My Business Was Hurting My Sleep — Here's How I Built Better Habits

When Yunha Kim found the stress of building a business impacting her sleep, she knew something had to change so she could show up every day rested and ready to work. Here are the realistic habit changes that helped her deal with insomnia.

Feb 13, 2023 6 min readFlow
Photo of Yunha Kim
Yunha Kim

Founder and CEO of Sleep Reset & Simple Habit

For most of my life, I never had an issue with sleep. But then, I started a business.

Many people assume that the founder of a meditation app has self-care all figured out, but as the stress of building Simple Habit mounted, so did my newfound insomnia.

During the day, I was meeting with partners and investors, hiring new employees, and by all metrics succeeding at scaling a business. At night, I’d feel the weight of having more and more responsibility. Laying in bed wide-eyed, I’d ruminate about work, worry about the tasks on my plate, and find my brain whirring with new ideas.

And then, I’d wake up groggy and feeling unable to do the work I needed to move my business forward. I know I’m not the only entrepreneur who’s felt slow in meetings or unable to be productive due to lack of sleep—it literally impairs our cognitive performance and focus.

Being unfamiliar with insomnia, I initially tried to solve the problem in all the wrong ways. I’d over-caffeinate throughout the day to try and stay sharp, but then find myself unable to fall asleep that night because of the caffeine still coursing through my body. I’d try to go to bed earlier to catch up on shut-eye, but then would lie in bed awake, feeling stressed about my inability to sleep. I even tried various sleeping pills and melatonin, but they just left me feeling groggier in the morning.

Finally, I decided to try going to a sleep clinic, but found myself on a six month waitlist. So, I took matters into my own hands, digging into the research and working with sleep experts to figure out a more sustainable solution. Ultimately, this experience inspired me to launch my second business: Sleep Reset, which helps guide others through their own sleep-improvement journey with clinically-backed techniques personalized to them and the support of a dedicated sleep coach.

Unfortunately, there's not one golden nugget that will suddenly fix your sleep. It’s a process of retraining your brain and your habits, and it’s going to be different for everyone based on your lifestyle. But here’s what I did to get back on track with my rest—so I could get back to building my business.

I found realistic ways to improve my sleep hygiene

The most common first step in fixing sleep problems is checking in on your “sleep hygiene”—in other words, making sure your lifestyle habits aren’t negatively impacting your sleep. The term “sleep hygiene” is discussed so much these days that it might initiate an eye roll. But a lot of times the sleep hygiene best practices can feel unattainable, so people just give up altogether: Advice like staying off screens hours before bedtime, sticking to the same sleep schedule, or never drinking at night.

Instead of feeling like I needed to completely overhaul my sleep habits, I looked for the low-hanging fruit: Changes I could make that would be impactful according to the research, and that actually felt like something I could commit to.

For me, that involved four habit tweaks:

  • I stopped drinking caffeine in the afternoon. Research shows that drinking caffeine even six hours before bed negatively affects sleep. This didn’t mean I had to completely cut out the jolt that helped me get going on groggy days, just that I had to stop reaching for it after lunch.
  • I stopped eating dinner so late. I used to wait for my husband to get home to have dinner together, eating just a couple hours before bed. This meant my body was still processing food while I was trying to sleep. I started eating at a time that was better for my schedule (3-4 hours before bed), and finding other ways for us to have quality time together when he got home.
  • I created a wind-down routine that works for me. People think a wind-down routine has to be a long, elaborate process, which may feel unrealistic for an already over-scheduled day. In reality, there are so many quick options: taking a warm shower or bath, doing a bit of journaling or reading, practicing a short breathing exercise. I found that 10 minutes of restorative yoga before bed does the trick for me.
  • I tried to keep my schedule consistent. When you change your sleep schedule on the weekends, you’re essentially sending yourself into a jet-lagged state. While I obviously didn’t want to turn down all social events, if I didn’t have a reason to stay up late on the weekends, I’d stick to my standard sleep and wake times. For me, that’s going to bed between 8:30 and 9 pm and waking up at 5 am.

