Considering how multiple articles on Hacker News have been about sleep in the past couple of weeks (one would think HN is currently made up of the sleep deprived undead), I figured I needed to share one of the best ways I’ve found to get sleep, and with it, moderate the emotional ups and downs of startup life, problem solve better, and generally find myself happier. Very, very few things have a return on investment as high as this, and I’m not saying this lightly. So what is it?
Keep the iPhone out of the bedroom.
Do not charge it there, do not leave it there, and for the love of God, do not take it to bed with you.
iPhones are powerful contraptions. Addictive, seductive, and to quote the colorful Scott Hanselman, they have forever changed the way we poo. I also fear, it’s forever changing how we sleep. I think a comic from chewingfat.co explains it best.
You’ve probably seen the RPI study on backlit devices (TL;DR: backlit devices mess with your melatonin, most likely keeping you up longer), but I don’t think it stops there, at least with me. I think my brain is constantly searching for more dopamine, which in turns makes it crave more dopamine, and having access to the internet at night has been a losing proposition for me for the past ten years. There’s always something more I need to read, something more I’m missing, that next article will give me the piece of technological insight I’ve been needing all this time.
No, it won’t. Sleep is a much better investment of my time. And besides, I’m not going to find what I’m looking for on Hacker News.
However, telling myself this at 2 AM simply doesn’t work. The desire to refresh the latest NYT headlines is just too strong. This was a case where I needed to apply a little BJ Fogg-iness and not attack the problem head on (that usually ends badly) but rather design around it and change my environment. Fortunately, putting a door in my way and forcing me to leave bed at an ungodly hour is rather odious. One experiment with leaving my phone out of my room proved me right. I went to bed earlier, I got up earlier. Very few things in life have instantaneous effects like that for me (the only thing close was when I discovered Counter Strike in college… but that had an instantaneous effect in the opposite direction).
After a week I discovered something else, too. I suddenly had an extra 30-45 minutes in the morning. Before when I would wake up, I’d check Facebook, check the NYT, check email, slowly drag myself out of bed, then scramble to start my day. Instead, I suddenly and leisurely found the chunk of time I’ve always wanted for meditation. I’ve never been able to meditate for longer than 10 minutes at most, feeling that I NEEDED to be working soon, or I was wasting time. Suddenly, 30-45 minutes appeared where nothing was expected of me. So, I was sleeping more, and finally meditating? Either I’d stumbled upon something insanely valuable, or some symbiotic microbe had taken hold of my brain and turned me into some sort of adult.
I’m still not sure how something like this happened with one small change, but it makes you think. I’ve probably tried thousands of little hacks in my life, especially around sleep. None were as effective as this.
I’m sure many of you have a few objections to this, though. Those without landlines may be a bit afraid in case there’s an emergency. I’m sure if you’re enterprising enough, Google Voice with dirt cheap pay-as-you-go phones, keeping your phone outside but within earshot, or just getting a landline will remedy the situation. I’ve also had fear grip me when I can’t capture a late night idea in Omnifocus, but a notebook and Sharpie on the bedside table does the trick. Given how my mood and work improves when I do get eight hours consistently, I’d say that getting a good night’s sleep is probably the best use of my time… way better than catching up on reddit.
Full Disclosure: I have a confession to make. I haven’t been sleeping well these past few months and definitely haven’t been meditating. However, that is likely due to my eleven week old daughter. Getting sleep in this new environment… still working on that one.