The Secret Superpower of (Long Term) Overachievers

When I was in college I routinely lived on 4hrs of sleep. Who has time for sleep when there are all these video games to play?   

 Back then, we didn’t have the extensive selection of energy beverages we have now. If you didn’t like coffee, then you could try this new thing called Red Bull. I specifically remember that Red Bull sponsored a 10PM event at my university during finals week in the Fall of 1999. I liked how it tasted but it didn’t really work for me (it didn’t give me energy, it just didn’t let me sleep) and besides, I didn’t need it.  

Peter

I would purposely schedule all my classes as early as possible (7AM Advanced Tax Accounting anyone?), work from 11AM-2PM, more classes in the afternoon, at least one extracurricular meeting, a study group, homework, and then probably around 2:30-3AM I would go to sleep just to do it all over again in 4 short hours. My summers were pretty much the same except I had an extra job.  

I did a variation of that for my 4 years of college and continued to do so after I graduated and started working full time. When working in public accounting, especially during busy season, a 100hr work week is not only the norm, it is expected.  I remember one time I worked from 12 noon on a Sunday until 10PM Monday night, went back in at 7AM Tuesday and left work again at 7PM Wednesday evening. I was so sleep deprived that I was halfway through writing a technical tax memo before I realized I was writing it in Spanish. The client only spoke English. 

Although it wasn’t always like that, it wasn’t uncommon to pull a couple of all-nighters during tax season. And throughout it all, my usual 4-5hrs of sleep. 

Was I tired? Of course! I had what I considered the super power of being able to fall asleep anywhere. Later on I found out it wasn’t a super power at all and instead it was a sign that I was exhausted.  However I thought that was how everyone felt.  I was always amazed at how some people would be able to do bigger and better things and didn’t look as worn out as me. What was their secret!?!?

It wasn’t until I met my wife that I discovered what everyone else knew: Sleeping helps you perform better. The more you sleep the more energy you’ll have to do what you really want to do (this includes video games). I always credit her for not only improving my physical performance, but also my mental performance and maybe even extending my life span.  Wuv you honey bun!

So why do I bring this up? Well because during the Summer months is where I see many students and professionals fall into bad habits of staying up late and not getting enough sleep. After 3 months of this you will accrue a sleep deficit which will affect your performance. If you’re not performing at your best, you’re not going to come across as your best. 

Who would want to hire some Red Bull junkie who’s so sleep deprived he doesn’t know if he’s writing in a foreign language? Not a top company that’s for sure. 

Not even I can help you find a job you want if you’re too worn out to focus during an interview prep session.  With that being said, here are the 3 steps that I took to get off the No Sleep train and finally get my energy and mental capacity I require to perform at my best.

Cut out the “Energy” beverages

Look, I’m sure you’ve heard the urban tales about how your neighbor’s cousin’s ex-girlfriend’s dog walker who is now an AC guy died of a heart attack from drinking too many Red Bulls. I’m not a doctor and I’m definitely not your mom to try and scare you away from Red Bull, Monster, Four Loko or whatever it is you like to drink to stay awake. As a matter of fact, I love how Monster Low Carb tastes. If I could get that flavor without the after effects, that’s all I would drink. Hell I would have made my wedding toast with Monster Low Carb if it was socially acceptable.

All I’m saying is if you routinely reach out for these types of beverages to keep you going, you’re only treating the symptoms (sleepiness) and not taking care of the disease (lack of sleep).  I can already hear the whiny “But I’m so tired. I need my Mountain Dew Xtreme energy! How am I going to function?” cries coming through my internet connection. My response is this: If you’re tired, go to sleep. If you get enough sleep, you’re not going to need the energy drinks. If you can’t sleep, it’s because you probably have some energy drink traces in your body. You’re just going to have them run through your system. 

Make your bed a place for sleep

We’re all guilty of having our phones next to our beds with a tv connected to Netflix sitting right across from it. If you have enough will power, just shut everything down, make your room as dark and as cool as you consider comfortable, and go to sleep. Make sure you’re not checking your phone, email, or watching tv. 

You can try praying, meditating, or whatever else calms you down to help you go to sleep. Some people like reading to help them get to sleep. May I recommend this book: Sleep Book

If you think having your phone next to your bed will be too much of a temptation, turn it completely off and/or put it outside your room. I’m sure the rest of us will be able to survive without seeing what witty and deep thoughts you come up with for your twitter feed. 

Ask to not be disturbed

What I have the hardest time is actually getting people to leave me alone when I am determined to get sleep. Whether it’s someone calling to make plans, a text from a friend, or a  Netflix show that needs to be binged watch RIGHT NOW, they somehow always try to interrupt my sleep. I avoid all this by turning my phone off and/or leaving it outside my room. I keep the remote away from the nightstand or allow myself to watch one episode. If needed, you can also tell whoever you think may call you that you’ll be sleeping so not to call you 10 times in a row to ask why you aren’t answering. You can use the message below if you want

Mom/Dad, Wife/Husband, Life,

I’m working on improving my performance and for that reason, I need to sleep more. Can I please not be disturbed for the next several hours. As a commitment to this, I agree to leaving my phone outside of my bedroom during this time. A guy on the internet told me so it’s 100% legit. Thank you

 Keep a schedule

I’m notorious for keeping things on my Google Calendar. If something is not there, it doesn’t exist to me. I schedule workout times, clients meetings, time to write, time with my family, and even my sleep. Although it may sound constricting, having a time where I can focus on Task A helps me not get distracted with Task B. If you’re having trouble maintaining a sleep schedule, make it an appointment on your calendar and keep yourself accountable for staying on it. Most phone have a sleep analyzer (usually found in the Alarm App). I have it set for 8hrs of sleep with a reminder 30 mins before my scheduled sleep time so I can start getting ready. That way I know when it’s time to go to sleep and I don’t even have to think about it. The calendar does the tracking for me.   

Respect the schedule and the schedule will respect you.

 Nap if needed

I love napping but I used it to replace my sleep as opposed to adding to it. It wasn't until my mentor, a 70+ guy who can outthink circles out of people half his age told me about how he credits napping with keeping him and his mind in tip-top shape.

If you’re especially sleep deprived, you may need to consider including naps as part of your sleep routine. As long as you don’t let the nap take away from the time you already expect to sleep at night, you should be fine. Follow the same suggestions from above to make sure your napping is productive. 

Do you think your sleep is affected when you're out of school or during the summer? What else do you think gets off track that affects your performance? Let me know.

Be Bold!

Ramon