In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about the importance of sleep and rest.

As a founder, a good night’s sleep is incredibly important for your health. In fact, it’s just as important as eating healthy and exercising. Unfortunately, the work and our environment can interfere with our natural sleep patterns and this can affect a founders performance.

In this episode, Steli and Hiten share their thoughts on the importance of sleep and rest, their pre-sleep routines, why drinking water before going to bed is a good idea and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About the topic of today’s episode

00:35 Why this topic was chosen.

03:01 How many hours of sleep Hiten gets on average.

04:40 Why you should do what works for your body.

04:54 How many hours of sleep Steli gets on average.

06:00 Hiten’s habits when it comes to going to sleep.

07:07 Hiten’s best pre-sleep routine.

07:38 Some things Hiten does before he goes to bed.

08:00 Why drinking water before going to bed is a good idea.

08:45 Steli’s pre-sleep routine.

3 Key Points:

  • Depending on the day, I get anywhere between 5 to 7 hours of sleep.
  • I have a thing where most of the apps on my phone shut down at 11 pm.
  • In my ideal world, I’d rather not use the phone before I go to bed.



Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.



Hiten Shah: And this Hiten Shah and today on The Startup Chat, we’re going to talk about sleep and rest.



Steli Efti: Yeah.



Hiten Shah: Where I’m at, it’s 6:17 am. I actually have to drive somewhere and I’m doing this from my car, but don’t worry, I’m not driving, otherwise you’d head my driving, for sure. Because I woke up at 5:20 and so I’ve already been up for an hour, and I drove to where my next meeting’s going to be, that way Steli and I can do our podcast here. So here I am in Palo Alto parked, looking at some weird clock on some building, wondering why it’s 6:18 am. So, sleep and rest. What have you got?



Steli Efti: Sleep and rest. Well, what I got is I had a glorious moment last night where it’s 7:40 pm. I was debating if I should go to the gym or if I should do more work or what I should do. And then I blinked and I looked at the time and it was like 30 minutes later, and I was like, “What have I been doing the last 30 minutes?” It’s just like, wasting life in front of my laptop, just clicking gon things, being undecided and indecisive. And then I decided something that I rarely do at that early time. I don’t know why, but it was just like … You know what, you’re tired. Just go to fucking sleep. Just see if you can do it right now. And you know, I went and brushed my teeth, jumped into bed, no laptop, no phone or nothing. And I was like, let’s see if I can actually go to sleep this early. And boom! I am proud to announce I was able to do that. It’s a big accomplishment. So I slept 12 hours: eight to eight. For me, I’m in New York right now, so it’s 9:18, so it’s 9 am. So I slept for 12 full hours. I don’t remember when the last time I did this. But it was glorious and it was the inspiration for saying, you know what, there is a lot that has been talked about when it comes to sleep, right? How many hours should you sleep per night, what kind of sleep do you need. Sleep habits with the modern way that we live where we bring our laptops or our tablets or our phones with us to bed and use them and how that affects sleep. And all that stuff. You know, sleep really impacts and influences rest, which is another interesting concept. Like, how should you think about resting as a founder, as an entrepreneur? I thought that would be really cool for us to just kind of go after this topic and see if there’s some best practices, lessons learned, mistakes that we’ve made in the past when it comes to too much rest or not enough rest and sleep. And so, let’s rock and roll and let’s see … I mean you are waking up early in the morning, but I assume you are going to bed early as well, right? Early-ish. Right? How many hours of sleep do you get, on average?



Hiten Shah: It depends on the day. So I get anywhere from about five to seven. Sometimes on the weekend, I can pull of 8 or 9. That’s just how it’s been. I think for me, I like about six or seven. Some days, based on certain meetings I have … Because I have a couple meetings that are late sometimes, I end up having to wake up early again, just because I have a 6:30 or 7 am meeting the next day. So those are times when I’m sleeping about five hours. I don’t like doing less than five, although that little bit of deliriousness with less than five, like four, four and a half is always fun. I mean, I’m literally like way more short, not angry or anything, just short with people. It’s kind of fun. So yeah, of me it’s like five to seven hours is probably an average day. I think last night, I slept about … Even though I woke up early today, I probably slept a solid seven hours, which was good if I’m going to wake up early. So I slept till like 10:20 or 10:30.



