In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten share their thoughts on sleep for founders.

Being a startup founder can be very stressful, and It’s very common for founders to struggle with sleep. Not getting enough sleep can not only affect your productivity, but it can also be detrimental to your health.

In this episode, Steli and Hiten talk about how founders tend to struggle with sleep and some challenges that keeps founders up at night, how there’s a science to sleep and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic.

00:32 Why this topic was chosen.

02:44 How founders tend to struggle with sleep.

02:57 Why some founders struggle with sleep.

03:11 One main challenge that keeps founders up at night.

04:07 Another challenge that keeps founders up at night.

05:42 How some founders feel like they need to outwork others

06:18 How there’s a science to sleep.

07:32 Tips for getting better sleep.

08:48 How everyone has trouble sleeping.

3 Key Points:

  • Make sure you don’t rely on one big customer.
  • When I’m unable to resolve an issue, I tend not to have proper sleep.
  • Founders feel like they need to outwork others.


Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.


Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah. And today on the Startup Chat, we’re going to talk about sleep, and specifically we’re going to talk about how to get more sleep because sleep is really about … Usually when you talk about sleep, it’s about how do you get more sleep. And so, I think even deeper than that, and this could be applicable to others, but we wanted to focus on basically thoughts on sleep for founders. I think could be really valuable to anyone who’s not a founder as well. So that’s the topic to just give you context on why a founder might not be able to sleep.


Steli Efti: Awesome. Well, before we go into it, I want to give a shout out to a sponsor of ours, That’s a music app that actually helps you focus, relax, or sleep better. This product uses science backed music and it actually does work. Both Heaton and I are customers. We love the service. We use it all the time. Don’t believe us, just give it a try. You can go to to get a 20% discount, so that’s less than six bucks a month or less than 40 bucks a year. Once you’ve given it a free trial and you notice its power and effect, Make sure to check that out. Now back to sleep for founders. This is actually an interesting angle, right? Let’s maybe highlight a little bit on, before we talk about the importance of sleep and why having good quality and quantity of sleep would aid a founder, I’ll just for now assume that many people could just rationally understand why those things would be important. But what do you think are unique challenges when it comes to sleeping that apply to founders more so than other people maybe?


Hiten Shah: I think a founder can have more things in their head in general. Just so many different things that they have to worry about. At some point in a company at some scale, there’s somebody in the company you’re definitely looking to figure out whether you should let them go, figure out whether someone else, figure out whether you should move them around. So I think what ends up happening is at some point you have so much going on that there’s a number of things that could be in your head that could be impacting your ability to actually get a good night’s rest. And that’s not exclusive to founders, but I find that founders tend to have more trouble with this then other types of folks in an organization because they’re dealing with so many different factors that other folks might not be dealing with. And that usually has to do with people problems because those are the ones that tend to be less clear, the ones that we as human beings generally struggle with, and ones that I think can cause us a lot of anxiety and thoughts in our heads about should I do it, should I not do it? What should we do? What’s going to happen? A lot of that kind of things. There’s also other types of uncertainty that orient around being able to raise money, for example, or running out of money on a similar note. So I would say that there’s a number of these types of things that I find constantly on people’s minds as their founders and they greatly impact your ability to actually get sleep. For me, for example, and I think people are different, and different people have different perspectives and skews depending on what occupies their brain. So for me, a lot of the time, when I’m unclear about a relationship I have, whether it’s at work or personally and I haven’t found a way to resolve it, I tend to not be able to get sleep.


