By June 16, 2016

Should I Sacrifice My Sleep So I Can Work More?

In this video, I'll talk a little about sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation is when you give up your sleep in exchange of other “more important tasks”. Today I received a question from a reader asking me about sleep deprivation. In this video, he asked me if it was ok to sacrifice his sleep in order to work more and advance in his career.

While this may seem like the “best option” at the moment. You need to think about sustainability, personal health and overall performance?

Wanna know more? Watch this video and find out!

Transcript Of Video

John Sonmez: Hey, what's up, John Sonmez from I’m going to answer this question about sleep deprivation. This is—I’ve gotten a few questions about this, about sleeping schedule and stuff like that. I thought this is a pretty good one that kind of summarizes it which is—this comes from—let’s see, who is this coming from? I don’t have a name so let’s read it here. It says, “Hi John, I hope you can answer me a quick question related to health and time. When you were just starting out and you were trying to learn as many things as possible with little time, is it right to sleep much less so you can be successful faster? I’ve been sleeping even for 3 or 4 hours some days because I just did not have time to do everything I purposed myself to do in a day. But it gets to me by making my ability to focus weaker and in some days I just crash and sleep longer than usual. However, there is much more time available to learn and do stuff if I sleep less. I’m sure it’s bad for my health but I feel that even if I can’t stay concentrated because of sleep deprivation, I can make more progress because I know in my mind I woke up earlier for a purpose. What are your thoughts on this? How much should you sleep when your job takes away a lot of time from your personal projects? Is it better to do very little progress every day and sleep more or sacrifice yourself for a bit in order to achieve what you want faster? Thanks for all the great advice so far.”

I don’t want to tell you that sleep deprivation is good, but I will say that sometimes you can gain a benefit, but it’s only for a short amount of time. There is something that you could try. I tried it for a little bit, it’s called polyphasic sleeping which is basically where what you do is instead of sleeping 8 hours a day, level one would be that you sleep for 3 hours a day twice a day. Level 2 might be something like you sleep for 2 hours a day 3 times a day and level 4, like you could take this one I think at the highest phase it’s like every 2 hours you sleep for half an hour. You don’t end up sleeping very much at all. I forget exactly. But you could get to this point, you could look it up if you look up polyphasic sleep where you basically can supposedly get a full—same amount of rest by breaking up your sleep sleeping 4 hours a day.

Now, for some people this is—for no one it’s practical, right? I know a friend that did this that was—before I was running my business, when I working a regular job and he was running this online business and he tried this. He was just a nightmare to be around when he was doing this because he was grumpy and every like—his alarm would go off on his iPhone and he’s got to go take a nap. Wherever you are he’s got to lay down and take a nap for 20 minutes. He’s got to put on his sleep mask and ear things because wherever he’s at—it was kind of crazy. I don’t think it was worth it. He tried it for a while and supposedly it worked, but he’s not doing it now.

I only say that because there are some ways possibly to cheat sleep but it also has a detriment on you. As far as more practical term of just like doing this for the short term, sacrificing sleep I think that if you have a specific goal and objective in mind that it’s the same thing as like working really hard, working 12-hour days or 14-hour days. You can get away with doing that for some period of time, there has been times when I focused down hard and I turned the screws really hard and for even like a 6-month period I did nothing but work and I didn’t sleep very much at all and I got stuff done. I had a specific purpose and goal in mind and it was painful but I got through it and it was worth it, but you can’t keep doing that. It’s not a sustainable thing.

My answer would really be that it depends on the situation and how long you’re planning on doing this. If you’re going to sacrifice your sleep for a few weeks or maybe even a few months and you have a very focused goal and a good reason for doing this and you’re going to drive towards that goal, you could probably do it. You could probably will yourself through it, but eventually it’s going to catch up to you. The more that you do this, the more chances that when it catches up to you you’re actually going to suffer from real burn out which is going to cause you to crash and burn harder.

I would say that for the most part you want to focus on something that’s sustainable. Again, we talk about this in diet and nutrition and health plan, all of this stuff, right? Always sustainable is best for the long term. That’s what I would say is—again, even if you do this on the short term, I’ve noticed because I’ve gone and worked really hard. I’ve tried this with the Pomodoro technique and I’ve basically gone and worked extra time during the week and then the next week I end up doing less. It sort of balances out. The same thing I found with sleep is if I only go on 3 or 4 hours of sleep at night for 3 or 4 days then I’m going to have one day where I’m totally wiped out. I also find that my general focus is less.

Another factor in there would also be on what kind of work you’re doing, right? If you’re doing really, really focused concentrated work you’re just not going to be able to do it if you’re sleep deprived at all. You’re going to have to be fully rested. Same thing with creative work, you can’t really do creative work when you’re sleep deprived. If it’s monotonous work if it’s just like going to the job and doing whatever and just getting through the day or manual labor, maybe you could survive on less sleep, but you kind of have to judge it for yourself and see.

I’m not going to say that you can’t ever benefit from it but you’ve got to figure out where it works for you and you can’t use this as a long term plan. If you use sleep deprivation to get ahead make sure it’s short term, make sure you have a clear focus and goal and make sure that you’re valuing that time and make sure that you’re being productive because it is possible, and I’ve noticed that sometimes the best thing for me to do is to take a nap because it’s possible to get to a point where you are operating at a fourth the amount of efficiency that you should. What I mean by that is it could take you 4 hours to do something that would normally take you 1 hour. If you’re doing that even if you’re gaining extra 2 hours by sleeping 2 hours less at night you’re netting way in the negative. You’ve got to evaluate that for yourself. A good way to do that is to time track everything that you do so you could see if things are taking you longer especially if they’re repetitive tasks.

Kind of a complex answer but this is really a difficult question. There’s not an absolute. You’re going to have to gauge it for yourself. I’ve also found that different people have different levels of sleep that they need. That’s another factor to take into account.

I’ll give one last thing about this because this is such a complicated topic is you can try doing things like controlling the light levels, the melatonin because it’s not just the amount of sleep you get it’s the quality of sleep. I have taken melatonin at night because your body doesn’t normally produce melatonin if you’re in bright lights that’s why if you’ve heard of apps like Flux that turn the temperature of light to blue at night it’s because our bodies, our normal rhythm, our normal rhythm, our bodies will not produce melatonin or not produce as much which is what causes us to go to sleep and to have quality sleep if we’re seeing daylight because that’s how we’re designed to work. You could try some things like that that might improve the quality of your sleep, using black out, curtains, things like that, cutting out the noise and improving the quality of your sleep you might be able to get less of it and that might give you the boost in time.

Good question. There’s plenty to say about sleep and like I said, I’m not an expert on this. I’m still figuring out for myself what works, but hopefully this has helped you. If you have a question for me, email me at If you like this video, subscribe. Take care.

About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."