <200lbs. I'd be shredded to the bone if had a 'healthy' BMI and I'd be dropping pounds a week on a 2000 calorie diet.

Interesting fact - a healthy person's kidneys can excrete 25 litres of water a day. Drink more than this, and you expand your total body water volume to dangerous levels, which can lead to swelling in soft tissues and lungs (which can be life threatening). This happens in patients with psychogenic polydipsia.

Of course, drinking anywhere near 25L is not 'safe' either, and can still cause electrolyte abnormalities, neurocognitive dysfunction, seizures... Stick to the recommended intake, adjusted for water losses during significant exertion or high temperatures.

This is all dependent on your level of exercise and rate of perspiration. A 72kg person would have to drink around 6.5L of water for it to become dangerous[1].

[1] http://www.sciencelab.com/msds.php?msdsId=9927321

Unless I'm mistaken, water poisoning is only a credible threat when you consume exclusively those high volumes of water and nothing else to raise the salinity of the water in and around your cells. Over the course of a day, most of us get (much) more than enough sodium from other sources to eliminate any risk of water poisoning from 3.8L of water per day.

Yeah -- similarly to you, I'm pretty convinced that water poisoning is only a worry if you're unwell (mentally and/or otherwise) or do unusual things like water-drinking competitions.

Ecstasy and water poisoning are related. Ecstasy makes users extremely thirsty. Water poisoning related deaths at raves have been reported. About 6 L is enough to put a lot of people in a very dangerous place.

My last 2 months have been on 4 hours of sleep per night.

Yeah it works, but God does it suck. This has occurred out of a need to get work done, so I wonder how many others found themselves conditioned in the same way.

I had good luck resetting my sleep patterns with regular exercise and Melatonin supplements. Melatonin makes it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep in a way that promotes rest.

rayiner, My ex husband often went to work on 4 to 6 hours of sleep. He was career military and he had some sleep issues. On weekends, he would stay up late and by Sunday night he could not sleep before midnight or 2:00 am. And by Wednesday, it was not at all uncommon for him to fall asleep on the couch either right after eating dinner or in the middle of eating (or, sometimes, before eating) because he was so short of sleep and exhausted. And he often had no idea he was that tired. He often was surprised that he fell asleep on the couch.

I was very recently talking to my son about how much more of a life my ex had than coworkers of his who required more sleep and who, thus, basically went home, ate dinner and went to bed most nights while he came home and watched TV, played games, pursued hobbies, etc. And I kept finding myself saying stuff like "so he did all this extra stuff and it's not like he had accidents on the job because of it...um, actually he did have that car wreck...but it's not like he maimed himself...um, actually, he has chronic back problems and is retired from the army on partial disability and has a handicapped sticker for his car..."

Some people who are sleeping less than you do not actually need less sleep and are not actually functioning better. They just have sleep disorders. They muddle through as best they can and they may be paying a price they don't realize because probably no one is going to ever say my ex was in that car wreck due to lack of sleep and, thus, has chronic back problems due to lack of sleep (because that accident, among other things, is part of why he has debilitating back problems).

I can't prove his sleep issues caused any of those things. But I do know how much more clumsy I am when I did not sleep well or did not sleep enough. I do know how much more productive I am when I sleep both well and enough. So I can infer that there is very likely a relationship between some of the bad things that happened to him and his chronic sleep issues. Our oldest son has similar sleep issues and I know our lives are so much better now that, most nights, he typically sleeps pretty well because we worked hard on resolving the underlying causes.


Actually there was an article a couple years ago about "super sleepers" in the NYTimes. People who only need, at most, 6 hours sleep to feel completely refreshed. I believe they had their genome copied hoping to find why they can do this. Who knows, there might be a gene therapy or pill to need less sleep one day.

Yeah, I did say "Some people" not "EVERYONE."

Also, I generally sleep less these days while being better rested because I have worked hard on improving my health. So I think there are things people can do to work on this issue but, for the most part, when I try to talk about stuff like that, I get shouted down, pissed on, and treated pretty horribly. So I say stuff like that a lot less than I used to. I don't think you need "good genes" per se to be well rested on less sleep. I think you just need good health -- and I think most people are less healthy than they really think (not exactly a popular opinion to express though).

Totally agree with this. On the daya that I eat well (salads, small portions) and exercise, the following evenings are met with deeper sleep and less of it. I can function on 7-8 hours as opposed to 10-11 the following day. But it is definitely an unpopular opinion to express. "Your life sucks cuz of your bad habits..."

How overwhelming the research really is? The article links to this page http://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do... which as it seems cites just a single study

> Researchers Shawn Youngstedt and Daniel Kripke reviewed two surveys of more than 1 million adults conducted by the American Cancer Society...

"But I'm special!"

I used to sleep nine hours a day. Two things, I noticed, reduced that: stimulants, and learning more about garbage collection algorithms. The first is pretty obvious in its effect, but the second surprised me: I was sleeping about 50 minutes less per data. It might be a coincidence, but there it is.

Are you suggesting (and I love the idea) that sleep is a garbage collection cycle and learning efficient methods from CompSci enabled your own brain to more efficiently garbage collect it's own memories?

