I first started beating the sleep drum to the Navy SEALs in 2009, when I was a physician in the U.S. Navy. I had also served as a SEAL, so I could empathize with the severe demands, both in training and combat situations, and how challenging it could be to get enough sleep. It's a fact that hits especially hard when SEAL trainees are subjected to nearly six days without sleep during “Hell Week."
But it's not just Navy SEALs who don't get decent sleep. In the United States, badge-of-honor status is accorded to those who claim they get by on six or fewer hours of sleep per night. Through this lens, sleep is considered optional — and viewed as some sort of timing-sucking weakness to be eliminated through drive and willpower.
The main thing I want to impart to you is this: Don’t buy into the myth that cutting sleep is a secret of high performers. It’s not.
In my career as a doctor and health optimization expert, I work with some of the most successful people in the country: top athletes, sports teams, powerful CEOs and entrepreneurs, and the Navy SEALs. You know what they all have in common? They all perform better with better sleep.
You know what else they have in common? When we first meet, none of them consider their routine lack of sleep to be a problem. But after we've worked together, 100 percent of them realize that lack of sleep was affecting their performance.
Now is a good time to set the record straight: I was once as sleep-deprived as anyone. I went through medical school at the same time my wife and I had an infant and two toddlers. I long ago lost count of how many 36-plus-hour hospital shifts I’ve logged. I've been a Navy SEAL, doctor, serial entrepreneur, consultant, father, and athlete. I went 10 consecutive years averaging about five hours of sleep per night.
And so I had to learn what I know now the hard way. After hitting rock bottom, I had to question assumptions, dig into the research, and work extensively with my clients to find answers about sleep that unfortunately are not part of the standard medical school curriculum.
Let me give you a short rundown of what happens when you chronically deprive your body a good night’s sleep: