Understanding Sleep Deprivation and Committing to Better Sleep for Entrepreneurs

Sleep-deprived. A state that entrepreneurs find themselves in way too often, and for way too long. It’s time to find out what really contributes to sleep deprivation that entrepreneurs experience so often, and help them discover and understand why prioritizing sleep is so important so that they can feel better. 

During the month of May, we partnered with CheckingIn and Volition to encourage entrepreneurs to take a pulse of their mental and emotional health. We learned that tired is the most frequently used word by entrepreneurs to describe how they are feeling, followed by anxious, frustrated, and “meh.” There were plenty of positive words too like happy, accomplished, inspired, and rested, however, we can’t ignore that tiredness and lack of sleep are a reality for entrepreneurs. 

A infographic showing words numbers and other stats from a mental health study
Entrepreneurs described themselves as being tired, calm, anxious, happy and content. Out of 265 participants, the average energy level rating was a 6.3.

We are continuing the conversation around the health of Canada’s entrepreneurs, and that includes mental health. On August 18th, we were joined by Sean Burke (Founder and CEO of CheckingIn), Hannah Brennen (Co-founder of Sleepout), and Mark Combs (Co-founder of Sleepout) for a conversation moderated by Shawn Salewski (AVP, External Communications of Business Development Canada), all about the dangers of sleep deprivation and how entrepreneurs can commit to sleeping better. 

Sleep Deprivation event graphic with the names and photos of the panelists.


Why is sleep deprivation an important topic in the entrepreneurship space?

“You are expected to be tired. And if you aren’t tired, then you aren’t working enough.” –  Mark Combs, Co-founder of Sleepout 

There is a narrative that exists that tells us that entrepreneurs don’t need to prioritize sleep. Sleep is often the first part of our routines to be altered and sleep is easily put on the back burner to make more room for work. But it is this narrative that we need to realize and challenge, so we can shift this culture and create healthier entrepreneurs who can continue to build great things.

When we don’t prioritize sleep, our overall health suffers. And when it comes to sleep deprivation, we are more likely to feel stressed, anxious, become sick, and are at a greater risk of depression and other mental health conditions.

“Sleep deprivation is linked with stress, anxiety and an increased risk of depression.” – Hannah Brennen, Co-Founder of Sleepout


If sleep is so important, how can we build better routines and best practices around sleeping?

“Our bodies are very old, hardwired mechanisms. They like consistency and pattern recognition systems. So stimulus control is the number one thing that you can do right now that will help you get better sleep.” –  Mark Combs, Co-Founder of Sleepout 

For entrepreneurs, work and life are already blended together, but when it comes to our sleep, we must create space between the two. This means not working in our bedrooms or in our beds and designating spaces in our homes or outside of our homes, for work. Of course, it may not always be possible to create different spaces for different activities but we can still try to signal to our bodies when it is time for work and when it isn’t. Our bodies thrive on associations so perhaps you can try setting up a curtain in a smaller space, or even creating cues for your body to help signal work and playtime such as tidying up at the end of the day to reset your space or putting on your work out clothes and heading out for a walk or to the gym. 

During this event, our panelists Hannah and Mark, Co-founders of Sleepout offered some great tips for committing to better sleep routines and habits; 

  • Create good sleep environments. For example, a dark and cool room, removing devices from our bedrooms, or reading before bed. On the flip side, when we are having difficulty sleeping, it can be helpful to leave our bedrooms and do another activity to wind down and get closer to achieving sleep. 
  • Listening to your body’s sleep cues. As entrepreneurs, it can be easy to push past what our bodies are telling us and answer one more email, or do one more hour of work. However when we do this, we are leaning further into this culture of no sleep or less sleep, and we hurt our health.
  • Examine your thoughts around sleeping. Anxiety can creep up on us when it comes to sleeping and so, quieting our minds through meditation or even learning skills from cognitive behavioral therapy can be helpful to create better sleep routines and habits.
  • Melatonin is not a sedative. Our bodies naturally produce melatonin throughout our days and ramp it up before sleep time. We don’t need to take as much melatonin as we think. Instead, taking smaller amounts can be helpful in shifting or regulating our circadian rhythms to ease into better sleep and more refreshing wake-ups. 

“On the weekends, I was trying to run away or escape the challenges of being an entrepreneur. My question is to ask yourself why you might be doing this, so you can have a better understanding of yourself and better use these tips for better sleep and overall, to feel healthier.” Sean Burke, Founder, and CEO of CheckingIn


Sleep is a commitment, and entrepreneurs do commitment well. 

Like anything, there are things we can do and products we can use to improve and help us sleep better, but one big takeaway is that sleep is a commitment. And entrepreneurs are no strangers to commitment. You commit to your businesses, your teams, and your work and now it is time to make sure you are committing to your health, and sleep is a huge part of that. 

You can check out a full replay of this conversation on sleep deprivation on our YouTube channel. As well, you can join CheckingIn’s Sleep Program for Entrepreneurs, learn more about the Science of Sleep with Sleepout, and check out the Business Development Bank of Canada’s wellbeing resources for entrepreneurs.