I have insomnia. I've also been day trading for a living, on and off, for the past ten years. I've traded my own money and others. It's an unpleasant way to live. The highs are very high and the lows are very low and painful. Whether you are at the highs or the lows you're probably going to experience insomnia along with 32 million other people in this country that have insomnia.
When I have insomnia here is the form it takes: I have no problem falling asleep. But then at about 2 or 3am, I am awake and can't get back to sleep. The worst is when I finally get back to sleep around 5:30 but by then I'm in trouble: I'll wake up around 6:30 or 7 completely exhausted for the day.
This is no good for a day trader. You need to be focused, on your game, and not make mistakes which cost you your livelihood because you are simply too tired to be sharp. Imagine if you take out $5,000 and just drop it on the street and walk away. You would be stupid if you did that. It's also stupid to let insomnia force you into mistakes that cost you many multiples more than $5,000.
Some of the suggestions below may seem harsh. And the correct solution for insomnia will be different for everyone. But if you do follow the suggestions below, I can safely say it's unlikely you will have insomnia.
- No computer for the last hour of the day. Not only that, turn off the computer. There should be no computer sound or monitor light. The sound and light keeps you sucked into the virtual reality of the day trading world, where you live and die on every tick in the markets. You need to disengage from that world and enter back into the real world in order to sleep.
- No food after 7pm. I really meant to write 5pm but that might be unrealistic for most people. Sleep and digestion are closely linked. Studies show that many people with insomnia have either irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or sensitive stomachs. Not eating past 5pm and drinking more liquids throughout the day can help you be cleaned out for your sleep. You want to eat easy-to-digest foods at night. No meat, not too much sugar. Vegetables and fruits.
- No alcohol. The sugar will pop you awake in the middle of the night.
- Exercise. This is directly related to what happens to your body when you day trade. Imagine if you were mugged. Adrenalin and stress hormones would get released in your body and you'd either fight or flight. Fighting or running would work off those stress hormones. When you day trade, it's as if you are getting mugged all day long -- but you are just sitting there. You aren't working off the stress hormones. Those chemicals will keep you awake at night. Exercise (if done early in the day) will at first increase the stress hormones but then over the next few hours after exercise finishes, will work those hormones off.
- Clean your bedroom, your closet, your office, your kitchen, etc. Your mind and your living space need to be friends with each other. Clean mind equals clean living space. Cluttered space means cluttered mind. Cluttered mind leads to anxiety, nervousness, stress, and then those stress hormones are waking you up again in the middle of the night. Power down the computer and clean your room before you go to sleep.
- Put closure on the end of your work day. Make a list of the work related things you did that day. Write them down on a pad. Trades you made, articles you read that you remember, ideas you had, calls you made related to business. I write everything into an email I send to myself. It helps me to see how productive I was (or not), particularly on days that might not have been that good otherwise (i.e. if I lost money trading that day). It also helps me understand and analyze my trades a bit more. And finally, when I hit "send" on that email to myself, my day is over. Onwards to the next thing (talking to family, friends, etc).
- Meditate. You don't need to get in the lotus position and start chanting for an hour or two. Most of the time during the day, particularly when you're stressed, you may stop and notice that your breaths are short and uneven. Sit in a chair for ten minutes, with the lights out or on dim. Simply watch your breath. Don't breathe too deeply but as deeply as is natural. Count the breaths to ten. Then start over. If you find you are losing your place too much (or slipping into "11..12..") then just count to five and start over. Do that for just ten minutes in the evening. Ideally, do it in the morning also before you begin your day.
- Early to bed, early to rise. Ben Franklin is right. This will make you wealthy (maybe wise also but we're focused on trading here). 5am is a good time to wake up, read the news, check futures, and plan your trades for the day. That gives you a little over 4 hours to get ready for the trading day. If you need 8 hours of sleep then backtrack from 5am to see when you need to get to sleep.
If you follow these guidelines you will be on your A game when you trade, you will sleep better, and you will wake up each morning refreshed and ready to go.