I feel like I’m at odds with the majority of the population when I say sleep is a HUGE priority for me. Like, one of the biggest. I always hear stuff like, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” and other horrible things like that. I’m over here like, “Nah, I’ll sleep tonight for 8 to 9 hours, thank you very much!”

I even shared one of those GIF challenges on my Instagram stories the other day that had different boxes to fill in some personal information and preferences. You share some fun facts in GIF form in a little chart on your story, like my favorite color (blue), favorite animal (dogs) and the one thing I can’t live without. SLEEP.

I just need it, and plenty of it, to function fully and feel great. I even wrote a post last year about how sleep is like a dishwasher for our brains, and without quality rest, navigating work, changes and life becomes incredibly difficult. As digital entrepreneurs and self-employed folks, we need sleep to revitalize us and make us ready for day after day of creating, growing and sustaining incredible communities.

The same mentor who told me about the “dishwasher for the brain” analogy sent me another article last week that I thought was just fascinating. It talks about the neurological processes that sleep enables, namely eliminating trash and toxins from the brain while you sleep. Cool, right?!

The neurological effects of getting quality sleep

Sleep isn’t just a time to fully unplug from the world and re-energize your body. The article provides further evidence that sleep essentially gives you a “brain wash,” removing any bad stuff from brain cells during your eight hours of nightly shuteye.

I totally believe that! Sleep is so absolutely crucial in my life. I’m a wreck if I don’t get eight hours a night. My productivity, attitude and entire next day suffer without it. And if your work relies on creating and communicating all day long, as many bloggers’ and online entrepreneurs’ work does, good sleep is even more essential to be able to show up for your audience and provide the very best and most valuable content.

There’s this one chemical, called norepinephrine, that works to break down the toxins in our brains. Without enough sleep, it doesn’t have time to do its job and clean out the brain fully. A couple days with a little less sleep won’t affect your performance too much. But with consistent lack of it, you may feel like you’re performing optimally, even though you’re not.

Learning new and challenging things actually initiates the growth of norepinephrine, helping to boost the trash-eliminating functions inside your brain while you sleep. Whether it’s a new sport, skill, language or class, challenging yourself with activities that don’t come naturally actually boosts your brain functionality and removes toxins more thoroughly.

That’s right… I’m telling you to hit pause on your Instagram strategy and editorial calendar and spend some time on something entirely new, and maybe even difficult or scary.

Because, when you learn something new, you process it in the moment, and then it becomes further cemented while you sleep. For those who don’t get enough sleep or suffer from sleep apnea, your brain doesn’t get the chance to fully process and connect information, and memory loss could even occur, the article shares.

Ever pulled an all-nighter? Then you know the confusing effects of not enough sleep.

When you get too little sleep, you experience similar effects of staying up all night. Did you ever do that in college?

Basically, you start writing your paper at 10 p.m. the night before it’s due. At times, your eyes get heavy; your limbs feel leaden. So, you break out the snacks and run up and down your dorm’s hallway to try to keep yourself awake to finish that paper.

Your energy lulls as midnight passes, then 2 a.m., 4 a.m… And then suddenly, you get a burst of alertness. Your paper needs to be turned in by 8, and you’re awake and energized and feeling jazzed. Because, you’re so far beyond the point of exhaustion that adrenaline has kicked in.

Ok… so this was actually me in college a few times. Studying both English and psychology, I wrote so. many. papers. And the truth is by the end of the night, I wasn’t performing at my best. Sometimes I wonder how many typos were in there.

Now, you might have been able to pump it out for the deadline, and you might even ride the wave of adrenaline through the middle of the day. And then you crash. Your false sense of energy runs out, and it’s all you can do to crawl into bed.

When you’re this tired, you might feel fine, but you’re not operating optimally or at a high level. Not getting enough sleep over an extended period time has the same kind of effect as pulling an all-nighter...

We think that by staying up later or working through times when our bodies are begging us to take a break, we’ll get more done. We believe we’re chugging on into greater success. But the opposite is true, actually.

When we work past a point of tiredness and into exhaustion, the quality of work goes down drastically. It’s better to work less with greater intention, attention and capability than work longer with less quality.

So, how do we get better quality sleep for productivity?

One of the best ways I’ve found involves developing a bedtime routine. You know, like the one you had as a kid? That kind of bedtime routine.

This past Memorial Day weekend, we were at the lake with some family and friends, and I got to hang with my adorable niece and nephews. Watching their bedtime routines was so interesting in the context that they follow the same few steps (hence: the routine part of it) to get their minds and bodies ready for sleep. And it worked like a charm!

I thought about this and realized I have somewhat of a nightly routine that I didn’t even realize I do to prepare for sleep and switch from work to rest mode. There are so many ways you can create habits to get ready for bed and great sleep, so to get you started, here’s my nightly “bedtime” routine:

  1. Write down 3 things for the next day. It can be hard for some people, especially entrepreneurs who are constantly dreaming and scheming, to turn off work time and move into rest time (*aggressively raises hand*). So I find it’s easier to let myself relax when I create a plan for the next day. At the end of every workday, I write my 3 top priorities to accomplish the following day, which allows me to unplug for the evening knowing I have tangible to-dos to follow up on in the morning. More on this here.

  2. Turn on my evening playlist on Spotify about an hour before I go to bed. I listen to many different types of music throughout my workday, and anytime a song comes on that I think would be a great wind-down tune for the evenings, I add it to the playlist. (If you want to give it a listen and add it to your evening routine, check it out here). I reserve this specific playlist for nighttime only, because it actually makes me sleepy if I listen to it too early in the day.

  3. Use a calming essential oil. Okay, this stuff is seriously dreamy. It’s called the Tranquil Roll-On essential oil by Young Living, and it’s the coziest blend of lavender, cedarwood, chamomile and some other warm and magical fragrances. I roll it on my wrists and take a few big inhales to feel more relaxed. (Just like my evening playlist, I only use this oil at night so that my body links the scent to sleeping).

A few other things I’m working on implementing into my evenings are softer lighting around 8 p.m., a clutter-free bedroom (my nightstand is practically a game of Jenga made of books I want to read) and no phone or screen time for the hour before hitting the hay.

Oddly enough, even though a bedtime routine is all stuff you do before you even crawl under the covers, it sets you up for better sleep because you can physically and mentally wind down for the evening. It signals to your brain that it’s about to get into that self-cleaning snooze time, and we could all benefit from a healthy amount of that.