A ‘sleep coach’ says bad sleep impacts performance more than diet or exercise, and reveals how to combat it

coffee tired caffeine
Bad sleep doesn’t just cause fatigue, irritability, memory problems and poor focus; it works against you in your work as well as in relationships.

  • Entrepreneurs, athletes, and high performers badly need adequate sleep.
  • Good sleep may be more important than diet or exercise, according to sleep coach Floris Wouterson.
  • Here are five tips the coach gave Insider to become a “super-sleeper.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

“He’s a wonderfully creative person, but he shouldn’t be getting very little sleep,” Richard Branson once said, referring to Elon Musk’s late-night tweeting escapades.

Branson isn’t the only one who thinks Musk could benefit from similar advice.

“Entrepreneurs, athletes, and other high performers desperately need good sleep,” Floris Wouterson told Insider, claiming that sleep is even more important than eating or exercising well.

Author of the book “Superslapen,” Wouterson is the first self-proclaimed “sleep performance coach” in Europe.

“Although, that’s not exactly hard, considering I came up with the term myself,” he told Insider. “I’ve been researching everything I could find on optimal sleep for years.”

He then started coaching, with athletes and top managers claiming to benefit greatly from Wouterson’s approach. Wouterson, based in Flanders, Belgium, comes from an entrepreneurial family himself and since 2002, his wife has set up a number of sleeping comfort stores.

Over the past sixteen years, Wouterson spoke to thousands of customers and became increasingly intrigued by sleep, as he too had struggled with poor sleep for a period of time.

According to Wouterson, the consequences of bad sleep are hugely underestimated. “Fatigue, irritability, loss of concentration, forgetfulness… it works against you in your work as well as in your relationships. The risk of injuries or accidents also increases by 40%.”

The long-term effects of bad sleep can also be severe – depression and burn-out can take hold if you don’t relax. Here are the five tips Wouterson gave Insider to become a super-sleeper.

1. Forget the “eight hours of sleep is a must” myth

alarm clock
You have to find your own sleep rhythm, go to sleep at a fixed time, and get up at a fixed time as much as possible.

According to Wouterson, this rigid notion that you must sleep for eight hours can actually cause sleep stress.

“If you think you should sleep eight hours every night, it can work against you,” said the expert. Lying awake and staying in bed because you have to reach eight hours in bed is illogical according to Wouterson.

You have to find your own sleep rhythm, go to sleep at a fixed time, and get up at a fixed time as much as possible. “Don’t stay lying down – it’s a misconception that sleep will come naturally.”

2. Don’t believe stories about super-short sleep

margaret thatcher
Margaret Thatcher is famously said to have slept for only four hours a night.

Stories about CEOs or politicians who only need a few hours of sleep make them sound tough, but according to Wouterson, only a small percentage of people can genuinely cope with little sleep.

It’s possible to train to temporarily sleep less, he said. Wouterson coached Sanne Haarhuis, a pilot in hot-air balloon competitions, to regulate her sleeping pattern and endure heavy, multi-day races with a minimum of sleep. Wouterson also sees top athletes who can quickly refuel with napping.

“You can recharge your batteries with a 12-minute power nap for two hours,” said the sleep expert however, you have to wake up in time before you sink into a very deep sleep.

According to Wouterson, you can achieve this by, for example, holding a bunch of keys in your hand while taking a short nap. “As soon as you sink too deeply, your hand relaxes, the keys fall to the ground and you’re awake again.”

3. Small steps bring about big changes

bed
Letting your mind drift is one thing but, of course, brooding and pondering won’t help if you want to sleep.

Wouterson is convinced there isn’t just one quick fix to sleep better; there are several areas that demand your attention.

“80% of the five main sleeping problems are learned,” he said. You can achieve an enormous amount by taking small steps to alter your diet, exercise, and sleep routine, for example.

But self-examination, looking at your own attitude to sleep, is perhaps most important according to Wouterson.

4. Eat well and take a break from your phone

woman yawing drinking coffee
You can massively change the way you sleep by taking small steps to alter your diet, exercise, and sleep routine, according to the sleep expert.

Eating and resting your head are two things that require extra attention when it comes to ensuring a good night’s sleep.

Wouterson said to choose healthy food and to be careful with carbohydrates, sugar, and alcohol, adding: “A good night’s sleep starts on your plate.”

Letting your mind drift is one thing but, of course, brooding and pondering won’t help if you want to sleep – negative media reports about “the state of affairs in the world” can keep you feeling worrisome, tossing and turning.

Wouterson advises you to focus on your own circle of influence – what are some challenges in your life you can influence yourself? Focus mainly on those things and try not to keep worrying too much about problems you can’t do much about.

A media diet can bring peace – make sure to put your smartphone away in the evening, a few hours before you go to sleep.

5. Employers should see their employees’ sleep as an investment

woman sleeping desk work nap
Offering sleep training or sleeping facilities can actually be a good investment for employers, according to Wouterson.

Keep going, slog away, work through lunch, soldier on, stay an extra hour – it may seem logical to squeeze as much as you can out of your employees but it’s actually counterproductive, according to Wouterson.

Businesses may see a drastic improvement in the performance of their employees when they’ve slept better. The number of mistakes decreases, while better decisions will take the company further.