I love the idea - which book were you reading ?!

You mean computer garbage collection, or some kind of mental equivalent?

That's what studying compiler construction does for your brain!

You should try JIT and lazy evaluation.

I find it interesting that I'm someone who does well on 7-8 hours of sleep, and most of my friends consider me to be someone who hardly sleeps at all. If you're feeling unlucky that you need 7-8 hours, just remember that a lot of people need 9-10 hours. ;)

The real advantage is to be able to sleep and rest. Think of all the productivity you loose when you are tired.

When I left my cubicle job to strike off on my own in 2007, one of the most valuable lessons I learned was "sleep when you're tired".

7 years, a couple of businesses, and 2 (soon to be 3) kids later, I manage to still be able to work and play very hard without feeling chronically tired or burnt out, and I'm convinced it's because I sleep when I need to sleep (and don't when I don't). If it's the middle of the work day and my body is saying "sleep!", then I'll go take a 2-hour nap, which completely revitalizes me. If I've been up for 20 hours and am still going strong, am thinking clearly, and am not feeling tired, I stay up. Sometimes I sleep for 5 hours, sometimes I sleep for 11.

(It's worth noting that this only works with kids because I have my wife's support - she holds down the fort while I sleep, and visa versa. We play active defense for each others' sleep.)

This has had a couple of effects. First of all, it means that whenever I'm working, I'm actually working. I don't have those days where I just stare at my screen blankly, unable to get any significant momentum like I did before. Secondly, it made me able adapt to varying sleep needs (which is amazingly helpful with kids). I'm not really on a particular circadian rhythm. On a typical day, I might be up from 10 AM-2 AM PST, but then I'll travel back east and the next day I'll be up from 3 AM-7PM PST without any real difficulty.

I realize that not everyone has the luxury of being able to take naps or sleep for as long as they need it, but if you have some flexibility, start listening to your body, rather than toughing it out from 9-5 "because that's what you're supposed to do."

Also, as a side note: Use f.lux - when I started using it, I noted a drastic shift in how I get tired. Before, I would just go and go until I hard-crashed; now, I start feeling tired slowly over time, which makes it much easier to go to sleep at the right time.

I like to run long distances, half marathons and mountain runs. When I'm in shape, I can run reasonably fast; I can get close to 7-minute miles on hilly half marathons, and place in the upper quartile in mountain runs.

I have gone through some times in life where it's been really hard to sleep properly. My kid is three years old now, and he still interrupts my sleep patterns. I'm a teacher, and I never sleep enough during the busy time at the start of each school year. When I'm not sleeping enough, I feel it in my running. My muscles are fine, my cardiovascular system is fine, but something isn't there. I can maintain my mileage, but when I try to push myself, I just come up empty.

The best approach I've ever found to help me get enough sleep, was to get rid of my alarm clock. Not using an alarm clock ensures that I get the most out of the sleep that I do get each night.

You probably are overtaxing your central nervous system. Not getting enough sleep keeps your nervous system from fully recovering, which makes it harder to push yourself even if you have the cardiovascular and muscle capacity.

I recently stopped using an alarm clock, and it seems to work out a lot better. I now don't get waken up in the middle of a sleep cycle, and the sunlight naturally wakes me up.

Strangely I feel dizzy without alarm clock and it takes a bit too much time to get to high energy. With alarm clock there's a certain rush to jump into action.

I wish I had the same rush without an alarm clock.

I know I'm going to state something obvious, but have you tried going to bed earlier?

I've honestly met people who try to get up earlier, but don't realize the easiest way to get up early (in the longer term, of course) is to catch sleep early.

My wakeup time is flexible so I have tried the whole spectrum, going to bed earlier (10pm) or later ~12am, ~2-3am.

Waking up without alarm for all these sleeptimes feels roughly the same so I'm not sure if I'm a "lark" or "owl".

My focus is definitely the best in the evening, just hate the slow fogginess in the morning and would like to switch to "lark" mode, unsuccessfully.

Waking up with alarm makes me more sharp than without alarm but as the wakeup time is flexible it feels stupid to do so and I fallback to dizzy mornings and late-night work against ma inner will.


It took me years to realize simply going to be easier was, not only the obvious answer, but also the cheapest & most sustainable. https://garrickvanburen.com/archive/how-i-learned-to-get-up-...

hah! Thank you for the link! Your experience definitely rings a bell -- I'm now a father of a 6 months old and I did my fair share of experiments with Zeo a few years ago.

By the way, there is a special firmware going around for Zeo that if installed will store the data unencrypted and also enables sending "real-time" info to the serial port located at the back of the device (I managed to read this data successfully using a python script that was also provided).

If you're interested in that custom firmware and realtime data schematics&code and not finding from the web, ping me and I'll look up from the archives!

For me wearing zeo more than 5 days in a row became unfomfortable, how long did you use it constantly to get to this 6.30am wakeup time?

You mention 18 months but I guess it's not possible to wear the headband for that many months in a row comforably?

