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How entrepreneurs sleep soundly

Five startup founders share their tips and tricks to deal with stress and sleep deprivation

‘Sleep’ by Salvador Dalí
‘Sleep’ by Salvador Dalí (fundació gala – salvador dalí)

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The chaos of covid-19 has had a direct impact on our sleep cycles. Constantly working from home, lack of real-life interaction, absence of freedom to stay out—the pandemic life has made us more stressed. And it’s especially more difficult for startup founders who are trying to build businesses while dealing with the effects of the virus. 

Read: On World Sleep Day, try these apps for some good shut-eye

Few weeks ago, Zerodha founder Nithin Kamath admitted in a social media post that he was having trouble sleeping because of “constant work distractions, triggers from email, news apps, social media, and chats”. His solution: disconnecting completely hours before sleep, along with stopping all work chats after 6 in the evening.

Here are some founders who have been tackling their sleep issues and ensuring a sound sleep almost every night.

Saurabh Arora, co-founder-CTO, Plum HQ, Bengaluru

It is said that a tired mind cannot plan well, as it affects both productivity and performance. My solution is to sleep well. It is vital for good health, a better frame of mind and the energy we need to be efficient throughout the day.

Over the past 10 years, I have done lot of experiments to improve my sleep quality, and what I realized is that it’s important for us to know our body better—how it behaves and reacts because all of it has an impact on our sleep.

To ensure I get at least two-three hours of deep sleep, I have dinner by 8pm, and avoid alcohol before bedtime. Before retiring to bed by 10:30-11pm, I take a cold shower, even during winters, and set the air-conditioner temperature at 15-20 degree Celsius when the weather is warm. If the weather is cool, I prefer to keep the windows open. Exercise also helps. I don’t believe you need to do 45 minutes of rigourous exercise; a good 15-20 minutes of workout is fine by me. Another important thing that I follow during my sleep routine is listening to calming music. It acts as a catalyst for sound sleep. I have two-three playlists, especially for sleep, which I listen to on my phone, and they induce sleep within 15-20 minutes.

There is no one silver bullet, what works for me may not work for you. What I would urge people is to experiment and understand their body to sleep better.

Sreejith Moolayil, COO and co-founder, True Elements, Pune

When you shift from the role of an employee to an entrepreneur, one lifestyle transition that happens, which is the least talked about, is sleep. It was a tough transition for me as I was mentally occupied throughout the day. What added to the stress was that my second venture wasn’t going anywhere. I constantly struggled with getting sleep. Even after sleeping for six hours, I would feel drained by noon. That’s when I decided to take professional help.

I reached out to a psychiatrist. He asked to me track my sleep. So, I got the help of a startup that studies sleep. They put tracking devices under my mattress, and over the course of three weeks, I got data on my sleep pattern. I discovered I was getting only half an hour of deep sleep. With this data, the doctor worked with me to deal with anxiety and stress, which in turn would have less impact on my sleep. I now force myself to go to bed by 10-10:30pm and wake up before 6:30pm.

My sleep routine involves light exercise, having early dinner, maintaining a digital discipline, which I have been following strictly since the pandemic. I use a time control on apps, even for WhatsApp. I have switched to reading physical books instead of reading something on the phone. I also changed all the lights in my house to yellow, as research shows it triggers the body to unwind. During the initial days of finding a routine, I tried experimenting with calming teas and oil massages but they didn’t help. What I understood is that getting a good rest is more driven by the mind. Basically, having a sense of what I have accomplished during the day rather than biochemistry.

Atul Monga, co-founder, Basic Home Loan, Gurugram

I’ve never had quality sleep. I worked as an investment banker and then with an insurance aggregator company, and my work schedule was erratic, which, in turn, affected my sleep. Earlier, I would catch up on my sleep in the cab or on weekends. However, after I started a business, I realized some sleep discipline is necessary. 

So, for the past one-and-a-half years, I ensure I have eight hours of sleep but spread out my sleep time. I go to sleep by 10pm and wake up by 1am. I work till 3pm and sleep again till 8am. I also take a half-hour nap in the afternoon. It may sound strange but my body has adjusted to this routine now and, in fact, I do feel refreshed throughout the day. I believe, I get more work done during early morning.

Before going to sleep, however, I listen to an ASMR app on my phone. I prefer listening to the sounds you encounter in nature while on a trek. It takes me back to the memories of going for treks during my college days. It helps me sleep faster. Once I wake up, I practise some yoga; it instantly freshens me up.

Nitin Bindlish, founder, Mom’s Belief, Gurugram

Within three years of working with the first venture, I was detected with high blood pressure and put on medication. I was 34 then and realized I had been taking my body for granted. I realized exercise alone was not going to work; sleep was also essential for the body to recuperate. And that was the turning point for me to take sleep seriously. With regular exercise and sleep, I managed to get off medication after four months.

In 2018, a year after I started my current venture, I read Robin Sharma’s The 5AM Club book and started following it diligently. To ensure I get at least six hours of sleep, I go to bed by 10:30-10:45pm. We have early dinner. 

An hour before sleep time, my family and I avoid using any digital devices or TV. I do gratitude practice and have a journal where I reflect on the day, detailing the events of the day. The latter helps during stressful days, as it allows me to get things out of my system. I also have a cup of chamomile tea, read some fiction and lastly, meditate by doing some simple breathing exercise, especially on difficult days. It’s a beautiful closure to the day. If I wake up during the night, I give myself 10-15 minutes to try to declutter my mind and get back to sleep.

As an entrepreneur, you cannot cut off from work completely. You also have to deal with uncertainties; some days nothing works out. Since I can’t control the external environment, I work on keeping calm.

Upendra Namburi, co-founder, Mumbai

Like everyone else, my sleep pattern also changed during the initial months of the pandemic. Besides regular work boundaries getting dissolved, I was also setting up a business from scratch, which was fairly demanding. I also struggled with slipping into the habit of watching something on OTT platforms at the end of the day. It was like revenge bedtime procrastination.

I am still working on my sleep schedule as I go to sleep by midnight and get up by 7-7:30am. Although seven hours of sleep is decent enough time for me, what matters is quality of sleep. To ensure I get that, I include a lot of liquids in my diet. For example, I have soaked oats for breakfast every day, and spread out by meals five times a day. I feel it contributes to the quality of sleep. 

I have also started enjoying small moments in life like going for a drive, when possible. It’s been a turning point, and has helped my sleep quality. I haven’t been able to completely switch off from digital devices an hour before bedtime. I’m working on it.

Read: The challenges of Lockdown Sleep Syndrome

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