“As an employer, you don’t exactly want to be in your employees’ bedrooms, but offering sleep training or sleeping facilities can actually be a good investment,” said Wouterson.

According to the sleep performance coach, this is already a common phenomenon in Japan.

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A startup that can ‘translate’ baby cries is now exploring early detection of autism in newborns

baby crying
Laguna was looking for a way to know what her baby was telling her so she decided to found Zoundream.

  • Founded two years ago, Zoundream specializes in cataloging and translating baby cries.
  • In its first round of funding last October, Zoundream raised just under $1 million.
  • The company now wants to expand into early-stage detection of atypical developments in newborns.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

We all know children don’t come into the world with a “how-to” guide.

During the first months of a newborn’s life, it’s often a struggle for parents not just to meet their baby’s needs but simply to know what they are.

However much a new parent may want to soothe their baby’s endless desperate crying, it can be challenging without knowing what they want.

Many resign themselves to one of their first lessons as parents: they won’t always understand their children.

In the age of the Internet of Things, smartphones, and tablets, however, some are using tech to explore modern ways of working around age-old problems.

Ana Laguna, a 33-year-old scientist and expert in data management, gave birth to her first child in 2016.

crying baby
Zoundream was born out of a single idea: the way newborn babies express their needs is universal.

After a few hours of crying, she had a thought – there had to be a way of translating a newborn’s cries.

The idea seemed such an obvious one that she assumed there must already have been a company that had successfully developed some kind of device or app, but the only thing she could find was a Korean application that was just about functioning.

Taken aback by what seemed somewhat of a technological oversight, her intuition soon turned into a project: she would record her own baby’s cry to look for patterns.

“Many projects come about by mistake or by necessity. Mine is one of the latter,” Laguna told Insider.

Over the years, Laguna’s project transformed into a fully-fledged company, Zoundream.

The company specializes in developing software to translate newborn babies’ cries, particularly those up to the age of six months.

After raising just under $1 million in its first round of funding in October 2020, Zoundream now wants its studies to help detect atypical developments in newborns at an early stage.

There have been several stages in Zoundream’s development to get it to where it is now.

baby sleeping next to baby monitor
The company specializes in developing software to translate newborn babies’ cries, particularly those up to the age of six months.

Laguna’s first major concern was to find out whether babies from different countries cry differently.

If, for instance, the cry of a German baby were different from that of a Spanish baby, that would have significantly reduced the software’s potential audience – as well as the viability of the whole project.

After many hours of gathering information through scientific publications on the subject and analysis of sound samples, Zoundream came to a conclusion – although there were notable differences in the prosody of the cry, the content is always the same across languages.

In other words, though German and Spanish babies may sound different, they’re essentially trying to say the same thing.

The only thing left to do was to get the business going – that’s where Roberto Iannone, the company’s current CEO, comes in.

Hundreds of kilometers away from Laguna, almost at the same time as her, Iannone, an entrepreneur, had already had a similar idea. So, when a colleague told him about Laguna and her studies on crying patterns in newborns, which were already beginning to gain some traction in the press, Iannone knew what he needed to do.

Zoundream was born out of a single idea – while there are more than 7,000 languages in the world, the way newborn babies express their needs is universal.

Now the company translates babies’ cries into five types: hunger, sleep, pain, gas, and attachment or the desire to be held.

breastfeeding
The company translates babies’ cries into five types: hunger, sleep, pain, gas, and attachment.

This classification method works best on infants up to the age of three months, when crying is more genuine. From this point on, according to Laguna, the baby’s brain synapses become more complex – they start to be able to learn at full speed.

As a result, babies start using certain strategies to get what they want.

In other words, human beings learn to lie before they learn to speak.

After the birth of her second child, Laguna decided she didn’t just want to record her own child’s cries; she wanted for other parents to be able to contribute to the project.

A newborn cries an average of two to three hours a day. Over time, Zoundream managed to collect thousands and thousands of hours of cries analyzed using spectrograms, from Europe, Asia, and the entire American continent.

This means tZoundream is already working on refining translations through devices that are still just prototypes.

Zoundream is building partnerships with companies that, in the coming years, will make it possible to integrate this technology in prams, bracelets, or even in surveillance cameras.

The one condition is that the system has to be automatic.

Autism awareness
Zoundream wants to move towards detecting atypical developments through the way babies cry.

“When a child cries, their parents will go to attend to them and entirely forget about the mobile phone and everything,” says Laguna.

In addition to the audio, the company started to receive feedback.

“I remember, for example, a mother who said that her son wouldn’t stop crying. The recordings told us that he was hungry,” says Laguna. “It didn’t make sense to her, because she kept breastfeeding him. Eventually, she told us that we were right, that the doctor had detected a problem with his lingual frenulum and that he wasn’t feeding well.”

Cases like these have inspired Zoundream’s team to try to take the next leap and detect atypical developments through the way babies cry.

Some cases, she says, are obvious: “The cry of a child on the autistic spectrum is very characteristic, very hoarse. You can see it quite clearly on the spectrogram.”

By doing this, Laguna explains, the company hopes to help improve the early diagnosis possibilities, which can greatly improve quality of life.

“In cases of early diagnosis,” she says, “autism is detected at around the age of two. Imagine the improvement if it could be done before the age of six months.”

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