Thanks. In my 18 months with the Zeo, I went through at least 5 headband sensors. In that time I wore it all the days I was home - which was most days.

Robg, who posted this, is a longtime HNer whose current startup makes a watch that monitors your stress level. He wears the watch all the time and told me that one of his biggest lessons from it so far was about sleep. Rob, do you want to repeat that here? I thought it was interesting; maybe others would too.

Sure! It took me a decade as a neuroscientist to realize that sleep is the inverse of stress. That's physiologically speaking - stress is the sympathetic system; sleep is the parasympathetic system.

We're seeing a type of high stress sleep. We don't know what it means or why. But the aim is to continue to drill in - a kind of citizen science of how sleep and stress interact. What questions would folks what to see answered?

I discovered wearing our watch that naps are stress relieving for me. Others see the same effect during meditation, and I wonder if that too is a form of sleep, physiologically speaking.

EDIT: Since it got buried below, this study will turn out to be a huge inflection point in terms of how sleep is understood and taught. Sleep appears to wash away toxins that collect during the stressful day. Sleep seems to be a form of garbage collection. http://www.nih.gov/news/health/oct2013/ninds-17.htm

I have been a fan of power naps for the past year or so; I work from home so taking 25 minutes to nap in mid-afternoon is not a problem.

I just completed the program in "Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan" (Williams, Penman) and found in those eight weeks I didn't feel a need to nap in the afternoon. I just didn't get sleep late in the day.

Our users who meditate report the same thing. What's really interesting to consider whether like sleep, meditation helps open up the glymphatic system for garbage collection.



What do you mean by "we're seeing a type of high stress sleep"? It sounds counterintuitive.

I mean that people report (and their activity data suggests) sleeping but that the sympathetic response - "fight-or-flight" - didn't seem to turn down significantly from being awake. The best analogy, I think, is that your body should flip to idle during sleep, but we see that you're still running very hot.

It would be interesting if you could correlate that to what the person is doing physically during each sleep type. By way of a video device (similar to what is done with that part of a sleep study) that captures and can be played back or analyzed. I was actually going to set this up for a person with sleep apnea but they passed away before I could get the solution cobbled together.

To summarize: Get a normal video capture (baby monitor etc.), capture video, analyze and play back video and see the differences..

The accelerometer is actually really helpful. We are naturally paralyzed during deep sleep and REM, so that helps to distinguish those stages. Lighter sleep and being awake is easier as a kind, but less so as a degree.

This is fascinating, and it makes a lot of sense. Do you have any links to any research regarding this, for those that would like to learn more?

We've been looking but besides the clinical reports of sleep disturbances and night tremors, we're not finding physiological evidence of sympathetic activation. It's where we get excited by doing the research as a community of users.

I was super-interested in the watch, so I went to the website. The price seems... high, to say the least. The first question that popped in my mind was "why is this so expensive?" and the FAQ doesn't seem to address that.

I get the sense that it is not aimed at mass market, at least not yet. It would be great if there was a mailing list I could subscribe to that would alert me when it becomes affordable.

Thank you for the feedback. Honestly, that is the point. We're building for high data quality first and foremost. That means low volumes with a focus on materials and manufacturing. Longer-term it means validation and medical applications.

Please follow us on twitter @neumitra and you'll hear about upcoming products when available. We try hard not to spam people.

So you're the Tesla of wearables! ;)

Thanks for the info - I'll go ahead and follow you on Twitter.

Honestly, I think a bigger issue is what time we actually go to sleep.

I think a lot professionals just don't get to sleep on time for the required 7-8 hours.

If you get up at 6 or 7 in the morning, that means you are deep asleep by 10 or 11 pm.

I just don't think a lot of sleep deprived people are doing that.

At least that's alway been my experience.


What's missing from this article, is a discussion about ideal sleep TIMES. Not everyone is meant to sleep from 10-6. Yes, you can fudge your sleep cycle and you can adjust, but only so much.

I'm naturally a night owl. With no alarm clock, and no obligations, I will "naturally" fall asleep at 3am, and wake up at 11.

In times of my life when I've been able to do this, the 8 hours that I would get then FAR TRUMPED the 8 hours I get now. It's night and day.

> I'm naturally a night owl.

Many people are unnatural night owls, thanks to blue light sources in the evening - perhaps that applies to you too. Have you tried f.lux?


Blue light may be interrupting sleep patterns, but I assume people who call themselves night owls share with me a certain feeling of mental haze during daylight hours, regardless of sleep schedule. I'm also about 5% weaker at lifting maximal weights until late afternoon. For what it's worth, I don't consume caffeine (allergic) and I do use f.lux.

For what it's worth, in my opinion the haze = noise. During the day every damned thing is causing too much noise, even if you block it out with music & headphones it's still noise/distraction. So when you get to the evening and definitely past midnight the ambient noise drops considerably, everything is quiet and there's far less to subconsciously distract you.

it may be sensory overload, variant by person. for me, it's definitely light. i feel fried and cranky within minutes of being in bright sunlight.

i use a program similar to flux and, while it's shifted going to sleep a couple of hours earlier, i still have as much difficulty getting to work by 9. maybe i'm still working through decades of deprivation.

