My relationship with sleep is probably best described as “difficult”. As a freelancer with fewer external forces shaping my schedule, I’ve been forced to make peace with it.
I don’t have any formal disorders (as far as I know), it’s just not an activity I enjoy.
I prefer staying up until 2 and hate sleeping past 8. I’ve never stayed in bed all day unless sick. I’m a reluctant napper despite being raised on the Southern tradition of the post-church, post-Sunday dinner afternoon sleep.
Before I went out on my own the expectations of office attendance kept me on some sort of schedule, but once that was out the door, I was pretty much free to sleep however I wanted. That was great for all of a month until I realized that if I seriously wanted this to be my new life, I had to get real about sleep.
I didn’t realize when I first started, but once you’re freelancing full time you’ve turned your world upside down.
For me, that meant basking in the fact that I could stay up until TV got too weird to handle and hitting late night sparring classes at the gym. It wasn’t too long though, until I started to notice some problems.
Clients were scheduling calls at 8AM and I found myself working to perfect my fake-wake (different from fake woke) voice. It only took that happening a few times to make me understand that even though I worked for myself, my work hours needed to at least consider the people I was working for, and that meant prioritizing sleep.
What I Needed
As much as I would have liked to sleep in two hour blocks between the hours of 6 and 9, I knew I needed to take a few things into consideration:
- Scientific recommendations: The recommended amount of daily sleep is usually 7-9 hours for adults, so I started with my ideal, which is about 7.5-8 (I get groggy once I crack that.)
- When I peak: I’m most productive in the mornings (6-10) and most creative between 11PM and 2AM.
- Other activities: I like to do a light work out first thing in the morning so waking up after 7 wasn’t really an option. I also have a class at the gym that doesn’t end until after 8, so I’m usually wound up until 12.
- My clients: Aside from an Indian and Scottish client (who always picked the weirdest times for meetings), most of my calls fell within normal, 8-6 business hours
I didn’t want to completely ignore my natural sleep patterns, so I settled on a plan to sleep 6-6.5 hours at night, and then take an hour nap in the middle of the day.
The hardest part was training myself. I started by setting my alarm for 7 on weekdays and 8 on weekends. I initially didn’t force myself to get out of bed, but I made sure my body got used to being moved to wake up at that time. For a few days, I just let the alarm go off, turned it off, and went right back to sleep.
To teach my body and mind to calm at night, I started using binaural beats and doing short yoga sequences (the non-energizing kind) at the same time each night.
I didn’t start sleeping and waking up on schedule immediately, but my body slowly started to adjust.
I eventually added on morning prayers, stretches, and a requirement that I not check email from bed. Having little activities that help me transition from active to sleep and vice versa have made a HUGE difference in staying relatively consistent.
One of the most difficult parts about settling on a sleep schedule was balancing my natural rhythms around sleep, productivity, and creativity and the fact that I needed to maintain some sort of normal business hours.
I’ve been able to “teach” myself to be productive when needed (important for freelancers since we don’t always have a choice) and ride waves of inspiration juice from podcasts and talking with other freelancers (awesome stuff going on on Twitter.)
I’ve also had to set some standards…I have to FIGHT not to work after 9pm and not do any freelance work on weekends (honestly a challenge, because I actually get excited about my work now.)
Mostly though, I’ve been able to find peace around my sleep schedule by viewing it as a welcome recharge period that helps me build an even better freelance business and life that I can enjoy.