Steli Efti: Beautiful. Yeah, I think that … I mean there’s a lot of things that I’ve heard, like just in the recent month on podcast, from like you have to sleep eight hours. Anything less than eight hours, there’s all these negative impacts. But then, again, any time something comes out, even if it’s science-based, I always have some level of skepticism, because I’m like, yeah, was this science true 10 years ago? Will it be then true 10 years from now, right? Everything is relative and I truly believe that people are different. They’re fundamentally different. So listening to one’s own body and mind and observing what works and what doesn’t work for one specifically always to me seems to be the best guiding principal, rather than just doing something somebody else has said. Doesn’t matter how much of an authority they are. But on average, I do sleep around seven hours. I can’t sleep … It happens that I’ll sleep a little less once in a while and as yesterday, this is a big milestone, I don’t think I’ve ever sleep more this year than last night. I slept a full 12 hours, which is insane, but might also be part of the thing that I mentioned earlier to you that, since I moved from the Bay Area, I haven’t had like a full winter in 14 years. And it really does impact my mood and the level of energy that I feel on an average day. So sleep is a big thing. Let’s stick with it for another few minutes before I want to talk about rest more broadly. Do you have certain habits when it comes to going to sleep? Do you meditate before going to sleep? Read a book? Or are you just like on your phone scrolling through Twitter or watching a movie? Or is it like every night is something different? Do you have strict habits on what you do before you go to sleep and when you wake up? Or is it like pretty loose?



Hiten Shah: I have a new thing. I forgot what the setting is on the phone, but I have a thing where most of my apps shut down at 11 pm. I think it’s called Screen Time on my iPhone and it’s called Down Time within the Screen Time area. So 11-6 am it’s off. If I try to click anything I can turn it back on, but it gives me screen. I actually Tweeted the screen about Twitter a few weeks ago with the twitter version of it. Because if you’re on a website, it’ll do that or if you go into an app, it’ll say you can’t get into this thing. Do you want to go around that rule for 15 minutes or for the rest of the time? I’ve been doing that. I only do that because it’s nice to have a blocker after 11 for me on just my phone, basically. So my chat’s open, one of my chat tools, but the email is not, because there’s some people I chat with that late. Everything else requires that. So that is a new thing I’m doing and I kind of like it, because I kind of like having that extra barrier after 11. In my ideal world, I would rather not use a phone for like a half hour to an hour before I go to bed. I don’t think I’m consistent on that at all, but this has really helped me a lot. Then outside of that, I don’t really have any other routine. I try not to eat too late, and honestly, my best routine is I actually try to drink a bunch of water before I go to sleep. And I take some vitamins. I take vitamins in the morning and at night.



Steli Efti: Interesting.



Hiten Shah: I find that I wake up a little more alert if I take vitamins at night, too.



Steli Efti: Interesting, I’ve never heard that one. That’s interesting. I need to try that.



Hiten Shah: I used to even try things like honey, like spoon full of honey. They basically say your brain’s still working, and if you’re waking up foggy, your brain just didn’t have enough energy to eat up during the night. Something like that. That’s one thing I read. So I was trying that out. But I like my vitamins at night too. So I take half of them in the morning, half of them at night before bed.



Steli Efti: Interesting. Yeah the hydration thing is a big routine of mine. It’s something that I’ve read or seen, and it made so much sense to me where it’s like, well if you’re sleeping for seven hours, it means you haven’t had any water, any hydration for seven hours. So you’re totally dehydrated when you wake up in the morning.



Hiten Shah: Right.



Steli Efti: And that probably feeds into feeling groggy or feeling a little out-of-it.



Hiten Shah: That was good. If you’re waking … As a tip, as a thought, if you’re waking up and your mouth is dry every day, try drinking a bunch more water before you go to bed. Yeah, you might have to get up to pee at least once or twice, but that’s okay. Just try it, because I don’t think you should feel dehydrated when you wake up, because that can ruin your whole day.