I used to call myself a owl too. Often I would be in a haze until late afternoon, then work right up until I went to sleep. Running a business with employees meant I had to shift to mornings (though no longer), but now I'm definitely a lark. My schedule is almost reversed: I work an hour after I get up, and then chill out a couple of hours before bed.

Overall, on this schedule I feel much more rested.

Wrong URL, try: https://justgetflux.com/

For the Linux users among us, there's redshift, which does about the same thing.

And there's Lux for Android, as well.

Shit, you're right and I can't edit it any more.

Night-owl here, and that's not the problem. I will keep myself awake until 3AM whether I'm on my computer or not. I'll often read until 3AM because that's when my body seems to want to go to sleep.

edit: and I don't drink caffeine after 5.

I'm not denying the existence of night-owls of course, it's just that these situations are hard to judge until you've checked all possible causes.

5pm is pretty late to stop caffeine. Try stopping it at 2 or 3.

What's missing from this article, is a discussion about ideal sleep TIMES.

Yes, yes, yes!

Personally, I feel better rested after 6 hours of sleep if I get to sleep by 10 than 8+ hours of sleep if I don't get to bed until after midnight.

It was explained to me that a small % of people can get by with less than 8 hours sleep. Those people then often move to the top of the org chart either as founders or management in larger companies. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their lack of need for sleep, they're not big believers in the value of sleep and napping. That's why you'll see these articles every 3 - 6 months and nothing will really change.

See my comment above - I think even "low sleepers" recognize the value of sleep for clear thinking and emotional balance. I totally value napping.

The problem is that Western culture, particularly the Anglophone subset, is generally against sleep, equating the pursuit of adequate sleep--which vaies by individual--with sloth or laziness. A sleeping person is very obviously not working.

Through two acquaintance connections, I know someone who was assigned night shift work, and then was fired for falling asleep on the job in the first month. The employer made zero accomodations for the fact that he has human employees, and that he put them into a constant state of war with their own bodies to get his money. Pilots have to enlist the aid of regulators and unions to get their airlines to recognize that pilot fatigue is not the pilot's fault.

I suspect that this attitude was probably influenced by Anglo racism against Hispanics, targeting the midday siesta custom. It is somewhat telling that to get an Anglo to sleep around midday, you have to rebrand it as a "power nap", and sell it as a late-day productivity booster.

People in our society can advance to positions of greater authority by sacrificing biologically important things like sleep, leisure, and companionship and temporarily compensating with drugs like caffeine, cocaine, and prescription stimulants. Then they reach their acme, get the executive position, and resume normal work and sleep patterns while pretending to themselves that they could still work 120 hours every week. Then they reason that since they were able to achieve greatness by temporarily sacrificing a lot of sleep, everyone should be able to do a little better by sacrificing a little permanently. They don't particularly care about the science, since they have firsthand knowledge of their own meteoric rise and subsequent success.

Everyone else is stuck trying to defend against continual encroachment on the 40-hour work week, and they are forced to sacrifice sleep by necessity rather than by choice.

"a person who is sleep deprived has no idea how functionally impaired he or she truly is. Most of us have forgotten what it really feels like to be awake."

I can attest to this. I went through a months-long phase where I got about four to five hours of sleep a night, mostly because I was going to bed around 4 or 5 AM. Only after I began going to bed at a more reasonable time and getting more sleep did I realize how much my mood had suffered and how much worse my ability to concentrate and solve problems had been.

About 10 years ago, I was talking to Aaron Iba, and he told me that one of his biggest advantages over other programmers is that he makes sure to get a good night's sleep every night. At the moment, I kind of dismissed it, but in hindsight, I think that he was dead-on.

Sure, getting enough sleep won't magically make you a genius overnight. But it will allow you to maximize the potential that you have.

Naps save me every time. Just when my work starts flagging and quality starts dropping, a 20min nap makes me feel almost as fresh as I am coming into the office in the morning.

Most others at work feel awkward about taking naps - even with me evangelising naps :o)

I have to admit, I'd feel awkward taking naps in my office.

What I usually do is go to my car in the parking garage and nap there. It works wonders; I recognize that the 15 min that I lose to the nap would have been lost to my brain being a foggy mess, so the nap is a net gain.

My desk/cube is on the main corridor with low cube walls, and everyone walking past me sees me napping - I don't give a damn :)

My wife has done the napping in the car bit earlier in her career.

When I was at my company's office in China, I envied my coworkers that took naps after lunch. They would just tilt their head back and relax/nap. I tried it but my head always falls forward waking me up.

Many people see that as an advantage of sleeping in chairs. The point of a nap is to get to a state where you're totally relaxed, not to spend a significant amount of time in it. You don't want to get into the deep sleep state which takes ~1 hour to wake up from.

The apocryphal example is Salvador Dali: he held a spoon above a metal pan to wake him up as soon as he dropped the sppon.

