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How to Get Better Sleep and Be a Better Leader

Sleep is the best meditation.

–– The Dalai Lama

With the holidays and New Year approaching, it's a good time to ask, are you getting enough sleep?
 
If you’re like most people, particularly our high-achieving readers, the answer is likely to be “no.” And that’s not good -- for you, your team, your family or the economy.
 
You see there’s been this cultural myth, lived out by success-oriented people, that working harder and sleeping less are signs of our mental and physical toughness.
 
This myth is contradicted by the stark scientific evidence of the harmful effects of lack of sleep.

Harmful effects
As the Harvard Medical School Bulletin notes, in the short term, a lack of adequate sleep can affect judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information, and may increase the risk of serious accidents and injury. 
 
In the long term, chronic sleep deprivation may lead to a host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality.
 
I’m not pointing fingers here since I’m as guilty as the next over-achiever. I’m working hard to improve my own sleep deficits.
 
Better sleep, better workplace
Other research confirms the negative effects of sleep loss on leaders and their teams in the workplace. A McKinsey study found a direct link between effective leadership and getting enough sleep:
 
In a study of 81 organizations and 189,000 people around the world, we found that four types of leadership behavior are most commonly associated with high-quality executive teams: operating with a strong orientation to results, solving problems effectively, seeking out different perspectives, and supporting others.
 
What’s striking in all four cases is the proven link between sleep and effective leadership, McKinsey reported. This applies to CEOs and leaders at every level.

‘Abusive’ Leader Behavior 
Even more striking, a recent Harvard Business Review article summarized the harmful effects on employees by leaders who don’t get proper sleep:
 
…Recent research indicates that individual behavior can vary dramatically from day to day and week to week—and much of this variance can be explained by the quality of a manager’s sleep. Indeed, studies have found that when leaders show up for work unrested, they are more likely to lose patience with employees, act in abusive ways, and be seen as less charismatic. There is also a greater likelihood that their subordinates will themselves suffer from sleep deprivation—and even behave unethically(My emphasis added)
 
This is why there is a growing recognition amongst leaders that they must get more sleep themselves and promote policies in their organizations to encourage their employees to get more sleep.  
 
Progressive policies adopted by organizations include companies with sleep pods for napping; limiting emails from leaders overnight and on weekends, and on-site education on sleep and stress management.
 
Successful leaders and athletes agree
This change of attitude is being seen publicly as successful leaders and icons in every field out themselves as people who prioritize getting enough sleep and attribute the practice as important to their success. These include Jeff Bezos, LeBron James and Tom Brady, among many others.

Two recent books help to bust the macho sleep deprivation myth: The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time* by Arianna Huffington goes deep with science and stories of the worldwide crisis of sleep deprivation. The description notes Arianna shows how our cultural dismissal of sleep as time wasted compromises our health and our decision-making and undermines our work lives, our personal lives –– and even our sex lives.
 
Tim Ferriss published Tools of Titans: The tactics, routines and habits of billionaires, icons and world-class performers*. This book is rife with odes to sleep from very successful household names.
 
So, it’s clear that we need more sleep. How do we make this happen?
 
Here are a few tips from research and my own experience:

Make a commitment. It all starts with self-awareness and the public commitment with those around you that you value sleep and are working to get enough rest. Remember that as a leader you are a role model in every aspect of your behavior. Your people note what you do, not what you say.

Decompress. Give yourself enough time to stop thinking about all of the unresolved issues and challenges you face. Write down the items on a list to get them off of your mind. An hour before bedtime, start to take your mind in a different direction and begin to settle your system.

Kill the blue light. We live in a 24/7 digital world that involves bringing blue-lit devices before our eyes. This light has been demonstrated to stimulate the brain and contribute to insomnia. 
 
When you begin your hour-long wind down, kill the blue light and consider removing digital devices from your sleep area. TV is not any better. How many of us have fallen asleep in front of the set only to wake up and not be able to go back to sleep in our beds? Kill the blue light.

Stick to a schedule. Most sleep experts advocate going to bed and waking at the same time, which teaches our bodies and minds a rhythm.

Track your sleep. As we say in business, what gets measured can be improved. Fitbits, iWatchs, and most smartphones will let you track the amount and quality of your sleep. I previously used Fitbit* and currently use the iWatch* and the AutoSleep app, which provides metrics, including how much I was in deep sleep. (See products at the end of this article.)
 
Create a ritual. As you wind down, experts say it’s best to have a bedtime ritual by doing things such as taking a bath or a shower, sipping herbal tea, dimming the lights and reading a paper book. For better sleep, I take 10 mg of melatonin* and drink orange-flavored Calm, * which contains magnesium. (Of course, check with your physician before you consider this.)

Watch what you eat and drink. Alcohol and caffeine can contribute to insomnia, or waking in the middle of the night. It’s also recommended you not go to bed hungry or stuffed, both of which might disrupt solid sleep.

Exercise. Finding the time to prioritize exercise, experts say, can contribute enormously to stress management and solid sleep. 

These are a few tips that I’ve practiced myself and find valuable. There are plenty of resources available to you when you make the commitment to prioritize sleep.
 
It’s clear that improving our sleep has tremendous benefits and little downside. If you won’t do it for yourself, consider sleeping more for those who depend on you at work and at home. 
 
As you make your way through the holiday frenzy, consider giving yourself the gift that keeps on giving: a good night’s sleep. ZZZZZ ;-)
 

John


 P.S. –– To talk with me directly, please use my contact page.


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