Steli Efti: Yeah. Absolutely. I’ve never tried the honey or vitamins, so I’ll play with that. That’s an interesting one. That also kind of makes sense. I’ve been incredibly inconsistent over the last few weeks when it comes to when I go to bed, when I wake up, how I go to bed and all that. So that’s the fair disclaimer, to be honest. In general, I would always try to have like an hour of no screen time. So usually I would just try to read a book before going to sleep. But in all reality, oftentimes I would just be on my phone or on the laptop and then go brush my teeth, go to bed and maybe listen to an audiobook or some kind of a guided meditation. I would listen to something maybe for another 10, 15 minutes in bed and then fall asleep. So that’s something that I would do often. The one thing that drives me crazy is having any kind of electronic devices in bed, which used to be standard for me. I mean, this is like 10 years ago, but I used to have like phones and laptops and tablets, just everything. All the electronic devices, kindles, everything in the bed. And now I try to make sure that even my phone, I put it away actually pretty far away from the bed, so even if the apps are on, I don’t hear anything, I don’t see anything. I’m not tempted to really pick up the phone. And one thing that I learned traveling so much and trying to make sure that I always beat the jet lag is that no matter if I wake up at night or not or no matter … Usually I don’t have trouble falling asleep but if I do, I’m pretty disciplined about fighting the urge to pick up the phone. So during the night, even if I wake up, even if something happens, most of the time if I’m tempted to pick up the phone I’ll fight that temptation. I’ll rather be bored and have to turn around a few more times than get stimulated digitally in the middle of the night. And that has helped … That definitely has a huge impact on my jet lag. I’m usually able to beat it pretty quickly because I’m very disciplined. I’m like working out, being all tight, getting a lot of sunlight, going to bed at the right time even if I’m not tired, not using the phone or anything like that. That all helps a lot. But to be honest the last two weeks or so, my habits have been all over the place and I have used the phone even at night, once. The one thing that I wanted to bring up because it was something that I just recently have played with and toyed with and I wanted to talk to you about this is the concept of rest for founders and entrepreneurs, right? So sleep is a big part of that, but there’s other forms of rest as well, like when do you take breaks? How many breaks do you take? And all that. And one particularly interesting thing or thing at least that has been on my mind has been the concept of active rest. So for people that have listened to the podcast for a long time, you know I’m a huge martial arts fan. And I recently was watching an interview with a very, very successful martial artist, somebody that’s a world champion in many, many areas. And he was talking about how he changed his rest time. You know when you are a professional athlete, you train sometimes two, three times a day, and those workouts are really, really intense. So their nutrition has to be on point, but their rest has to be on point so their body recovers and is able to go back and train at 100%. And he was saying that back in the day, one of the biggest problems or shortcomings in his training was that he thought rest was just going on the couch and not moving, just watching television, right? It just was like, no movement. And then with the new trainer that he’s with now, they taught him that that rest is actually not good. It doesn’t recover his body. He needs active rest. He needs things that rejuvenate, re-energize the body. So now, instead of just being on the couch for two hours before he goes back to training, he will maybe go on a 20 minute walk. Just be outside, just walk at a slow pace with a dog or something, but walk, have fresh air, move the body so there’s circulation, the body can recover and re-energize. And he mentioned a few other examples that are very specific to athletes, but I thought about this myself where, in all my experience with founders and entrepreneurs where when they’re exhausted at the end of the day, usually many, many people will tend to rest in a way that’s really not giving you energy but it’s costing you energy over time. Watching a 30-minute show might be a lot of fun and give you energy, but watching a 30-minute show that then leads to you watching television for four hours is not really giving you rest or re-energizing your body and mind. And there’s many, many things like that … Or gaming. I’m not a big gamer, but I’m sure gaming is fun and playing games is fun, but again, when you go from a short period, like a half an hour or an hour of gaming a little bit and having fun to then it turning into three hours, four hours later, you’re still in front of the console and still playing, that’s not going to give you the rest for your mind, body, and soul that you need to wake up in the next morning to really attack all the challenges and all the problems that you have as a startup founder. So I’ve been thinking about that. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on resting and actively resting and how do you take breaks? How do you think about that for founders and entrepreneurs specifically?



Hiten Shah: Yeah, I think many folks, I think it starts with recognizing you need to rest. And that’s probably the most challenging thing I’ve found with founders is that we don’t recognize when we need rest, which is some of the stuff you were pointing to, too. For example, are you just not feeling like doing some task that you need to do? You should think through why are you not feeling like doing it. Are you tired? Have you been … Another one that really gets me real good, is are you feeling like you’re waiting for something?



Steli Efti: Interesting. What do you mean?



