A founder once asked me a question that caught me off guard: “Did you have trouble sleeping when you were building your company?” As soon as he finished asking the question, I knew exactly where the conversation was headed. “Yes,” I said. He told me he’d started waking up in the middle of the night thinking about his company and had a hard time going back to sleep.
He’s not the only one. When my company began to grow rapidly, I started waking up in the middle of the night. At first I didn’t pay much attention to it, but eventually I noticed a pattern. I’d be exhausted from a long day and go to bed at a normal time. I’d sleep hard and then wake up around 3 or 4 with my mind racing. My thoughts usually revolved around two things. One was whatever I was most worried about . . . the thing that might sink my company. The other was ideas. It was weird, but I’d have a burst of ideas when I’d awaken in the middle of the night.
Sometimes I was able to go back to sleep and sometimes I wasn’t. Eventually, I realized that not getting enough sleep wasn’t good for me and was affecting my productivity during the day. I decided to do something about it. I researched sleep (including mattresses) and began working out again. I created the ideal sleep setup (or so I thought), and I had an outlet for stress and a regularly scheduled time when I couldn’t think about work (or I’d drop a weight on my foot). I eventually began sleeping through the night again. My energy level and productivity increased.
During that period, I asked a few founder friends if they ever woke up in the middle of the night. I was surprised to learn that a lot of them did. How they dealt with it varied, but the theme was consistent: they’d be thinking about their company as they lay awake in bed.
I’m not a sleep expert, so I can’t give advice about sleep to founders. I will say that I slept better and was a more productive founder when my routine included two things: scheduled time to release stress and intense focus on something besides my company. The latter is harder to achieve. Luckily, working out checked both boxes for me.