Sleep Habits of Entrepreneurs: Max Temkin – Somn
Photo of Max Temkin

Sleep Habits of Entrepreneurs: Max Temkin

In SomnLabs’ Sleep Habits of Entrepreneurs series, we talk with leading founders and creators to explore the role of sleep in innovation. Recently, we spoke with Max Temki, Cards Against Humanity.

Max is a designer in Chicago who co-created Cards Against Humanity along with Secret Hitler and Humans vs. Zombies. He has also worked with EMILY’s List, Obama for America, Hillary for America, Jonathan Coulton, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The Basics

Name: Max Temkin
Age: 31
Avg. Caffeinated Drinks Per Day: 3.5
Avg. Naps Per Week: 0
Avg. Hours of Sleep Each Night: 8

Do you feel like you’ve figured out your sleep?

Yeah, although I don’t always put what I’ve learned into practice. I know I really benefit from 8 or more hours of sleep. But, when we’re crunching on a project at Cards, I’ll sacrifice sleep to keep working.

The thing is, I’ve learned that those moments – when you’ve been working all day on a problem and want to keep pushing – those are the moments when I need to be protective of my sleep.

In college, I would always put off studying for tests and end up cramming the night before. And, at one point, I realized that if I got a full night of sleep rather than crammed, I’d do a lot better on tests. Sleep helped me remember things and be more focused. And, the same is true today.

What’s your nighttime ritual?

I need an hour to relax before going to bed. A lot of the time I’ll read Twitter, play a game, watch TV, listen to a podcast, or read a book. Or, just lie in bed and try to not think about work.

Jim Coudal from Field Notes gave me some good advice about how to end the day and start the next. He told me he used to use his phone as an alarm clock, but would wake up and see a bunch of texts and emails. It’s like the minute you open your eyes, you’re playing defense. So, now he keeps his phone out of his bedroom and it’s really improved the quality of his entire day. I started doing this, too, and it’s made a big difference.

What helps you sleep?

Getting ready for bed means looking at the calendar for the next day, and spending a few minutes thinking about how I’m going to go about it. I’ve been exploring David Allen’s Getting Things Done and one of his big concepts is Ubiquitous Capture. The idea is, most people walk around with all these ideas bouncing around in their head (“I have to do this” “I need to get that” “I need to send that email”) and it’s hard to turn those thoughts from stress into action.

This is where Ubiquitous Capture comes in. David says, “Write it down. Put it in a to-do list.” Getting it out of your head and onto paper gives yourself permission to forget it and not stress out about it. So, the time before bed is a moment for me to acknowledge what’s going on tomorrow and think through any anxieties or tasks surrounding it.

What’s your morning ritual?

It really throws me off to be rushed in the morning. So, I try to have an hour buffer to ease into the day. Right when you wake up, you’re nice and crisp. It’s this perfect moment where concentration and discipline align and spur creativity. I like to use this time to meditate and take a long shower – that’s when a lot of good ideas come to me. I’ll also reflect on what I’m doing with my day and my life, and set a goal for what I want accomplish before I come home.

How do you meditate?

I do Zazen meditation. It’s unguided. No one’s asking me to join anything or pay for anything. It can’t be taken away from me. Instead, it’s my own toolbox and set of rituals. It’s like this thought technology I can take wherever I go.

How does travel affect your sleep?

For a long time, I was going to conferences and conventions a lot. And, after each one I’d physically crumble, feel exhausted, and get sick. I thought it was just the travel. But, it turned out to be something else. When your at these events, you drink a lot more. It’s just what you do. I’m not a big drinker but I’d end up having 4 or 5 drinks each night. When I realized that drinking was affecting my sleep and health, it blew my mind. And, now I do so much better at these events and feel so much better.

What is your best time of day for productivity?

Late at night when no one can bother me and there’s no chance I’ll be interrupted.

What sleep advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

Sleep is the quickest win you can have. If you are aggressive about carving out time for sleep, it will pay dividends in every aspect of your life in ways that will surprise you. People say when you have money, it’s easier to get money. It’s similar with entrepreneurship. People who have their own company can design their own schedule and prioritize sleep, which helps them be more inventive.

Also, if you own a company, you have a vested interest in your team having a full life and getting the sleep they need. I’d rather a team member sleep in and only work 3 hours at their full capacity than work for 8 hours on no sleep.

One other thing I recommend is the Apple Watch Sleep Watch. On the days when I’m snapping at people or can’t solve a problem, I’ll look at the app and see that I only got 4 hours of good sleep. Just having a measure of that is pretty amazing.

Learn more about Max Temkin at

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