I wrote a bash script for this. Press a key on the keyboard and keep it pressed. When you fall asleep you'll release the key. But instead of waking you up instantly, it let you sleep for N minutes after the loss of keypress (also limited the total time given to the "time to fall asleep"+"sleeping time," so if you had 20 minutes for the nap, you could limit it as "sleep 10 with max 20")

Interesting -- source?

Where do you nap? Does your office provide a suitable place?

Most under-appreciated killer hiring feature.

I usually nap under the pool table that no one uses.

On my chair/desk. I reduce the chair's height so I'm not bending over too much, and put my head on my arms on the table.

i used to nap under my cubicle desk... w/ the geometry of my cube, no one could see me even if they poked their head in.

doesn't work w/ standing desks in open layouts :( now i often go to car.

I wish I could take naps during the day when I get fatigued, but unfortunately I have severe sleep apnea, so unless I sleep with a CPAP machine, I don't actually get any rest. And my CPAP machine isn's something I can bring to work.

Travel cpap machines. (I saw an article on this might not have been this exact one it was a big advertisement also in the WSJ some time ago).


I understand you still need a mask with these but it might be worth considering depending on where you can situate yourself.

Well, my CPAP machine is already relatively portable, but I don't have anywhere to nap at work, except in my car, which doesn't have an AC outlet (also, I'd like to start biking to work, so I don't want to wed myself to the car). I share a room with several other people, so I would need somewhere else to nap.

On an unrelated note: May I suggest getting a second travel CPAP even if you're not going to nap at the office?

You can use it for travel and vacations, but the best reason to have one is as a backup. Trust me when I say that you don't want to wait a month for a replacement when your existing CPAP fails (and it WILL fail).

Also, it's worth noting that many travel CPAPs have 12-volt car lighter adapters so you can run it off of your car's battery. So maybe you could use it to nap in your car?

Thanks for the suggestions. I'll definitely look into it.

My dad had a top of the line cpap that my mother just threw out.

Prior to that I had found a site that specialized in used cpaps and they were going to buy it (apparently they had so much inventory they wanted to wait to make an offer on it).

You can probably source a good used one through respiratory therapists either privately or at a hospital. When someone passes away these are typically thrown out. (After a certain amount of time they don't get returned to medicare or something like that.)

secondwindcpap.com is where I've gotten my last couple of units from.

If you're in the US, I think the ADA means your employer needs to accommodate you in this regard.

(To be clear, I'm not suggesting you get "all lawyered up" and obnoxious. Just ask for a meeting with HR, to discuss ways to make it work for both of you. Pointing out that you use a medical device should help get across the point that this isn't a frivolous request to doze.)

Your employer don't doesn't have to accommodate you're sleeping requests.

I don't think that people who function well with little sleep have a significant advantage anyway.

I might be wrong, but it seems to me that they can get something like 1/16th or so more done in a day - 1/16th of what? A six month project? Delivering 11 days earlier than the other side on something that takes six months isn't likely to be a make or break point on a contract, even if their whole team could work like that - which they undoubtedly couldn't.

It seems like fuel efficiency for your car. If you go from 5mph to 10mpg it's a huge saving, but going to 40 from 35 is almost negligible.

Totally agree on this. The low-hanging fruit isn't squeezing in a couple more hours, its improving the quality of the hours you currently have. If you can do 8 hours every weekday of truly productive time spent focused on the right things you'll run circles around most of these 100-hour-week braggarts anyway.

Of course if you are truly god's gift to white-collar workaholism then sure those additional hours can add up, but if you sacrifice sleep and thus cognitive function you're shooting yourself in the foot to get there and probably don't even realize it because of the haze you're living in.

Well, for many programmers at least, the marginal value of time is not constant. An additional hour when I'm "in the zone" is massively more productive than my first hour of the day.

Sleep and I have a rocky relationship. I'm terrible at falling asleep, and even worse at waking up, but boy have I learned to value it.

I can't nap, because I literally can't sleep anything less than 4 hours. Friends and relatives have tried yelling/shaking/banging pots and pans, but the only thing that will wake me is cold water to the face.

However, I've found taking a few moments to meditate can do wonders when I'm getting that run-down-man-I-could-use-a-nap feeling.

I usually say that I don't have trouble sleeping, my trouble is with changing states :)

I seldom go to bed in time because I hate to lay there trying to get asleep. Wanting to make more use of my day also doesn't help; I don't get home before 7:30pm, and I don't want to just dine and go to bed...

Then comes the morning and I just can't wake up, even after 9, 10hs. I put my alarm clock far away from my bed because I used to just turn it off and keep sleeping. It doesn't help that much though: I "wake up", walk to it, turn it off and go back to under my sheets. "Wake up" as in I'm walking but I'm not totally conscious. It's like I'm drunk, I'll always find a nonsense reason to justify going back to bed, like "hell, I need to go back to my bed now, or it will get too light and float away"

In college I used to climb down from the top bunk, walk across the room, turn off my alarm, and climb back up a ladder in my sleep.

Or so I was told anyway, I always assumed I had just slept through my alarm!

Sleep inertia (sleep drunkeness), disorientation and waking hallucinations are all signs of a sleep disorder.

> Most of us have forgotten what it really feels like to be awake.