Steli Efti: Yeah. Lots and lots of worries as a founder, which impacts typically how you go to sleep. The other thing that I find particularly challenging, especially for founders that … founders like us, which is an increasing amount of founders that just use a lot of technology or even the core of their business is technology, is that now more so than ever before, you’re probably, you have an easy time to be impacted by work even way late into the night, right? So even if you’re at home on your couch watching a movie, you have your phone and maybe somebody’s writing you a chat on Slack or maybe you’re checking an email that you just got. Somebody texted you or you saw a tweet about somebody complaining about your service. It’s so easy for your employees, your customers, the world to get in touch with you, which means as a founder that a lot of people and a lot of problems and a lot of worries and a lot of communication is constantly raining onto you. And for most founders, especially those that, this is most of us probably at some point or the other, that don’t have the discipline to have really good hygiene when it comes to what they do, you know a couple of hours before they go to sleep, is that there’s a high chance you’re working maybe even a couple of minutes before you go to bed, or even worse you go to bed with your phone and you might be answering a couple of emails as the last heroic work act of the day and you’re falling asleep with work on your mind. So that that can be one thing which also leads to the next thing, which is maybe the feeling of guilt if you sleep too much. I don’t know if that’s … I feel like that’s still a big thing. Founders feel like they need to outwork others. They feel like there’s so much to do that there’s not time to sleep. Or if they go to sleep, they try to, maybe just for now, maybe just for the short term, I’m going to be on a six hour sleep cycle or five hour sleep cycle versus eight hours, which you know, the science today at least suggests would be much healthier for our brains and our health.


Hiten Shah: Yeah. One of the reasons I’m excited about a product like is because there’s this science to sleep. There’s a science to so many different things in the world today and there’s not a clear path in terms of how do I believe that this thing is going to help me. I mean that’s even why we have this episode, right? If everyone knew how to get better sleep, they would be getting better sleep right now. I guarantee it. There’s no doubt in my mind. So, products like that feel like the types of products that have that ability to give us something that we can feel more confident about in trying, and it might not work for us. Who knows? These are things that … But at least it’s science backed. At least there’s studies behind it. I think there’s more and more of this that’s going to happen in the world. I for one think that there’s people that go into sleep studies and try to figure out why they can’t sleep or sleep apnea is a thing and there’s a lot of studies around that and there’s machines around that. I have friends who carry around those machines when they travel because their sleep is dramatically improved. I don’t know enough about it. I don’t have it. I haven’t studied it, but I have friends who have told me all kinds of things about sleep apnea and things like that. There’s so many factors here. For me, I have another issue, which is I want to get blackout blinds because my eyes stay a little bit open when I sleep. I actually have a little blanket, like a small one, like a kid’s blanket that I wrap over my head. To me that’s better than one of those little eye things.


Steli Efti: Eye things, yeah.


Hiten Shah: For me, right? And it helps me sleep, you know? And if I need to take a nap in the middle of the day and it’s sunny, because sometimes I do take a nap in the middle of the day, and it actually helps me think, then I need that. I need something like that. So I’m excited for the fact that we’re going to get technology that can help us with this. I think music and sound and things like that can be a great driver to help you relax, or help you focus, or in this case even help you sleep. And there’s even other products in the market, whether it’s products like Calm that are more meditation focused, or even Headspace. Everyone’s getting into this game of being able to help give us these kind of tools. So that’s my sort of mini rant on this and why I’m excited about the topic in general. We have trouble sleeping. And the more demanding our work is, whatever that means for you, it doesn’t mean you’re a founder or not, it doesn’t matter, I think the more chances are that we have trouble sleeping. And for me specifically, I’ve never had trouble sleeping until maybe like six months ago. And what happened six months ago was that I started feeling a lot more pressure in my life around my work, my family, and the things I wanted to accomplish. Maybe it’s the age. I’m getting closer to 40. I’m 38. I just turned 38 a little while ago, about a month ago. And so, I don’t know what it is, but I definitely have been more digging into this and look forward to figuring out some really good solutions for sleep.


