How I finally learned to sleep

Martin Port
June 15, 2023

In my twenties and thirties, I survived on 4 hours sleep a night. In my forties I would get five hours. During the pandemic, when I was working from home and ditched my commute, I reached the dizzy heights of six hours shuteye each night. My passion for building businesses has often meant that rest has taken a back seat throughout my life.

However, whereas once my lack of sleep was by choice, in recent years, deep, restful sleep has eluded me.

In 2018, I was diagnosed with mild sleep apnoea. This is a sleep disorder whereby your breathing stops and starts overnight. It can be very serious as your brain may be starved of oxygen.

I didn’t take this diagnosis seriously.

I didn’t want to wear a mask overnight. I wasn’t interested in being plugged into a machine. I felt that I could manage very well on my own.

How wrong I was.

I recently went back to the doctor to review my sleep apnoea and it is now much worse. I wake up around 60 times an hour. I only get one hour and 15 minutes of deep sleep a night – the rest of the time, I hover between sleep and wakefulness. 

I knew that I felt tired. I knew that I was struggling to keep my eyes open at times, and that I was more irritable and had a shorter fuse. But I was so used to feeling that way that I had forgotten what a good night’s sleep felt like.

I'm hugely ambitious. I know that BigChange is well on its way to becoming a unicorn. As chairman and founder, I need to be on top of my game, constantly problem-solving and strategising. But you can't see the big picture when you're peering out at the world through tired eyes. 

I posted about the importance of sleep a couple of years ago. It’s a topic that fascinates me – probably because I have had so little of this precious commodity in my own life.

To summarise, studies have shown that lack of sleep leads to poorer decisions, more stress, and deteriorating health. Someone told me an anecdote recently about the CEO of Philips banning all employees from doing deals after a long flight. Apparently – and I do not know if this is apocryphal - executives would have to sign a contract saying they would wait a whole 24 hours from landing, to ensure they had a full night’s sleep first.

I believe in the power of sleep because I have recently experienced the effects of a full night of rest for the first time. I finally bit the bullet and began using my sleep apnoea machine. Yes, it’s noisy and cumbersome – but who cares. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I wake in the morning feeling on top of the world. After a few days of good sleep, my waking hours are a revelation. I feel truly reinvigorated. Is this how everyone feels after a decent kip? How have I lived without it for so long?

I still wake before 6am every morning but I have clocked in five hours of deep sleep. That’s four times what I was surviving on previously.

Sleep apnoea is one of the most common sleep disorders on the planet. In the UK alone, it is estimated that 1.5m people are living with it – and 85% of those are undiagnosed.

If you are running a business, you need to sleep. The better the sleep quality, the higher your productivity. So, if you think you may have sleep apnoea, let this be your wake-up call – go and get the test. And if you know that you’re running on empty, cancel your 7am meeting and have a lie in. You won’t regret it.

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