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Who Needs Sleep? (Here’s what science says…)

Sleep deprivation is an illegal torture method outlawed by the Geneva Convention.

A method of torture – and yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than a third of American adults don’t regularly get enough sleep.

In other words, we’re walking around torturing ourselves. How can we expect ourselves to be productive professionals (let alone civil human beings)?

There’s a scientific link between sleep and leadership performance.

Intuitively, we all know that lack of sleep negatively affects performance in a wide range of areas. But managers and executives need to know that for them, the stakes are even higher. Research shows that chronic fatigue has a detrimental impact on four abilities and behaviors that are critical to good leadership.

In other words, a tired manager can sometimes be a bad manager.

Here’s why: Although sleep loss can impair vision and motor control, its most damaging impact is on these higher-order mental skills associated with the prefrontal cortex of the brain:

  • focusing and blocking out distractions
  • effective problem-solving
  • sound decision-making
  • understanding others’ perspectives

Alarmingly, these are four of the top abilities exhibited by high-performing executive teams, according to a McKinsey study. What’s even more concerning is the fact that a separate study of 180 business leaders (also conducted by McKinsey) found that 43% get too little shuteye at least four nights a week.

If you still think you’re immune to the effects of exhaustion, consider this sobering fact: by ignoring your need for sleep, you could actually be doing real damage to your brain. A University of Pennsylvania study found that mice subjected to conditions mimicking late-night and shift work lost brain cells – particularly those that foster alertness. If the results hold for humans, the negative effects of sleep deprivation could extend well beyond the next day.

So, who needs sleep?

You do. But, if like most managers and executives, you find that the pressures of your job conflict with healthy sleep habits, here are a few tips to help you get more (and better quality) sleep:

  • Prioritize sleep. Think of it as an important leadership “skill” that helps you perform at your peak.
  • Determine how much you need. Everyone is different, but the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend that adults aged 18-60 years sleep at least 7 hours each night to promote optimal health and well-being.
  • Move more. Daily exercise (before dinner) is conducive to healthy sleep. If you can’t get to the gym, take a walk outside.
  • Watch what you eat (and drink). Good nutrition plays an important role. Foods like cherries, bananas, oatmeal and warm milk can help you sleep, and melatonin, valerian and chamomile tea are all natural relaxants. Don’t drink caffeinated beverages after 4 p.m. Alcohol, too, interrupts your sleep cycle – so save it for the weekends.
  • Keep the hours consistent. Circadian rhythms play a huge role in our well-being. Going to bed and rising at the same time each day will help you meet each day more rested and refreshed.
  • Unplug. The light from screens (including phones) can make you restless. Keep the last hour before bed technology-free.

Looking for more tips to perform at your peak?

Read this earlier post on making your mornings more productive, and this one on how to get going in the morning.

Or, just give our Nashville staffing firm a call! With a full complement of solutions for a wide range of industries, we can provide the talented, reliable people you need to make your entire team more productive and efficient.