Hiten Shah: Well this one’s top-of-mind for me right now. There’s a bunch of stuff I’m waiting on. A bunch of stuff. Usually for me it’s engineering. That can just, itself, make me exhausted because I’m waiting, so then sometimes it’s harder to move things forward if I’m waiting. So then I might just need to rest, you know? Because for me, at least, this waiting feeling of waiting on things, is not … I shouldn’t be waiting on anything. It doesn’t matter what’s going on. Right? There’s always something you can do. But if I have that, that’s an indicator, for me at least, that I’m like, aw crap, I’m waiting for all this stuff, or I feel like I am. And I’m just not able to do things. So I think there’s like these points or these feelings that actually mean you might be a little exhausted. So if I feel like I’m waiting, I’m probably a little exhausted, if not very exhausted, because I’m not willing to move forward. A lot of it has to do with what are you not willing to do. And if you can identify what you’re not willing to do, that can help you understand if you’re exhausted or not. Because we have a lot of things to do, all of us, not just founders. And there’s so much more that can always be done. But if you don’t have the energy for whatever your job is or whatever you should be doing, that’s a really good sign that you might be exhausted. And energy meaning it might not be something you consciously, fully are aware of, but if you’re not doing the work or the work’s going slower than it usually does or the motivation is lacking, oftentimes you could just be exhausted. Another one that’s just really stupid and really simple to figure out is, are you sleeping enough? Like there’s a lot of studies about sleep and how often you sleep and this and that, fine, or how long sleep. But I think if you, for whatever your sleep schedule is, if you feel like you’re not sleeping enough, that can be a big blocker, or a big sign of exhaustion. That’s one of the most obvious ones. Another one: are you waking up tired or groggy? That clearly means that you need to sleep.



Steli Efti: Yeah, and I think that especially founders, when they are exhausted or tired, a lot of times what we tend to do is just try to power through it, right? So force function through it, either with willpower or with supplements. People will go and get the … Coffee is obviously a drug of choice that’s very popular. But, coffee, right? And maybe more extreme measures, but we’ll try to just force function ourselves through that exhaustion. Which, okay, there’s times when that’s going to be a good available option for what you need to do. But if that is something that you have to do every day, you’ve been doing this for like weeks or months, it’s not really sustainable. At some point you’re going to have to pay the price for that. There’s going to be some debt that you’re accruing in your body and your health that you’re going to have to pay for eventually. So recognizing that, as you said, what are the tasks or the work that are difficult for me to do? What are things that I don’t want to do? How easy or hard is it for me to concentrate? How do I wake up? Do I feel energized and ready for the day, or am I exhausted? All these things can matter. Now, also just observing, I think we talked in prior episodes even about nutrition. Once we, I think both of us had experimented with different diets and you had lost a lot of weight. And it was like when you change your diet, it kind of changes the energy … You change the energy source that you’re fueling your body and mind with and that can have a huge impact. A lot of people when they have these super-heavy lunches, obviously you are dipping then with your whole body and mind and have a very difficult time in the afternoon, which then they overcompensate with extra amounts of coffee to counteract that lull.



Hiten Shah: We’re going to have to talk about coffee on one of these episodes.



Steli Efti: Yeah, I’m curious to hear your thoughts. By the way, this is a behind-the-scenes thing. When you go to grab coffee with Hiten, he orders hot chocolate like a cute little 12-year-old. It’s amazing.



Hiten Shah: Yep.



Steli Efti: We’ll have to talk about that in another episode. But I think that, in general, understanding, even asking yourself how do I rest? What are my strategies to rest, and do I use active rest, things that truly give my body, my mind, my soul, re-energizing these things, refuel these things? Or is it just something where I become a dead vegetable and I do something that maybe feels a little good because I’m exhausted the first 20, 30 mins like being on the couch watching movie but three, four, five hours later I’m still on this couch, still watching something, and it doesn’t actually feel good. It doesn’t feel like I’m more energized or re-fueled so it’s not really a great strategy for rest if you have a very, very demanding life, demanding work. All right, I think that’s it for us for this episode. This was a special one, a little longer than the average one. Make sure to get lots of sleep. Make sure to rest up to be able to do all the work that you need to do and we’ll hear you very, very soon.



Hiten Shah: Sleep well.