Reminded me of this relevant TED Talk:


The quality of sleep is important, too. Sometimes, you get that 6 hour sleep that feels like an eternity and you are reborn when you wake up. Most of the time, we get 8 hours of mediocre sleep - guess which one's better?

There also seems to be a Ballmer's peak to sleep - too little and you're deprived, but too much and you're groggy and slow. 7 hours seems to do it for me - I am well rested, yet still on that invisible edge that makes my body push harder when I need it, unlike a seemingly good 9 hours of sleep, after which I just can't seem to engage that certain drive that makes me think quick and be creative.

I just woke up from a mid-afternoon nap and read this. What a lovely co-incidence. Tony Schwarz is still the ultimate when it comes to productivity. I first came across his material when watching Eben Pagan's "Get Altitude" seminar, and I have to say, what he said in that video was life changing. I've since seen the video a number of times. I don't think there's anyone else out there that explains it -- or even gets to the crux of the points -- like he does.

I've implemented many of his ideas over time (his book is good, but I still found the seminar to be better).

- Avoid multi-tasking. Anything that is an interference will reduce productivity - Create more physical energy by expending it - Be mindful of your emotional and spiritual energy. It works like a pyramid.

I'm not as disciplined as some of my friends who I watched this material with, but I will say, it's had a great impact on my life.

This whole idea that you need to work into the night, or around the clock is absurd. Our bodies aren't made for it.

If anyone is interested, we did an AmA about the benefits of and science behind sleeping and napping a while back: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1vyuz2/iama_scientist_...

Working from home helps a lot here. I've found starting the day with exercise (30 minute cycle ride) helps kick start my alertness. I split my lunch, I'll eat quickly at my desk around 12, then work for a couple of hours, then take a nap around 2pm. Seems to set me up for the afternoon.

Too bad the body is often pretty lousy at honoring requests for quality sleep even when we make the time.

Yeah, I found that I need to train my body to sleep. If I go for a week or two with little sleep, the body seems to readjust to the pattern and refuses to sleep more.

Did you read the article though? You may not be sleeping due to your training it but you're at a competitive disadvantage to your peers.

I don't think general_failure was saying it was a good thing, just that once they're on a short sleep schedule, they find it difficult to get more than that even when they try.

The first step is to kick a caffeine habit if you have one. That means no coffee, no tea, no caffeinated soda.

I have for most of my life not been drinking caffeine at all, and I'm never able to sleep whenever I decide to, apart from in the evening. So this is not a pancaea for everyone.

I never had a problem falling asleep but I kicked my daily morning cup of coffee and I can't believe how much energy I have. I used to feel a little fuzzy when I first woke up until I had my coffee but now I wake up so full of energy and feel great. I never realized just how negative caffeine is on your energy level.

Likewise. Stopped drinking it and for a week withdrawal was hard, but after that I would wake up in 3 minutes, rather than snooze for another 20. I do still crave for it, but one hour into the day you forget it and become normal.

Coffee is such a short term fix with implications for the rest of the night.

The best thing is that I actually sleep same amount, but am better rested. Perhaps it's not the same for everyone, but I feel more people should try it. Caffeine is the nicotine of our era.

Is there a second step...?

My suggestions:

2) Follow a consistent schedule. 3) Follow a consistent routine to prepare for sleep. 3a) Turn off screens well before bed. 4) Learn and follow relaxation/self-hypnosis scripts.

I've learned a lot about sleep from observing my baby daughter. Good sleep is easiest on top of good sleep; a tired brain usually has more, not less, trouble falling asleep. If my daughter misses her nap, she is more hyper and harder to settle down at bedtime. If she gets a nice long nap, she also is calmer at bedtime and falls asleep more easily.

I've had terrible sleep habits most of my life, and it's only now that I'm a parent that I can appreciate how powerful a consistent schedule and routine can be.

I'm a big fan of naps. I take one around 2PM or so, usually for about 15-20 minutes.

It's not about being a fan or not, it's about a possibility of doing this in a typical office.

Offices are lagging so far behind. We need bike storage, shower rooms, nap rooms, lots of natural light, open rooms, quiet rooms, better snacks and drinks...

My wife's office has bike storage, in a building built in the 1920s.

I can never take short naps. I always end up wanting to sleep the rest of the day.

Here's a few tricks I learned a few years ago.

1. I never nap for more than 20 minutes. If my body goes into a deeper level of sleep or relaxation, I get up feeling groggy and disoriented.

2. Properly nap. Force yourself not to think about work. Focus on other things such as the weight of your body sinking into the chair/couch, the distant sound of traffic, etc.

3. Towards the end of the nap, very slowly and deliberately count up to 20, with a maybe 2 or 3 long slow breaths between counts. Completely relax during this count, but on the count of 20 immediately, instantly get up and go about your business. Know that this is what you are going to do, but don't let your body tense up or in any way get ready for it. Works for me like a charm. Just psychologically knowing I'm going to do this somehow prepares me for it at a deep level.

> 1. I never nap for more than 20 minutes. If my body goes into a deeper level of sleep or relaxation, I get up feeling groggy and disoriented.

