In the HBO sitcom Silicon Valley, performance-enhancing drugs like Adderall are used by characters to stay awake and focused during marathon coding sessions at their startup. But are prescription stimulants, cocaine and other drugs a real part of startup culture?
You betcha. In July, Miami-based addictions coach Cali Estes told newspaper reporters that, as someone who has worked with clients from Apple, Twitter, Facebook, Google and Yahoo, he can attest that the Silicon Valley drug problem is real. And it’s “a lot worse than what people think because it's all covered up so well."
As the CEO of a tech company, I can relate. Not to the drug use, but to the incredible pressures that are often behind it. Burning the midnight oil and skipping sleep to gain a competitive advantage is something I’ve struggled with, especially back when Hootsuite was still a startup.
This problem certainly isn’t confined to those in tech world. In the post-recession business landscape where good jobs continue to be hard to come by, more and more employees across all industries are working harder than ever, even if it means sleeping a lot less.
In fact, lack of sleep has become so widespread that the CDC recently declared it a public epidemic. People just aren’t getting enough sleep, leading to consequences like literally thousands of traffic fatalities a year caused by drowsy drivers. Meanwhile, long-term health effects include increased risk for diseases like hypertension, diabetes, depression and obesity. Another study found that when people slept under six hours a night for a prolonged period of time, they ended up, in cognitive terms, legally drunk.
So what’s the solution? And exactly how much sleep is healthy?
The National Institute of Health says adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a night. However, if you look up the topic online, you’ll quickly find highly varied recommendations. I found one that said 6.5 hours or less is adequate, while another suggested up to ten (based on a study involving serious athletes). I even came across one fascinating report that suggests humans naturally sleep in two four-hour increments, separated by a one- or two-hour waking “break.”
The bottom line is that there’s probably no magic recipe for sleep that fits us all. The key—as cliched as it sounds—seems to be listening to your body. It’s not worth depriving yourself of sleep for an extended period of time, no matter how pressing things may seem. A good metaphor is running a marathon versus a sprint. In your job, you can sprint from time to time, but long-term success depends on maintaining a marathoner’s steady gait.
Your body will thank you. Studies have shown that simply by sleeping more, we can live longer, be happier and less stressed and even become more creative.
And employers are starting to listen to the science. In an interesting twist, many of the same tech startups so notorious for workaholic culture are taking the lead in ensuring employees get adequate shut-eye. Many companies (including my own) are putting nap rooms and sleeping pods in their offices, encouraging employees to catch a few winks on the job to avoid burnout. Universities and colleges have gotten in on the act, too. A recent study found that even a quick ten-minute power nap can help us boost focus and productivity.
Also growing in popularity are a variety of new personal tracking devices like Fitbit, Jawbone, and Basis—all with functionality aimed to help us sleep better and improve our lifestyles by leveraging data and technology. The newest and hottest gadget of the bunch of course, is the freshly unveiled Apple Watch—which could singlehandedly take the quantified self movement to a whole new level. Apple’s customizable smartwatch unfortunately doesn’t track sleep itself, but it’s likely its accompanying software Healthkit or a companion app like the popular Sleep Tracker, will offer seamless integration.
Exciting times. (And hopefully more restful nights).