Steli Efti: Yeah, I’ve heard Matthew Walker, the author of Why We Sleep, on a podcast a couple of months ago and I thought it was, he was super insightful and thoughtful. And I bought the audible version of the book, Why We Sleep. I haven’t listened to it yet, but it’s been … For the last six months or so, I’ve kept seeing this being recommended within my circles. So I have a bunch of friends who read the book and really loved it and through this conversation right now it’s kind of bubbling back up at the top. I think similar to you, honestly think of, I’ve never had a problem falling asleep, so that’s never … That’s been an issue a lot of my friends have had. But a challenge with sleep I never have encountered. And I’ve never been, I mean I had phases in my entrepreneurial career where I probably slept only five or six hours, but not for like decades, for maybe for two or three years. Mostly I’m on an eight hour sleep cycle. So I sleep for eight hours almost every night. But the quality of my sleep, especially in the last year, has drastically declined. And here is. How I know when I wake up, I don’t feel rested and it doesn’t matter. I’ve played around, I’ve slept for nine hours, 10 hours, wake up, don’t feel rested. And then the second thing is, if you saw me the first 15 minutes after I wake up in the morning, you might get really scared. I look like I was in a fight all night long. Like my face is just like has this angry expression that comes from many hours of not good sleep. And so just-


Hiten Shah: I love it.


Steli Efti: So, this has been on top of my mind. It’s been really personal. So I was excited when you suggested that we should talk about sleeping because it’s kind of bubbled up. I’ve been ignoring it for a couple of weeks, but now it’s bubbled up to the top of like, I know I need to tackle this. I need to figure out this. There’s some issues that worry me and I know that if I tackle them that could make a difference, but I also know it’s I need to experiment with the temperature, light. I’m very light sensitive and I know that the blackout sheets that you talked about, the blackout, not sheets, whatever they’re called. Like making sure that the room is really dark, making sure that the room is really cold that you’re just sleeping in. Those are kind of some basic things that science has figured out can really help us. And then making sure that an hour or so before there’s not a lot of electronic light and all that stuff. Those are some of the things that I have very high on my list of things I want to tackle. I need to [inaudible] this because I’m getting more and more scared looking in the mirror in the morning and I’m like, “Okay, I get enough hours, but the quality is not good.” So I need to play around and figure this out and work on it.


Hiten Shah: Yeah. I mean for me it’s usually just my hair stands up in the mornings, pretty funky looking. So I definitely have, what is it, like morning hair or bed head or whatever they call it. And so if I get on a call before I take a shower, it definitely looks funky. Sometimes I’ll just literally go to my sink and put water on it and it looks great. So that’s my morning issue. And I think, one thing I’m going to leave everybody with here is I think there’s a lot that happens while we’re sleeping, in a dream state that we’re just not privy to and we don’t necessarily remember or understand. And sometimes that can leave us feeling a certain way in the morning. And I’ve noticed that about myself and other folks. Even you, Steli, maybe you’re going on big missions in the … Some kind of missions while you’re sleeping in your dream state, being Santa Claus all over the world or something. Who knows, right? And whatever you want to believe. But I find sleep to be one of these things where it’s if you can sleep, and this is what I’ll leave us with. And maybe you have one of these. If you can go to sleep with nothing on your mind and find whatever is required for you to do that, your life will be better. It doesn’t matter how long you sleep. And so if I were to give a very prescriptive thing that I think is true, is going to sleep with nothing on your mind. And that means like you’ve shed the day and you’re ready for a new day. Because every day you could have a blank slate like that if you really tried. And if we woke up with a blank slate, like just ready to take on the day without anything from the past impacting us in a negative way, that would be amazing. So that’s what I would try to do if it were me looking to improve my sleep, which I am. So I’m going to probably take that advice soon enough.


Steli Efti: There you go. Beautiful. Hey, if any of you listeners have advice, tips, stories to share when it comes to your sleep, your challenges with it, or your victories with it, let us know. We always love to hear from you., And if you’ve not checked it out before, please do us a favor, and this is a real recommendation. Go to Check it out. It’s a dope service. Both Heaton and I are customers and love it. So make sure to check that out as well. This is it from us for this episode. We’ll see you very soon.


Hiten Shah: See ya.