We’re always trying to figure out how we can get ahead. Some of us want to set ourselves apart from our peers at work. Others may just want to increase productivity. Whatever the reason, the biggest step towards that change doesn’t even start in the office… or at the dinner table… or gym.

It starts in bed.

Have you figured it out? Yeah, they key to success is sleep.

Poor Sleep Does Not a Genius Make

Many of us may shy away from getting the proper amount of shut-eye because of an enduring myth that many of the brightest minds don’t sleep much at all. A recent episode of Freakonomics that explores the economics of sleep, and revealed that this mode of thinking is not only outdated, but on its way out. Diane Lauderdale, and epidemiologist at University of Chicago recalls a “period, in the 80’s, 90’s when, you know, Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton really bragged about only needing four hours or five hours of sleep,” but “far fewer people brag about how little they’re sleeping. They’re more likely to be complaining about how little they’re sleeping and valuing sleep.”

It’s almost as if blindly judging yourself by the standards of others is not the best way to live your life!

Sure, maybe some of your friends still brag about the little sleep that they need to run on a day to day basis. But if we’re going to compare the habits of the successful to our daily routines, why not flip the script? Take Winston Churchill for example. He may have been on the more nocturnal side, but the man valued rest. He would take a two hour nap each afternoon, rise at 6:30PM, relax, then resume furious work until 11:30PM. For more traditional sleep schedules of “sleep at night, work during the day”, check out this cool chart of the sleeping habits of some of the world’s most creative people:

From early birds to night owls – discover the sleeping habits of some of the world’s greatest minds.
Click image to see the interactive version (via Podio).

Benefits of Sleep

Yes, it makes you more alert during the day and less prone to passing out at your desk. And less likely to get fired. But I’m not talking about those benefits– your parent’s have probably been harping about the benefits of sleep since you were a kid. Though to be fair, those “benefits” were probably for them to get some well-deserved peace and quiet!

Well, there seems to be a personal financial benefit to more sleep. In “Freakonomics”, podcast-runner Steve Levitt examined the results of a sleep comparison between Huntsville Alabama and Amarillo, Texas. Why these two cities? Because they’re both in the same time zone, yet in Amarillo the sun sets, on average, one hour earlier. It’s a perfect experiment! The findings are complicated, but seem to corroborate the theory that those who sleep more also earn more. 4.5% more, to be exact. The two-part episode is fascinating, and I encourage you to listen to them both:


So, How Do I Become a Morning Person?

Yes, making the adjustment can be difficult. So, to make a positive change, you’ll need to ease yourself into a new schedule. The Art of Manliness has some great tips on becoming an early riser. I’ll share a few below, in addition to my own!

  • Get into bed at an earlier time: Seriously, this is a no brainer. You can’t expect to wake up earlier and feel refreshed if you’re going to bed at the same time as you did before. Look to the infographic above for some inspiration from creative minds.
  • Figure out how much sleep your body needs: It’s true, we all require a different amount of sleep. 7-8 Hours is the reccomended, but some may err closer to one hour over another. To figure out how much shut-eye you need, get into bed early– early enough so that you can sleep for eight hours, if need be. Set an alarm for eight hours, and then record the time you wake up. For example, if you get into bed at 10:30, set an alarm for 6:30. If you wake up at 6:00, chances are you’ll need 7.5 hours of sleep every night.
  • Make a good breakfast: Waking up early is a challenge for some people to make. So reward yourself with a delicious and nutritious breakfast.
  • Work out: Sometimes we work late, and are completely pooped by the time we get home. Fix this by hitting the gym (or trail) first thing in the morning. If you’re sluggish or find that you’re talking yourself out of going, make no haste in putting on your gym clothes as soon as you get up. Changing into your workout gear will make all the difference. Seriously.