3 Days Without Sleep: The Good And The Bad
I went 3 days without sleep last weekend. Saturday morning to Monday night, I didn’t go to bed.
I’m really glad I ran this little experiment. Here are my thoughts from last weekend, both the good and the bad of going without sleep.
I didn’t even know if I would be able to stay up 3 days in a row. Well, it's possible. I expected it to be a ‘brutal’ or ‘painful’ experience, but it wasn’t. I never felt more tired than I’ve felt on a ‘normal’ late night. As I was finally going to sleep on Monday I wondered if it wasn’t possible to last another night.
If you need to stay up for 3 days in a row, you can do it!
The Feeling Of ‘Free’ Time Is Incredible
You can’t get much work done while you're sleeping. When you stay awake, you realize that that those 8 hours you normally spend in bed are another full workday.
You’re ready to jump in and work right away, without any time wasted ‘getting ready for the day’ or ‘getting organized’. You’re already in flow.
I spent my night learning about the USPTO and Trademarks, writing a blog post, building a totally new strategy to ‘protect’ my business from fake sellers, and watching videos of Jack Welch discuss ‘candor in the workplace’.
By the time the sun rose, I had already had an incredible day. That feeling of progress is re-energizing, which counteracts the lack of sleep.
Sleepiness Only Comes In ‘Waves’
I thought that once I felt the first signs of drowsiness on Sunday morning, it would only get worse and worse as the hours and days passed. That’s not what happened.
I realized that the feeling 'sleepiness' is tied to your biological clock. I would begin to feel very tired around 3AM – 7AM but as soon as the sun was up, cars were driving outside and I’d had breakfast I wasn’t exhausted anymore, even on Monday morning after 2 nights without sleep.
You Can Work Out Instead Of Sleep
I did this regularly in the Philippines, where I spent 2 weeks sleeping only every other night.
On the nights when I didn’t sleep, I would instead work out at 5:30AM, run into the cool ocean, take a shower, and then be ready for the next day.
I also worked out both mornings here in Quito.
Diving into your push-ups instead of diving into bed is a great exercise in self-control, and it re-charges your batteries with a boost that gets you through the quiet morning hours.
You Can’t Just Sit It Out
You need to ‘do’ something to keep yourself awake. Around 3AM the 2nd night, I couldn’t just sit at my computer any more. I could feel myself beginning to doze, so I put in my headphones and took a walk outside with an audiobook.
Once I was outside in the cool Ecuadorean morning listening to ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ I woke up and you wouldn’t have guessed I was sleep deprived.
I drank a lot of coffee over these 3 days. Coffee helped in 3 ways.
‘Making’ the coffee is a distraction from being tired. Even before taking a sip, my brain wakes up “Hey, we’re making coffee!”
Tasting and feeling hot coffee wakes you up instantly. Maybe even decaf would work, or just hot water.
Yes, caffeine does ‘hit’ you and get you wired. The stimulation wards off the ‘drowsy feeling.
My Brain Couldn’t Shift To ‘High’ Gear
I was comfortably ‘awake’ on Monday morning after my walk, and I could easily listen to an audiobook and take notes. But, when I tried a more in-depth task, my brain couldn’t keep up.
The Task: My daily language practice.
I would start the timer, and try to memorize a new German word. Then, I zoned out. A minute later I would try again… and zone out. The timer went off, and I had struggled to memorize just 2 new words. Especially difficult was trying to piece together new sentences. I hardly learned anything.
Staying up for 3 days in a row is very possible, you can get a lot of low-intensity work done, and it’s not painful. I was especially thrilled after the first night, where I had learned so much, build a wall of ‘defenses’ around my business, and wasn’t even tired the next day.
There were clear negative signs of decreased focus, and I was even rendered useless on a task I regularly do with ease, but I didn’t feel tired and I wasn’t in sleep-deprived agony.
I’m so glad that I tried this 3-day self-experiment. I learned about how I work, how my brain works, and what my real limits are, not the limits I believe are there.
I might even try for 4 days to see if I can really hit a ‘wall’ like a marathon runner.
If you’d like a challenge and want to see how far you can push your productivity, I recommend trying this no-sleep experiment.