What if leaders were well rested?

Our current research about sleep and health makes the case that senior leaders — and everyone else working in challenging, complex situations — need to get more sleep.

At a very simple level, 2 important things take place when you get a good night’s sleep:

  1. The sleeping brain processes and organizes information.
  2. The sleeping brain helps the body’s stress response switch off.

These 2 functions, in turn, have an effect on memory, decision-making, attitudes, innovation, and creativity throughout the whole day.

If leaders are well rested, they function at their best with better memories and stronger skills for making new and creative connections. They regulate emotions and engage with others more effectively. Stress decreases. The complexity of leading will be matched by the capability to respond with clarity, creativity and productivity.

What can you do as a leader of an organizational learning, leadership development, or HR function to encourage sleep as a tool for better performance? Here are 6 ideas to get started:

  • Push back on the 24/7 culture. Acknowledge the reality that people are overextended at work and in other areas of life. You can’t change this on your own or overnight, but you can play an important role.
  • Introduce the idea that more work isn’t better work. Any number of work practices and demands play into this assumption — working across time zones, accessibility via technology, heavy travel schedules, fears about being pushed out of a job, and internal competition. Look for ways to question practices and assumptions that value hours worked more than impact and results.
  • Get the word out about the benefits of sleep. Challenge the cultural notion that sleep is a waste of time or a weakness.
  • Enlist a senior executive in your efforts. Share the science — people like to know that there’s evidence behind a recommendation. Let people know that when they are tired, they’re less effective as leaders and managers. Encourage them to view sleeping as a simple, easy, and cheap way to boost productivity and be more effective — and to do what they can to give their teams information and support to be rested.
  • Create a “sleeping awareness” program or campaign. The effort could stand on its own, as a component of an employee wellness program, or as part of a leadership development initiative.
  • Factor sleep into policies and schedules. Alongside the culture and awareness messages, take a look at organizational policies and norms that discourage rest and recovery time. Consider time off after travel. Review schedules, break times, and limits to hours or shifts. Work with teams or departments to set norms for availability across time zones and technology or accessibility expectations.

Read more about the benefits of sleeping enough: Sleep Well, Lead Well: How Better Sleep Can Improve Leadership, Boost Productivity, and Spark Innovation.

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