Science strikes again, this time in the form of a study published in late July in the Journal of Business Venturing. A team of researchers studied the impact of a lack of sleep on the ability to spot and evaluate business ideas.
In one piece of the study, 784 entrepreneurs were asked to report the amount of sleep they got the previous night, then were presented with three new business venture ideas. Two of the ideas were judged in advance by a panel of qualified experts as being solid ideas worthy of pursuit (superficial and structural elements of the ideas were both quite sound). The third idea had superficial plusses, but was deeply flawed from a structural perspective. Entrepreneurs with less sleep frequently rated the ill-conceived, superficial idea higher than the other two.
In other words, they were more likely to pursue bad ideas and miss spotting good ideas.
In another part of the study among 101 entrepreneurs, the researchers found that the more tired the entrepreneurs were (again, as measured by reported amount of sleep they got the night before) the less able they were to effectively evaluate the plusses and minuses of an idea.
Why this research finding is so important.
As an entrepreneur or anyone in business, there are peak times when you have to be at your best. You want to be armed with enough rest to perform at your best in those times.
But what times? It’s not easy to just flip the switch and get plenty of sleep each night to cover all your bases. I’d argue that the night before those days when you’ll be evaluating opportunities is one of those times that you simply just need sleep.
A missed opportunity is something that may never come back. A bad idea you pursue is time you’ll never get back. High stakes require high alertness levels.
In fact, I’ve worked at prioritizing sleep above all else when I know I need my neurons to be firing the next day at their very best. For example, the night before I go on stage to give a keynote to 1,000 people, I’m in bed early.
And if at all possible, an hour before I go on stage, I’m in my room with the lights off, taking a micro-nap. This is where I set the alarm on my phone for 20 minutes later, I close my eyes, focus on my breathing, and even practice breathing as if I were in a deep state of sleep.
Even though I don’t actually fall asleep, it’s amazing how much clearer my head is and how much more energized I feel when I hit that stage and the bright lights go on. I’m catching up now on the Showtime series Billions, and I saw both lead protagonists in the series, the US attorney and a billionaire, taking 20 minute micro-naps. If it works for them, then I can’t be too far off in my own practice.
The bottom line is you need to get your bottom in bed for those next days that count most. When opportunity comes knocking, you don’t want it to encounter a “do not disturb” sign. Rather, you need to have that hung before opportunity shows up.