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10Xers’ Secret To Achieving Next-Level Productivity Doesn’t Cost A Thing

The average adult brain needs about seven to eight hours of sleep every night to function at maximum capacity. And yet founders Steve Jobs and Jack Dorsey built their empires with little to no help from a good night’s rest, and many powerful people (including the U.S. president) attribute their success to their ability to thrive on just a few hours of sleep.

For some, these claims might be true. These “short sleepers,” or people who only need a handful of shuteye every night, make up only about one to three percent of the general population. But for every 100 people who claim to be short sleepers, just five actually are. The other 95 are just like everyone else, blindly suffering through daily symptoms of sleep deprivation like increased irritability, weakened immune system, memory loss and decreased productivity — high stakes for 10Xers, who’ve branded themselves as prolific programmers.

These next-level developers are said to be capable of achieving 10 times the productivity of their merely average colleagues. To get the scoop on just how these elite programmers think about sleep in relation to their output, we’ve teamed up with Sleep Number. Here, three developers give their take on balancing bedtime and deadlines.

They automate everything — even their wardrobe

Pasha Riger, a 26-year-old freelance programmer and consultant based in New York City, says 10Xers are defined by their ability to make decisions based on maximizing value. “[10Xers] analyze systems and work within the constraints of those systems in order to find the best solution to a problem, and I think much of the 10X community looks at sleep as just another constraint that they have to work around.”

For example, he says a 10Xer might run an experiment, sleeping four-, six-, eight- or ten-hour nights until they find the amount of sleep that works for them. Riger takes this automated, problem-solving approach throughout his lifestyle (he wears the same “uniform” of a plain black t-shirt every day in order to cut the time and mental effort needed to decide on a new outfit every morning) and he knows how the value of a good night’s sleep factors in.

I have a rule that I have to be in bed by 11 p.m.,” he says. “I try not to book any meetings in the morning so that if I do go to bed later, I can still get eight hours of sleep. Sleep has a big impact on how stressed or cranky I am, and on my ability to focus.”

They view sleep as part of the creative process

Unsurprisingly, sleeping boosts creativity and encourages the cognitive functions needed for problem solving. Fer Martin is the head of curriculum for Ironhack’s four coding bootcamp schools in Miami, Madrid, Paris, and Barcelona, Spain, and while he isn’t as strict about his sleep habits as Riger, he is well-aware of the benefits of a full night’s sleep.

The problem is that when you sleep less by habit, you tend not to realize the diminishing returns of the work you put out,” Martin says. “You actually get less done, but it feels like you are getting more done. Have you ever worked on a problem for hours and gone to sleep clueless, only to find the solution the moment you wake up? It’s not magic, it’s biology.”

Stories about sleep’s ability to unlock creative potential go on and on. Riger has had similar experience with a project that seemed at a stalemate — until sleep intervened.

“Once I was working on really a complex scheduling algorithm. I pulled an all-nighter, and I was just hitting my head against the wall and couldn’t figure it out,” he says. “I went home, I got a good night’s sleep, and I came back and rewrote the whole thing from scratch in just a few hours. It was a much better solution than what I’d been working on while I was exhausted all night.”

They realize it takes time and practice

Of course, these programmers are only human, and not all of us can so easily snooze on command. Erik Zuuring is a self-taught designer and front-end developer based out of Montreal whose biggest issue is pulling himself away from the very devices he needs in order to work.

“I often read emails in bed just before dozing off, which of course puts me back into the work routine and thinking about what I need to do at work the next day,” he says. “Over time, I’ve realized this can really disturb my work ethic and overall performance.”

Although he tries to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night, he often ends up with only four or five. “Having access to work email in my pocket, coupled with the fact that I (and many other programmers) work remotely, can make it difficult to separate work time from relaxing and sleep time.”

While some still struggle with finding the time to make sleep a priority, Martin, the Ironhack instructor, says today’s 10Xer isn’t likely to follow in the sleepless footsteps of past programmers.

10X programmers are becoming much smarter about sleep,” he says. “There are so many tools and so many different ways to hack sleep, but the bottom line is that everyone is paying attention to how it affects their performance, and they run different experiments until they know what works for them, and what their limits are.”


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