Why Give a Damn:

When it comes to sleep and productivity, most entrepreneurs subscribe to the philosophy of the late, great baseball Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Yet this macho attitude actually harms your productivity, and by extension, your startup. Applying a few simple techniques can dramatically improve your sleep and your productivity.


The author of this post, Chris Yeh, has been building internet businesses since 1995 and currently serves as the VP of Marketing for PBworks, as well as a General Partner at Wasabi Ventures.

I’m living proof that having an insanely busy life and getting enough sleep aren’t mutually exclusive

I’m a sleeper. By that, I mean that I enjoy sleeping and make a conscious effort to get the sleep I think I need. But I’m also living proof that having an insanely busy (and productive) life and getting enough sleep aren’t mutually exclusive.

If you’ve spent any time reading productivity blogs, you’ve probably run across the concept of polyphasic sleep. The idea is that rather than getting your sleep in a single block (monophasic), you break up your sleep into multiple shorter blocks.

Winston Churchill, for example, was a biphasic sleeper during World War 2. He would awaken at 8 AM, work through lunch, take a 1-2 hour nap, them work until 3 AM.

Polyphasic sleep enthusiasts have plans that range all the way up to the Uberman, where sleep comes in 20-minute naps every 4 hours.

It’s especially difficult if you want to stay married

The problem with higher levels of polyphasic sleep is that it’s very difficult to maintain such rigid schedules, given our modern lives. It’s especially difficult if you want to stay married! (This is one of my top priorities.)

What I’ve done, therefore, is to adapt a flexible schedule where I have established nap routines that allow me to ramp up or down as my schedule permits.

My basic strategy is the Winston Churchill—if I’m tired, I take one 20-minute afternoon nap in my office. This allows me to get by with less than 6 hours of sleep at night. My routine is to go into a conference room, set a timer for 20 minutes, and lie down on a couch with an eyeshade. I perform a simple meditation to help me relax and fall asleep: I silently think one mantra as I inhale, and another mantra as I exhale. I picked “Love” and “Happiness” (which probably tells you a lot about me), but you should feel free to pick whatever two words mean the most to you. I usually end up falling asleep and waking up naturally without the timer after about 10 minutes.

You might feel strange about napping at the office; just point out to folks that you’re taking far less time to nap than they do to drive to Starbucks for coffee.

If I’m tired I take one 20-minute afternoon nap in my office

There are times when I have to stay up late, or the kids get me up early. Then I follow a very simple principle: The first chance I get, I take a nap. If I’m at the office, I follow the same process as above. If I’m at home, I lie down on my son’s bed (this makes it a different ritual than lying down for the night) and take my nap there. Sometimes, I’ll even take naps in random places, like lying on a mat while my son takes his piano lesson, or in my car when I’m waiting to pick my daughter up.

For example, when I’ve had very little sleep the night before (more on this later), I might take a 10 minute nap at 8 AM before I drop my daughter off at her school, a 10 minute nap around 11 AM, and a third 10 minute nap in the “standard” mid-afternoon time slot.

The general principle is to go to sleep as soon as possible after I start feeling tired. This helps me get to sleep quickly, and also helps maximize my productivity.

I take naps in random places, like in my car when I’m waiting to pick up my daughter

Finally, several times over the past month, I actually needed to stay up all night to work on some projects. I simply extended my general principle. I worked until I felt tired, then took a 20-minute nap on the couch. Because I was really tired, I was actually using the full 20-minutes some of the time. In the course of the night, I probably took four to six naps, totaling around one hour of sleep time.

The next day, I wasn’t exactly fresh (I usually employed my 3-nap schedule), but I certainly didn’t feel as tired as I did when I pulled conventional all-nighters in college.

I wouldn’t want to do it every night, but doing it once a week wasn’t a problem for me, and it allowed me to get by on less than 2 hours of sleep a night for that one night.

I didn’t set out to experiment with polyphasic sleep

I didn’t set out to experiment with polyphasic sleep in my life; rather, I simply found that taking naps when I felt tired made me feel better and more energetic. But the net effect is that I’ve become more productive and less tired. You can too.

An Unreasonable Challenge:

The next time you’re feeling tired after lunch, lie down and try to take a 20-minute nap. Even if you don’t fall asleep, the rest will rejuvenate you and make you productive the rest of the afternoon.

About the author

Chris Yeh

Chris Yeh

Chris is the VP Marketing for PBworks, partner at Wasabi Ventures, and an avid startup investor and advisor. He is also a co-author of The Alliance and serial tech entrepreneur in Silicon Valley.