For high achievers such as myself, it’s easy to fall into the belief that sleep is some kind of luxury. In truth, this misconception is seriously damaging our chances at success.

Your body needs healthy sleep, but for people like us, it’s the first thing to go. And if we’re the type to cut a few hours of sleep, we’re certainly not the type to set aside another hour or two before sleep to the process of winding down. So we just pop an Ambien and pass out.

It’s extremely difficult to convince people like me that sleep is not a luxury, but once I understood just a bit more about what actually happens during sleep, I immediately changed my tune.

Here are 5 reasons why high performers need to ditch sleep drugs and prioritize healthy sleep, from my interview with Dr. Kirk Parsley

  1. You’ll have sharper focus.

    Most people don’t realize this, but the same parts of the brain are impaired by a lack of sleep as the parts of the brain that are impaired by a night of heavy drinking. Bear with me for a second while I lay some frightening math on you.

    If you’re up for 16 consecutive hours, that’s the equivalent of having a blood alcohol level of .05. For 24 consecutive hours, that number rises to .08. Now let’s say you fall behind on sleep by getting two hours less than you should for 11 nights in a row. You’d then start to exist in a constant state of what equates to being mildly drunk. If you keep that up for even longer, the impairment only increases.

    High-performers tend to believe that they can get away with 6 hours of sleep or less per night, but the reality is that their focus is severely blurred. Just like your friend who has downed several shots and swears he can drive, we tend to convince ourselves that we can perform just fine anyways despite the lack of the sleep.

  2.  You’ll be less likely to get sick.

    The major issue with sleep drugs like Ambien is that they essentially erase most of the crucial healing processes that happen overnight. Let me explain.

    There are 3 stages to sleep. In Stage 1, your body winds itself down and prepares for the night. In Stage 2, or “deep sleep,” your body clears up inflammation that builds up during the day, flushes out neurotoxins from your brain, releases growth hormones, balances your gut biome, and fights off infection.

    Well when you take a sleep drug, you skip Stage 1, so your body is not fully prepared to take care of Stage 2. And if your body isn’t flushing out all of that crap, you’re eventually going to get sick. Worse yet, it could lead to serious disease. Talk about a “killer” of high performance.

  3. You’ll grow stronger physically.

    Most people understand that in order to strengthen your muscles, you need to work out. And beyond just doing that, you need to work out in such a way that you’re actually pushing your body and feeling the burn.

    What many people don’t realize is that the reason that this works is that you’re technically tearing your muscles, and it’s only in the repair process that they grow back stronger than they were before. This takes time, and your body never works harder to repair those muscles than it does during – you guessed it – Stage 2 sleep while it’s repairing everything else.

    Similar to how they screw with your ability to fight infection, sleep drugs also slow down your ability to rebuild muscle and get stronger. When you’re getting proper Stage 2 sleep, however, you can work out more often and strengthen faster.

    Pro Tip: Because of this, it is extremely counterproductive to cut into your sleep to wake up early and exercise.

  4. You’ll learn things faster.

    Like I said, there are 3 stages to sleep. So after your body flushes out those toxins and repairs those tissues during Stage 2, you fall into Stage 3, or REM sleep. This is when dreaming happens.

    There are many schools of thought as to what dreams themselves might mean, but we can definitively say that this is where cognitive development occurs. During REM sleep, your brain converts short-term memories into long-term ones, including events of day as well as new motor skills.

    This dramatically impacts your ability to recall past events and and learn new skills, making your brain more useful and increasing the speed at which you master your craft. If you’re not even sleeping long enough each night to get to Stage 3, none of this happens.

  5. You’ll Be More Emotionally Balanced

    The last piece of the puzzle relates to our psychology – and it combines processes that occur during both Stage 2 and Stage 3.

    Deep sleep is when a significant amount of our hormone production occurs in the body. And many psychologists believe REM sleep to be when we emotionally categorize events in our lives. Between balancing our hormones and eliminating the dissonance in our minds, this is absolutely essential.

    In many cases, better sleep leads to better relationships both at home and at work. This is yet one more way that we high achievers can progress through life more smoothly, think more clearly, and achieve more success.

Nutrition, exercise, and sleep all rely on one another in order to work properly. People argue about what the best food is, but nobody argues that you don’t need food. People argue about what the best exercise is, but nobody argues that you don’t need exercise. So why do people feel as though they do not need healthy sleep?

Listen to the full episode here.

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