I shifted my days to align with my sleep schedule

Like so many business owners, over time my workload started to expand until it was taking up more and more of my days. Especially once the pandemic hit and there were no boundaries between work and home life, I found myself regularly hustling right up until my bedtime, giving myself no time to tune off work and prepare for rest.

I’m not saying working late is always bad. Everyone has a different ideal sleep schedule, and if you’re a night owl who gets your best work done in the evenings while still having some time to wind down before bed, that’s great. But I’m a morning person who has the most energy when I’m up and working early. If I then worked until 5 pm like everyone else—or worse, later into the evening—I quickly found myself racking up 12+ hour days and constantly thinking about work. It wasn’t the most restful mental state.

A big part of fixing my sleep involved better aligning my work schedule with my energy, and creating more boundaries around work so that I would actually shut it off and find time for rest. Knowing that I like to start early and that I usually lose steam by mid-afternoon, I decided to stop working at 4 pm.

Of course, that’s easier said than done, so I created a few guardrails to make it happen. For starters, I put a block on my calendar after that time so no one could schedule late afternoon meetings with me. I also initially added scheduled activities to my calendar around that time so I’d be forced to leave my desk: a doctor’s appointment, a workout class, catching up with a friend.

A screenshot of a personal calendar/schedule
Yunha's calendar

Creating this space for me helped quiet my brain when I was laying down for bed, making it easier to fall asleep quickly.

I retrained my brain to stop associating sleep with stress

Changing sleep habits is hard, but for me and for many others, the bigger hurdle was changing the brain’s emotional relationship to sleep.

Whenever I’d struggle with sleep, I’d lie in bed, staring at the ceiling, worrying that I’d never be able to sleep again. That anxious mental state made it nearly impossible to lull myself back to sleep, perpetuating my insomnia. I now understand that, staying in bed worrying, my brain had likely built an association between bed and stress and wakefulness instead of between bed and sleep. For those of us who struggle with insomnia, the brain starts to associate bed with a source of stress and anxiety.

Shifting that association takes time. All the sleep hygiene habits I mentioned above helped, as did ensuring I didn’t use my bed for anything besides sleeping. Counterintuitively, that meant getting out of bed whenever I found myself in an insomnia spiral. Sleep scientists recommend getting up if you find yourself unable to fall asleep after 20 minutes or so and doing a low-key, screen-free activity like reading, listening to a podcast, or knitting. Once I found myself yawning incessantly or nodding off, I’d return to bed and drift off more easily. Over time, this broke down the association in my brain with not being able to sleep in my bed and helped me start seeing it as a restful place again.

Overcoming sleep problems isn’t easy. But seeing how much better I was able to show up for my business on days I got proper rest motivated me to continue doing the work. Now, running two businesses, I obviously have more on my plate than ever. And sometimes, I fall off the wagon with my sleep habits, working late or finding myself in bed mulling over a problem from the day. But when I wake up groggy the next morning, I’m quickly reminded why I work so hard to prioritize good sleep—and with this strong fundamental knowledge backing me up, I have the tools to quickly get rested up again.

Brought to you by

Try Buffer for free

140,000+ small businesses like yours use Buffer to build their brand on social media every month

Get started now

Related Articles

FlowApr 16, 2024
4 Social Media Strategies That Help Our Business Drive More Sales In-Store and Online

When these brand owners opened their first brick-and-mortar store, they learned lessons that helped improve their social media and grow their sales both on and offline.

Make Money on Pinterest in 2024
PinterestApr 15, 2024
5 Ways to Make Money on Pinterest in 2024: An In-depth Guide for Creators and Businesses

There are plenty of ways to monetize on Pinterest. Here's a guide to some tactics for both creators and small businesses.

nonprofit marketing tips
FlowApr 11, 2024
Nonprofits: Steal These Marketing Practices from Tech Startups

If you’re a nonprofit leader who wants to become more efficient, grow your audience, and deepen trust in your organization long term, you should steal a few marketing strategies from startups.

140,000+ people like you use Buffer to build their brand on social media every month