Did you know that the quality of your sleep can influence your leadership ability? Sleeping well is not only a matter of health, but also of professional and personal performance.
Sleep is one of the basic needs of the human being, essential for the maintenance of physical and mental health, as well as for the performance of cognitive, emotional and behavioral functions. Although we may not be aware of it, there is clear scientific evidence about the benefits of a quality sleep and the negative consequences of an insufficient or inadequate sleep. However, sleep is often undervalued by each one of us and by society in general.
In Portugal, for example, a survey conducted by the Portuguese Society of Pneumology and the Portuguese Society of Occupational Medicine (1) indicated that 46% of adults sleep less than six hours a day, when the recommended is between 7 to 9 hours. In addition, 32% reported sleeping poorly and 40% admitted difficulty in staying awake during the day.
One of the possible reasons for the undervaluation of sleep is the culture of work and productivity that prevails in our society. Often, sleeping is seen as a waste of time, a sign of laziness or even a weakness that must be overcome. It is believed that sleeping less means working more, producing more and having more success. However, this belief is false and counterproductive. Sleeping less not only harms health, but also compromises professional and personal performance.
Sleep is essential for the proper functioning of our brain, which is responsible for various cognitive, emotional and behavioral functions. Just highlighting some of the benefits, during sleep the brain processes the information of the day, consolidates memory, regulates emotions, stimulates creativity and restores energy. In addition, sleep also has an important role in hormonal regulation, strengthening the immune system and preventing diseases. As Mathew Walker, author of the book “Why We Sleep?” says: “Sleep is the elixir of life. It is the most widely available and democratic form of health care that exists”.
On the other hand, the lack or poor quality of sleep can have negative consequences for our physical and mental health, such as increased risk of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, depression and anxiety. Sleep deprivation also impairs our cognitive abilities, such as attention, concentration, reasoning, learning and decision making. It can also affect our emotions, making us more irritable, impulsive and less empathetic. We are usually not even aware of some of these symptoms and we walk around distracted, moody and forgetful, without identifying that the best solution for this is in… just sleeping.
I observe this situation very clearly, for example, in my mentoring sessions with a businesswoman from the restaurant area. Since her son was born 5 years ago that she entered into the habit of sleeping very little to be able to accommodate her obligations as a mother (getting up and taking her son to school) and continue with her obligations as a businesswoman (closing the restaurant at night). Currently, her day-to-day life is a great challenge due to the acquired habit of getting up early and going to bed late, which makes it difficult to get a quality sleep, degrading her individual experience and her relationships with others. Without being fully aware of it, she lives with a great difficulty to concentrate and maintain attention on what is priority and important, her memory is very fragile and besides that, she offers an irritable mood state and little patient.
The effects of insufficient or poor quality sleep are increasingly studied, namely in the area of leadership. A study (2) from Washington University indicated that leaders who sleep more hours are more charismatic, inspiring and influential and another study (3), conducted at Stanford University, revealed that leaders are not aware of the impact of their own lack of sleep on interpersonal relationships with their teams. It is also interesting to know that a study (4) carried out at Loughborough University concluded that sleeping only 4 hours considerably reduces cognitive capacity and reaction time and that a night without sleep reduces it to a level similar to drunkenness. And surely no one wants to have an employee or a leader of the company having to make decisions, define strategies and manage people, with altered attention and reaction capacity like this, right?
So, what can we do to improve our sleep? First of all, make our sleeping time a priority, almost non-negotiable. It is also important to identify our chronotype, our sleep patterns and behavior and evaluate what measures we can take for a healthier sleep.
These are some of the recommendations:
- Establish a regular routine (as much as possible) for sleeping
- Limit the use of electronic devices (mobile phone, tablet, television) up to 1 hour before bedtime
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol or nicotine before bedtime
- Create a conducive environment for sleep, keeping the room dark, cool, quiet and comfortable
- Practice exercise during the day (but not close to bedtime) and get sunlight
- Practice relaxing activities before bedtime, such as reading a book, listening to soft music or meditating
It is important to remember that, in order to be successful, it is essential to adopt small changes that suit our routines, habits and biological rhythm.
In this way, we will achieve a healthier sleep and as a consequence, in addition to being able to live longer and better, we will also be better leaders.
Remember: Sleeping well is the best investment you can make in your health and, why not, in your professional success.
Note: Article originally published in Portuguese at https://executiva.pt/quer-ser-uma-melhor-lider-comece-por-dormir-mais/
(2) Barnes C, et al; “Too Tired to Inspire or Be Inspired: Sleep Deprivation and Charismatic Leadership”; Journal of Applied Psychology 101(8), September 2016
(3) Guarana C. et al; “Lack of sleep and the development of leader-follower relationships over time”; Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Volume 141, July 2017, Pages 57-73
(4) Fairclough SH, Graham R. Impairment of driving performance caused by sleep deprivation or alcohol: a comparative study. Hum Factors J HumFactors Ergon Soc. 1999; 41:118–28