Sleep Well, Lead Better

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How much sleep do you get each night?

Most of us know that eight hours is the recommended amount. But with work, family, and social commitments often consuming more than sixteen hours of the day, it can seem impossible to make the math work.

Perhaps you feel that you operate just fine on four or five hours a night. And, maybe you’ve grown accustomed to red-eye flights, time zone changes, and the occasional all-nighter. You might even wear your sleep deprivation like a badge of honor.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. A significant percentage of U.S. executives and professionals don’t seem to be getting the sleep they need. According to the most recent data from the National Health Interview Survey, the proportion of Americans getting no more than six hours a night, which is the minimum most people need for a good night’s rest, rose from 22 percent in 1985 to 29 percent in 2012. More recently, an international study conducted in 2017 by the Center for Creative Leadership found that among leaders, 42 percent got six or fewer hours of shut-eye a night.

You probably already have some understanding of the benefits of rest and the costs of not getting it. Consider the facts. Sleep allows us to consolidate and store memories, process emotional experiences, replenish glucose (the molecule that fuels the brain), and clear out beta-amyloid (the waste product that builds up in Alzheimer’s patients and disrupts cognitive activity). On the other hand, insufficient sleep and fatigue lead to poor judgment, lack of self-control, and impaired creativity.

Moreover, there are lesser-known secondary effects on organizations, when their leaders don’t get enough sleep. University of Washington Professor Christopher Barnes discusses this topic and how to address it in the September-October 2018 Harvard Business Review. Barnes’ research shows that sleep deprivation doesn’t just hurt individual performance. When managers lose sleep, their employees experience a diminished environment and their productivity suffers, as well.

For executives themselves, the question is, “How can I turn this knowledge into sustained behavior change?” According to Barnes, a first step for sleep-deprived leaders...

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