Contrasting Thoughts on Sleep

You’re here on my real estate website, maybe wondering why I’m writing a blog on sleep, but you’re here, so never mind that. Being an agent to real estate transactions is how I make my living, but everything I write about is how I make my life. Sleep makes up the largest portion of your life, therefore, I have many thoughts on it.

For 6 years, I played hockey at the junior and university varsity level. I spent a lot of hours on a bus and slept a lot of nights in hotels all over North America while travelling to road games, tournaments and the like. I’ll always refer to this era in my life when I think about sleep because I learned the only 2 lessons I feel I need to ever learn on sleep. Lesson number 1, sleep is the greatest performance enhancing supplement you can add to your life. Lesson number 2, sleep is far less important than many make it out to be. These 2 lessons may seems quite contradictory, and they are, but allow me to explain.

Let’s start with lesson number 1. Remember the infamous Stanley Cup run the Vancouver Canucks made in 2011? The one when they lost and the city decided to have a hissy fit and riot all night long? If you ask diehard Canucks fans about that year, you’ll hear huffs and puffs and excuses and negative connotations to that whole Spring playoff season. However, that doesn’t come close to actually summarizing their incredible season. That was as close to a perfect team there’s been this century. The reason they lost was because Boston was tougher, not because they were a better team. The reason I bring this up is because that 2010/2011 Canucks team tracked team sleep metrics from the prior offseason all the way to the Stanley Cup final. With the data they collected, they structured their travel schedule to optimize the players sleep. At the time, this was a groundbreaking idea. Instead of accepting midnight flights and long travel days, they worked their travel entirely around creating an optimal sleep schedule for the guys actually playing. Of course we cannot credit this strategy with the teams success, but they were the top team all year, and the year after for that matter. The scientific benefit to consistent, quality sleep is startling, and today, it’s fully incorporated into top performing athletic institutions training regimes. I can personally vouch for enhanced performance with consistent, quality sleep as well.

Around the time I met my wife, Christina, I became the fittest, strongest and smartest I’ve ever been. Of course I was driven to be my best to impress her, but there were a few things that made this literally easier and more natural. On week days, I’d have a chance to see my future wife only while at school (we went to the same university but lived an hour apart). So, when I came home at the end of the day, I just went to sleep so that tomorrow would come sooner (an actual thought I had, for real). I’d have hockey practice until maybe 7pm, get home around 7:30pm and pretty much hit the hay from there. I used to watch those aforementioned Canuckleheads on TV from 7-10ish, so it felt weird at first that I was going to bed during the first period, but the Sedins were getting old anyways. This became my routine, so naturally I was getting far more sleep than I was used to getting. Not coincidentally, I look back on this era as one of the fondest times of my life. My GPA jumped a whole point, I scored more goals, had more friends, had a future wife and was physically stronger than I’d ever been. In that era, I’m positive I averaged more sleep than any other adult era of my life. It was my performance enhancing drug. I was lifting weight that my 5 foot 8, 162lb self had no business lifting, and I didn’t even drink protein powder. I wasn’t new to the gym either. I’ve lifted weights more or less my whole life, yet suddenly I was hitting personal records on a weekly basis. The only thing that changed was my amount of sleep.

You get my point, the benefits of more sleep are undeniable, now let’s move on to lesson 2: sleep is less important than it’s made out to be. Sounds backwards right? It is, but it’s true, just not always. As we know, consistent quality sleep is practically a performance enhancing drug. Here’s the thing though, who actually gets consistent quality sleep for years on end!? All the power to you if you do, but life is unpredictable. There’s travel, there’s events, there’s kids, illness and time changes. There’s a lot of things that can knock you off your sleep routine with ease. Knowing this, you better be able to adapt and get by without your 9 hours from time to time. Back to my travelling hockey career. Most weekends for those 6 seasons, I’d be on the road to some small town, staying at a Best Western with a stinky snoring roommate. Those nights were not exactly filled with beauty sleep. At the beginning of my junior hockey career, it freaked me out, because I couldn’t sleep the night before a big game. My roommate would be snoring, it’d be too hot or too cold and the bed sucked, so I figured I’d be doomed the next day. For a time I was, but I learned it was just a mental block, because one day in Revelstoke, BC, I played one of my best games all year. The previous day we played in Spokane, WA and I’m sure I didn’t sleep a moment that night. Yet somehow I killed it on the ice after a sleepless night. Breakthrough.

From then on, I stopped thinking about sleep on those road trips. I started referring to the time in those hotel beds as a chance for “comfortable rest” and any sleep would simply be a bonus. Firstly, this lightened the mental load and freed my mind and secondly, I learned that my game day performance could be just as good after a night of “comfortable rest” as it was after a night of good sleep. Now if this was a 7 night per week thing, of course it wouldn’t last, but it wasn’t every day, it was 1 to 2 days per week and I was a 17 year old athlete. I could pull off a sleepless night every now and again. Before you leave, stop being skeptical.

The whole reason for lesson 2 is to debunk your “reasons for not doing well” list and make sure lack of sleep the night before isn’t on it. For a time, anyone can thrive on late nights and early mornings. You can burn the midnight oil and jump out of bed the next morning and rule the world. If you don’t think so, you need to develop a bit more belief in yourself (that’s another topic). People limit themselves and their own capabilities by labeling themselves as people who need their beauty sleep. I’m here to say no you don’t, at least not every night. Show me any data you want, but you won’t convince me otherwise. Have you ever read a biography of a well known entrepreneur and come across the chapter when they talk about how they made sure they got their 10 hours every night so they could start their company? No because it doesn’t exist. Has any mother ever told you the story of how with the consistent 8 hours of sleep they got every night they were able to raise a superstar? No because it’s never happened. Some aspiring business owners let being tired be a reason they don’t thrive. Some mothers use lack of sleep as a reason for neglecting their career goals. Others don’t. The movers and shakers of this world don’t arrange their success strategies around their Oura Ring stats.

So what do we do with all of this? Sleep is a performance enhancing drug, but you can’t always tap into its full benefits. I suggest using the benefits as frequently as you can, but accept that it won’t be all the time. Do schedule your time so that you can consistently get sufficient sleep, but don’t worry if you don’t always get it. There are seasons and cycles to everything. If you can stay in a cycle of 9 hours every night, do it. If your cycle always leaves you tired by mid day, change it. Make sure you appropriately prioritize what you do. Sleep should be a priority, but it can’t always be the top priority.

- Cody