Calling all leaders!
- How did you sleep last night?
- What amount of sleep did you get?
- How refreshed did you feel when you woke up?
How Does Sleep Play Out in Your Life?
Personally, sleep has always been something that I’ve, mostly, prioritized. Of course, there have been times when certain projects have led me to work late into the evening. So, at times, sleep has gone on the back burner. No matter how old I was at the time, I always felt the ramifications of skimping on sleep. Lack of concentration, lower energy levels, and less ability to focus are a few of the symptoms I’ve experienced. What about you?
For most of my adult life, though, I have done my best to get at least 7 ½ hours of sleep each night. Honestly, I haven’t shared that with many people before. In a society that seems to thrive on 24/7 availability and activity, it might seem weak or unproductive to not work all hours of the day and night. Yet, it’s time to stand up for the importance of getting a solid night’s sleep. The evidence is in from numerous scientific sources that sleep is critical to our health and our ability to function. Without enough of it, we open ourselves up to an array of potential health risks and we diminish our brain’s ability to function properly. And, if our brains aren’t functioning properly, how does that impact our ability to lead?
What the Research Has to Say
In the book, Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker, PhD, shares research that shows how the pre-frontal cortex is adversely impacted by lack of sleep – anything less than 7 hours per night. What’s so important about the pre-frontal cortex? It is the area of the brain where executive functioning takes place. This includes an array of activities such as, decision-making, coordinating and adjusting complex behavior, ability to control emotional reactions, focusing attention, and predicting the consequences of actions. Needless to say, all of these activities play a role in leadership effectiveness.
Over the years, many of my clients in leadership roles have shared how little sleep they often get. They struggle with an expectation that they must immediately respond to emails and texts that come at all hours of the day and night. They have an enormous number of projects on their plates and have difficulty slowing down their active minds when they try to sleep. Stress, anxiety, and worry can make for a restless night’s sleep as well.
In Walker’s book he shares that during sleep, our brains go through an amazing process of washing out harmful proteins through the glymphatic system and glial cells. In this way, our brain heals during a restful and complete night’s sleep. This nightly cleanse has a profound impact on our overall health and our capacity to function effectively as leaders.
Some of you might be thinking, “that doesn’t apply to me. I can get by fine on 5 or 6 hours a night.” The research would beg to differ. In one study, conducted by David Dinges at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the groups studied obtained 6 hours of sleep per night – the amount that many of the people I’ve worked with tend to get. At the 10-day mark, they were as “impaired in performance as going without sleep for twenty-four hours straight” – that is, a 400 percent increase in microsleep, the inability to pay attention, where your brain loses its ability to perceive the outside world for a brief moment.
Call to Action
So, if you want to improve your health and set the stage to be the best leader you can be, target 7 – 9 hours of sleep per night. It’s not a nice to have but a MUST have. Productivity never comes from non-stop activity. Sufficient rest is key, for yourself, and for those on your team.
What can you do to help achieve that goal? Here are a few tips:
- Shut down all devices at least one hour before you go to bed.
- Set limits on how many hours you expect others (and yourself) to work each day.
- Only send emails and texts during normal working hours.
- When you and those on your team take vacations, commit to making them work-free.
- Meditate before going to sleep to relax your body and calm your mind.
- Exercise regularly, but not within 3 hours of going to sleep.
- Minimize caffeine consumption later in the day, as it can stay in your system for up to 6 hours.
- Spend a few minutes at the end of the workday, preparing for the next day’s top priorities. This helps to free up your mind and promotes relaxation.
What strategies have worked for you?