For a long time, I underestimated the importance of sleep.

Sure, I know that sleep is important for health and happiness and all of that … but it wasn’t until I learned two things that sleep took on a new importance for me:

  1. If you don’t get enough sleep, you will fail at changing habits; and
  2. If you have a lack of sleep, your motivation will drop tremendously.

For years I focused on waking early so that I’d be more productive and be able to focus on my morning habits. But those two things were harmed by a lack of sleep.

I could cite a bunch of studies and numbers, but here’s the honest truth: based on my own self-experiments, and working with thousands of people on habits, sleep is one of the most important but least valued factors when it comes to creating habits.

And in my own life, I’ve noticed that when sleep levels drop, my productivity drops. My motivation to work on hard projects drops.

Here’s what happens:

  • I stay up late but still try to get up early, and so I’m in a bit of a sleep deficit.
  • Unfortunately, I stay up late the next night, but still get up early the following morning, and the sleep deficit grows.
  • This continues until I’m really tired and just not motivated to do anything.
  • This lack of motivation drops my discipline levels, so that my healthy habits get forgotten. All I care about is how crappy I feel, and how to comfort my bad feelings.
  • Whatever project and/or habits I’ve been working on get dropped. I feel worse.

This pattern continues until I get enough sleep. It takes a day or two to get back to where I should be.

I still do this from time to time, but I’ve learned this pattern the hard way from so many repetitions that I’m much better at getting sufficient sleep these days. And I’ve gotten better at recognizing the signals that I’m not getting enough sleep, soon enough that I can remedy the problem sooner.

How to Get Better Sleep

I’m not an expert on sleep, but here’s what I find to work for me:

  • Go to bed earlier. I like to wake up fairly early (not the crazy early hours of my past), but if I don’t go to sleep earlier, then waking early is a mistake.
  • Sleep in if I don’t go to bed early enough.
  • Have a bedtime routine. I don’t always follow my routine, but when I do, I sleep much better. Basically, it involves flossing, brushing my teeth, cleaning up, shutting down my computer/phone, and then reading.
  • Meditate. I lie down with my eyes closed, and meditate, focusing on my body and breath. If I’m tired, this never fails to put me to sleep.

If for some reason those things don’t work, I use this method (walk myself through my memories of the day in detail) to finally fall into the gentle embrace of sleep.

If you find yourself lacking motivation or having trouble changing any habits, check your sleep levels. It could be the factor that’s holding you back.

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