> 2. Properly nap. Force yourself not to think about work. Focus on other things such as the weight of your body sinking into the chair/couch, the distant sound of traffic, etc.

I think these are the most important, and they should be considered together.

Set a timer for 15 minutes, and lie down. Even if you don't fall asleep for those 15 minutes (I probably end up in deep sleep for 5-10 minutes), get up when your alarm goes off. Even closing your eyes for 15 minutes can be beneficial.

Towards the end of the nap, very slowly and deliberately count up to 20

How do you do this while you are asleep? Or do you mean do this after you wake up?

The latter. I read about this elsewhere (except it was counting down from 10, but the details don't matter). It's psychologically priming yourself, "I'm going to get UP at the last count!".

Part of it is about how it's easier to make such decisions when it's not right now, but somewhere in the future. The second part is that when the count is up, you actually do it without thinking.

I tried it a couple of times and it does seem to help with the "uggh no just one more minute" false reasoning. Haven't managed to turn it into a habit though.

Or, alternately, down a Red Bull before you drift off.

I used to be exactly the same way....particularly my late teens and twenties where I would sleep half the day if I tried to take a nap.

Sometime around 40 that changed. I take a nap almost every day, (sometimes 2, esp if doing something mentally taxing...I can do this since I work from home), but it's been years since I have been able to take a nap exceeding 20 minutes. I simply wake up, no alarm or stimuli needed. Even if I was up all night the night before. Sometimes, (like on Sunday afternoon), it's annoying. I would like to be able to enjoy a long nap again occasionally.

I've wondered about this, and would love a solid physiological explanation.

I'm 28 so maybe it will change as I continue to age. I used to be able to sleep until 3pm if I really wanted too(assuming I had no alarm clock to wake me up to do something productive). Now I naturally wake up around 7am-9am no matter how late I stay up.

Have a cup of coffee just before you take a nap. The caffeine will kick in at around the same time your 20-min alarm goes off.

Caffeine doesn't actually work like that. It's not a timed on/off switch. Like most drugs it'll gradually ramp up in effect, stay at max for a while and then taper off again.

So if it's "kicked in" when the 20 min alarm goes off that means the last 5 min of that 20 will have been restless because the caffeine was already working.

Caffeine is the great antagonist of sleep quality anyway. Just drop it for a month, see how that feels. Then see how much it fucks up your sleeping quality as you take even two cups of strong coffee (which is great fun because the caffeine will actually work full power, it's amazing, but your sleep after that night will suffer).

This "coffee power nap" thing is a very nice story, but it's based on nothing. People that have success with it are finding the benefits of having a nap despite their caffeine usage.

You may be right. I read that tip somewhere a few years ago, and it worked the times I tried it. It could have been the placebo effect or just coincidence, and I didn't try napping without it.

Is the problem waking up or a groggy feeling the rest of the day?

Usually waking up I think. I don't usually nap but I took a nap yesterday that probably turned into 3 hours of sleep. When I woke up I wanted to go to bed but once I got up and moving I felt fine.

That's actually really common. In fact I'm making a product / wearable to help with that. I'll do a Show HN soon :).

Have a coffee just before

Same here, although it seems quite personal in terms of benefits and ability to execute.

I'm jealous. It typically takes me an hour to fall asleep.

I also take a long time to fall asleep, but a nap does not have to mean full sleep. Just laying there for 20 minutes with your eyes closed is often just as effective.

That's absolutely true. Also, practice makes perfect!

Being able to set my own sleep schedule was a driving factor in wanting to start my own business. The tyranny of early wake ups and long commutes left me pissed off, grumpy and unable to work to the best of my ability at school and jobs.

All good and great that people write about the value of power naps. And I totally agree of it's value. I love power napping. The energy boost & mental clarity it provides is awesome.

But, I am still yet to see a startup/mature business declare proudly that they encourage nap time and/or list that in their benefits web page. Maybe some already do? But I haven't seen any yet. Please share links.

I am curious to see whether the reality of the business world allows for this natural boost or are we still deep down driven by old fashioned work ethics.

All hours of the night are not created equal!

I am happy with 5-6 hours a night + 20-30 mins of meditation in the morning.

But I always get to bed by midnight!

I used to work in the evenings until 1am or 2am and then sleep later. But I found getting up early (5:30am-6:30am) and working in the morning made a huge difference. Working late in the evening made me feel weak and stressed out. Working in the early morning after meditating makes me feel like I am serious seizing the day.

This is with 3 kids, busy job, hectic schedule etc.

I have tested this out on myself for the past 5 years.


I always try to get 8 hours a night no exceptions. I gave up caffeine 2 years ago and really haven't needed it. Many of my colleagues get about 6 hours a night and tell me they feel like shit. That said, my PI is one of the rare people who only needs 3-4 hours a night and the guy has published over 500 papers and has read nearly everything published in or tangentially related to neuroscience. On average he probably gets and extra day of productive time a week which is a huge advantage.

PI... principle investigator?


I learned early on the value of sleep - a good amount of rest allows you to be focused longer during dredges of work.

