Entrepreneur Journal #4: How I Dealt with Poor Sleep & Exhaustion
Over the past few months, ever since I started paying more attention to my entrepreneurial projects, I realized I was going through cycles of high productivity and exhaustion.
I would work my ass off for two-three weeks, sleeping very little, not exercising, not having the time to even eat properly. I would be super productive during this time, doing everything I could to meet my deadlines and finish the tasks at hand. Once the deadline passed and I finished what I had to do, both my body and mind would start to feel the strain. Then, for almost two weeks I would barely be capable of focusing and doing any work.
During my last work rush, I decided I need to change something in the way I do things, so I could break that negative cycle. I was so sick and tired of feeling all kinds of muscle pains (the worst is the shoulder one).
The biggest issue I faced was not getting quality sleep.
Going to bed was a horrifying thing for me. It was heartbreaking knowing that I would go to bed and struggle to fall asleep only to wake up in the morning exhausted, depressed and unmotivated. The poor sleep I was getting was impacting every aspect of my life. I wasn't happy and I was in pain most of the days.
So I decided to make a change.
Now, more than half a year later, I feel like a completely different person. I fixed my bad sleep habits and I get so much better sleep.
I want to share my story of dealing with poor sleep and exhaustion.
My "how I did it" is meant to help you if you're feeling lost going through the same thing in your entrepreneurial journey. Know that it is possible to change your habits, improve your sleep and your life.
It does take a bit for the changes to work, but it does. It took about 3 months until I finally made a break and had my first nights of healthy sleep. But it is worth it. More than half a year later, I am so grateful to myself for dealing with my sleep problems.
Acknowledge the problem
First things first: I had to acknowledge I actually had a problem. In spring 2017 I had my first big exhaustion meltdown. It was after an awesome week working with La Blouse Roumaine for a project during the European WAG MAG Individual Championships, in Cluj, Romania. The experience in itself and the people I worked with were spectacular. I couldn’t have asked for better people to have in the team. However, after one week, when I got back home, I crashed super hard.
A couple of weeks later, I had another exhaustion breakdown. And again, and again throughout the year. I brushed the idea off right away. Why would I have an exhaustion problem, I’m no CEO, I have no employees, all my things are small potatoes. Then the speech I was giving myself changed: I will know when to stop to avoid worse health problems. I’ll tell you right away: no, I didn’t know.
One year forward, and so many cycles of exhaustion and productivity, I finally realized I have a problem.
Learn to know when to stop
I have made this mistake so many times, but only recently I became aware of what I was doing to myself. I am constantly pushing my limits, striving to learn more, work harder and taking on new challenges. That’s just who I am and I am not going to try and change that (any longer). But at the same time my resources are limited. While I might be able to work through the exhaustion, sooner than later, it catches up with me and sends me back spiraling into this circle of exhaustion and super productivity.
My aim is to live a happy and healthy life. I work hard to achieve that but to be able to do and enjoy what I love most, I need to stop stretching myself. Instead of working well after midnight, I stop at 11 pm. Sure, I could push myself to keep editing photos, writing blog posts or reading for another hour, but I’d rather stop and conserve my energy for the next day.
This leads me to two hacks I found useful in dealing with exhaustion: power naps and positive affirmations.
Take a power nap
When I was child I would spend my summers at my grandparents’ house. One of the house rules (which I always broke) was to sleep one hour after lunch. My granddad would say “now is the time to enjoy this nap. When you’ll grow older you’d wish you’d had the time to take a nap at lunch”. Oh, boy, did he speak the truth!
I had heard of other people taking power naps to calm down their mind and give the body a moment of pause. However, I’m not the kind of lucky person who falls asleep as soon as their head hits the pillow. Oh, no. It would usually take me somewhere from 30 min to 80 min to fall asleep. So I have actually actively avoided falling asleep during the day because I was worried it would be in vain.
Sara C. Mednick, PhD, sleep expert and author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life says that during a daytime power nap "You reset the system and get a burst of alertness and increased motor performance. That's what most people really need to stave off sleepiness and get an energy boost."
I found that taking the decision to take a power nap was harder than actually falling asleep for 10 to 20 minutes. Besides it not being a normal, accepted thing to do during a work day (imagine taking a nap in your office, the looks you’d get), I had to accept the risk I might not even fall asleep at all. Surprisingly, power naps work (for myself at least).
Now, whenever I feel I can’t keep my eyes open, I stop whatever I’m doing and go cuddle in my bed. I set up an alarm to go off after 40 minutes. During that time slot I would actually get 10 to 20 minutes of sleep and wake up feeling refreshed and relaxed.
I know how this sounds, but it does work. The words we speak have the ability to rewire our brains. Instead of being stuck in a cluster of neurons that link to negative emotions and stress, you could break that cycle.
I have been using positive affirmations for a some time now. I even had a client whom I helped create visual assets for her affirmations and astrology business.
Only recently I decided to try and use positive affirmations to help me fall asleep.
It was a huge breakthrough when I realized that my mind was too active and was preventing me from falling asleep and having a good one for that matter. I am constantly brainstorming, thinking of innovations, going over the day’s tasks, going over what I’m going to do the next day, thinking of my goals and so on.
One night I was feeling very tired and super stressed about all the things I still had to do the next day. For some reason, I realized I was wasting my rest time. So I started commanding my body and mind to relax and go to sleep.
Through repetition, I eventually created a sequence that combines positive affirmations with mindfulness meditation.
While I lay down in my bed, I start identifying the areas in my body that are tense or in pain. I start by thanking my body for keeping me alive, I thank my cells for doing great job, I thank my brain.
I then positively condition myself:
My cells are in perfect health. My cells are working towards my health. My cells are awesome.
My body is healthy. The pain in my body is disappearing. My muscles relax. My body relaxes.
My brain is healthy. My brain is regenerating. My brain is regenerating. My brain is regenerating. My mind relaxes.
I am falling asleep. I am ready to sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. I will have a good night rest.
Tomorrow is going to be an awesome day. Tomorrow I will feel great. Tomorrow I will feel rested.
Obviously, you can personalize the affirmations any way you want. And if you feel skeptical about using positive affirmations, I’d just say: try it for a couple of days and make a note of how your days are before and after.
Being an entrepreneur is all about being able to sustain a marathon.
Winning small fights does make it all more exciting, but on the long run, I realized not taking care of myself can impact me physically and mentally.
I made a promise to myself to take better care of my body and mind. Fingers crossed I will be able to keep it up.
I would love to hear from you. How are you dealing with exhaustion as an entrepreneur, what tips do you have for better sleep? Let me know in a comment below what worked for you.