As the co-founder of Board of Innovation and member of the founding team of AddApp.io, I know a thing or two about startup life.
Within a small team you have to be a jack of all trades. On top of the work you do directly for clients, you need to spend quite some time on running the business: recruiting, marketing, etc… I could manage this life pretty well. I’d just start the day early and end late in the evening. The same story for the weekends. The thrill of building my own venture kept me going!
1 year ago things changed: I had a baby
Actually, the first impact on my life was noticeable a couple of months before that. Everybody who shared his bed with a pregnant woman knows what I’m talking about. I still had a decent number of sleep hours, but I slept less deep.
sidenote: At this point it is worth mentioning that my ‘negative’ sleep experience, is nothing compared to what my wife had to go through. Honestly, I would have died. Endless respect 😉
Then suddenly, the baby is born and you’re in this rollercoaster called fatherhood. For the first two days sleep was my lowest priority. While one week later, sleep must have topped my personal hierarchy of needs.
Once I started working again, I tried to find a way to cope with my baby-duties at night alongside my entrepreneurial ambitions. After weeks and months of sleep deprivation, you fool yourself in believing that you’re getting used to it (I wasn’t).
As a result of losing sleep, next came an unhealthy daily load of caffeine. I pulled myself together with the idea that nights would soon become normal again (they didn’t). Honestly, I couldn’t imagine how many “fluids” could go in and out a baby, especially at night. Then there are the first teeth, some fever or just our cat that unilateral decides to play with the baby at 4:30 am.
How much caffeine is too much?
Caffeine can be a great short term energy boost, but longer term it can have a number of negative effects on your body. Experts recommend that men don’t exceed more than 400mg of caffeine per day (roughly 4 cups of coffee) and women shouldn’t exceed more than 300mg per day (roughly 3 cups of coffee). Some caffeine alternatives can be found here.
Recently I read that the average parent loses 800 to 1,000 hours of good sleep the first year their baby is born. That is 2-3 hours per day. A number that fits my experience. As an entrepreneur, I realise that I can outsource and delegate a lot of activities. Unfortunately, outsourcing sleep is not an option.
On an average night before my baby was born I would get around 8 hours sleep, as I mentioned above this was certainly not the case after my baby’s arrival. This lost sleep is what experts refer to as “sleep debt” — and in my case losing 2-3 hours per night is the equivalent of losing nearly two days worth of sleep each week.
Not only did this sleep debt leave me feeling physically fatigued, it also left me feeling mentally fatigued at times too (more on this below).
Less creative & drop in short term memory
My 1,000 hours sleep deficit did strange things to my body. I noted that I forgot things much faster. Luckily, my Wunderlist, Google Calendar & Moleskine did save me more than once. I also observed how my bruised short term memory made me ask things multiple times. Repeatably, colleagues had to re-brief me on a given topic. It was frustrating for both parties.
After digging a little deeper I found that these signs of mental fatigue weren’t exclusive to me. A Harvard Medical School study by Jeffrey Ellenbogen found that sleep deprivation can lead to a foggy brain. Other known side-effects from lack of sleep include worsened vision and trouble remembering.
Ever more importantly, I was less creative. In my profession, this is a crucial competence. As a solution, the only thing I could do was to cut last-minute preparation work. I’d rather have 1 hour of extra sleep than 10 extra slides for my brainstorm the next day. The graphic below illustrates how lack of sleep affects our brains:
Though literature is less conclusive on the relationship between long-term sleep deprivation and creativity, the above graphic and a study by JA Horne shows that extended periods of sleep deprivation will affect divergent thinking and creativity.
In contrast, from my experience, short term sleep deprivation sometimes leads to increased creativity. Just imagine what strange connections a sleepy mind could make. This could make sense, but months without good sleep take their toll.
One year on
Babies don’t fall out the sky. When another baby hits the pipeline, I will have nine months to prepare myself. This time I’ll have first-hand experience (and more data) to optimize my work and routines – based on the insights I get from Addapp.io I’ll be able to see what drives or impacts my sleep.
I would love to learn from other entrepreneur-mothers and fathers! What productivity tricks do you use to manage months of lost sleep? Did you also note an impact on your short term memory & creativity? Thanks for sharing!
Image credit: Visual.ly