From my own experience, it helped immensely during grad school, and it helps me now with my career. I almost never have to wake up for an alarm - I naturally wake up at a good time, without the added stressor of a hurried morning. All it takes is a little discipline and advanced planning to get yourself prepared.

I'm sure it's true that avoiding sleep-deprivation is useful for "productivity", but, frankly, it saddens me that that this is the way it has to be pitched to get people to pay attention. Avoiding sleep-deprivation is also great for avoiding sleep-deprivation! You feel better and are healthier! Not all of life is (or should be) about productivity, the workplace, competitive advantage, etc.

I agree entirely! I absolutely love naps as a way to increase mental performance, and they're comfortable to boot. The issue I have is that I can't quite see myself having one in the office at work... I mean, perhaps I could get away with it, but those who don't understand the power of a quick nap to get your mind refreshed and working at 100% capacity would probably think I'm odd.

Add a yoga class to your lunch schedule... usually the final resting period is a great time to grab a 15 minute nap and get ready for the afternoon.

>The two techniques that most help me to fall asleep when I’m under pressure are to write down what’s on my mind (to get it off my mind) and to breathe deeply if I’m still staying awake — in to a count of three, out to a count of six.

A friend of mine once told me as I was feigning sleep one evening as usual to: "just breathe like you are already asleep"

And 5 minutes later I was out like a light.

I use the Jawbone UP24 to monitor my sleep, and apparently, whether I'm getting 4 hours or 6.5 hours, I constantly get ~ 3:50:00 of REM sleep. Yes, I'm one of those founders who can get by on less than 8 hours, but I totally recognize the value of naps and wouldn't discourage my cofounders or employees from taking advantage of that.

I would much rather have less sleep + a 15-20 minute nap in the evening than no nap and an extra 45 minutes sleep at night. Luckily at 7pm it's not hard to take a power nap at the office in the conference room on a bean bag chair. I wish most offices made it easier for people to take naps as it's proven productivity would rise.

I would much rather not be in the office at 7PM.

The corollary that he leaves out - Sleep appears to wash away toxins that collect during the stressful day. Sleep seems to be a form of garbage collection.


Has anyone tried polyphasic sleep cycles as a way to get less sleep without losing cognitive function?

Yes, I tried it for about 3 months 8 years ago.

You stay surprisingly functional for somebody who's only getting ~2 hours total sleep a day, but you definitely lose cognitive function. I didn't realize it at the time -- like a drunk or anybody functioning in a sleep debt it doesn't feel like you've lost cognitive function, but it's readily apparent to anybody who knows you well. The worst time is the half hour or so before your next scheduled nap.

Perhaps the biggest thing I gained from the experiment was the ability to take a power nap any time, any where.

> Perhaps the biggest thing I gained from the experiment was the ability to take a power nap any time, any where.

If this can be reliably learned, it actually seems really valuable. Now I wonder if there's a way to learn it that doesn't cost significant IQ for three months.

Lots of people try it, and some of them post articles here about how it feels starting out. I've never heard of anyone actually sticking to it. I also haven't seen any of these reports that give actual objective measures of before/after cognitive function (they don't even have to be that rigorous, maybe a log of scores/times at tetris or dual-n-back or sudoku or 2048 or something), just subjective reports which as TFA says aren't exactly reliable.

The author of the Ubersleep book is an example of someone actually sticking with it.


Another well-documented example is Steve Pavlina.


I've heard that the amount of sleep you need is a genetic thing. But is that true? Does anyone know what the main research articles are for that?

And has anyone ever significantly changed the amount they need by lifestyle changes (like daily exercise)?

I needed a few more hours sleep on days with a lot of exercise (hours long sessions).

Sleep hygiene helps. Lights out, blackout blinds, loud fans and notification sounds off, no TV in the bedroom. The sleep you get is of a higher quality.

I haven't done it yet, but reddish lighting for late evening is something I'm doing around the middle of fall this year.

If you're having trouble sleeping, see my previous comment on the issue:


I used to never be able to fall asleep before 5am.

I'm jealous of those high-energy folks that seem to be running around on even 7 hours without feeling exhausted. Whether I get 7 hours or 12 hours, I feel the same: sleepy.

After reading this, I slept for ~8 hours last night for the first time in months. I feel great today! Thanks!

we're so close to understand that we're slightly different for each other, and bio-self-analytics will show us this. we just need 2 or 3 years more. to hack us.

i find meditation/naps more powerful. getting into the sleep stage totally upsets cycles, etc. at least thats how it is for me

best sleep aid ever: the hostory of the decline and fall of the roman empire by edward gibbon.

2 pages for me and im out like a light.

I prefer "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Gibbon, by Edward Empire" myself...

edit: it's a Monty Python joke people. Perhaps more relevant would be to have a chat with Keith Maniac from Guatemala, who claims he can put bricks to sleep? (ref: http://www.montypython.net/scripts/interest.php)

any response including monty python gets an upvote from me!

I failed to read this article on an iPad because something (I think the floating link on the right) kept jumping me to another article. Of course the website isn't buggy I'm just holding it wrong.

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