The Science of Sleep

The Science of Sleep

Sleep is a scarce resource for freelancers. Because of last minute jobs, inconsistent hours, and clients in other time zones, we often cut our sleep time without giving it a second thought. It’s only after pulling several late nights and early mornings in a row, that our body takes over, we crash, and after 14 hours in bed return to our bad habits. So how does one manage? How much sleep is ideal and how can we sleep less while staying on our A-game?

The Science of Sleep

The Consequences of Sleep Deprivation

First let’s look at the consequences of not sleeping enough. New research has showed that sleep deprivation results in serious problems in both the short and long term. Lack of sleep decreases your day time performance up to 32%, hinders your ability to remember and process information, and increases your likelihood of getting sick. In the long term, constant sleep deprivation increases your risk of getting a stroke, being obese, high blood pressure, depression, and more. The list goes on and new sleep related illnesses are being found regularly. Ultimately, because our service is creativity and ideas, it is important that we are at our mental best when working. Something else worth thinking about is because being self-employed means having no medical benefits, you should keep your health in check from the start as serious chronic illnesses develop quietly over time and will reveal themselves much later in life.

An Ideal Sleep

For adults, 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep is ideal. This varies from person to person, some people can even get by with less sleep (as little as 6 hours) but this is very rare. The most important part of sleep is the REM cycle – this is where you have dreams, internalize and process information you’ve acquired during the day, and rebalance chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine (they make you happy throughout the day). On a normal night around 20% of your sleep is spent in the REM cycle.

Sleeping Smarter

There are several things you can do to improve sleep and even sleep a little less. Note that this is based on research and studies I’ve read so you should research this further if you are thinking of making serious changes to your sleep.

Consistency – This is the holy grail of sleep. Because your body runs on a 24 hour internal clock going to sleep and waking up at the same time everyday will give you the most energy.

Wake Up at the Right Time – One of the worst things you can do is be woken up during the REM cycle. A full sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes so you should set your alarm so it goes off roughly at the end of your cycle. Just count in 90 minute sets until you reach close to the desired wake-up time.

Take a Nap – One of the best ways to sleep a little less is by taking a nap throughout the day. Your brain can go into REM sleep for short periods of time if you do it consistently. You can sleep up to an hour and 40 minutes less if you take a 20 minute nap during the day. The key is the nap should be at roughly the same time each day.

There is a lot to talk about when it comes to sleep so I won’t go into further detail. If you’re interested in learning more about sleep, here is a list of sources to get you started:

Illustration by: Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig


  1. A great article, however, from personal experience Toronto and a good night’s sleep are two words that do not go together.

    The city is full of noisy, selfish people, constant construction and authorities who don’t give a damn.

    A good night’s sleep is so important, I got sick thanks to living in a noisy neighbourhood / not enough good sleep; being self-employed, the cost of treatment / meds I had to buy cleaned out my bank account, good times!.

    Brings new meaning to the words ‘Oh Canada’, then again, as a wise sage once said to me, if you want quiet, live in the countryside. RIP!.


  2. Thanks for sharing! Though I think it’s a bit of biased statement. I’ve lived by Trinity Bellwoods in West Queen West and now I live in Parkdale and have no problems with noise. However, I could see how living in the financial core, or even worse, the club district, could be a problem. It brings up a good point and one should definitely consider noise when deciding a place to live. Downtown living isn’t for everyone, but in our industry it’s an invaluable asset.


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