Short-changing sleep interferes with your effectiveness as a leader.                               

Most of us know that tired babies are more prone to crying fits and unhappiness. We frequently hear reports that infants, children, and teenagers need more rest on a regular basis in order to promote optimal health. Adults must also prioritize sleep; being tired and cranky hurts performance as a leader.

Many of our clients complain about fatigue and exhaustion. People stay up worrying about work, family, health, and finances. One leader told us, “Around me, I see too many people blitzed by long hours, stressful commutes, jet lag, poor diet, lack of exercise, and working whilst on holiday.” Many leaders report burning the candle late into the night and in the early morning hours, sacrificing rest to fit more in the day. Can you relate to this?

The Evidence

Sleep is more important to leadership than people think. In fact, it is the most underrated way of improving leadership skills and abilities.

The evidence for the importance of sleep to individual performance is mounting. Adequate rest is associated with attention, learning, memory, creativity, and emotional regulation. These are capabilities all leaders must possess.

A lack of sleep doesn’t just mean deteriorated performance. It is also downright dangerous, and associated with accidents and fatalities. Did you know that the Chernobyl accident was caused by sleepiness? A sleep-deprived workforce can cause significant damage to the organization. In the long term, it is equally dangerous to the individual — the Center for Disease Control notes that deficiencies in rest are linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

Tips to Better Sleep

Sleep isn’t an optional activity. We need it to survive and thrive. Restorative sleep is a critical component to reaching optimal leadership potential. Here are 7 practices to help you improve your habits and enhance your leadership… and life.

  1. Set a regular sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (even on weekends) reinforces a consistent sleep cycle. Set a sleep schedule that allows you to get the hours of rest you need. Although some individuals need less, and some more, the average adult needs 7-8 hours, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
  2. Create a relaxing environment. Adults are great at creating relaxing environments for children, but not everyone realizes that they should do the same thing for themselves. Adjust the temperature, lights, and sounds in the room so they are as conducive to sleep as possible. Some people have a relaxing ritual such as taking a warm bath or applying lotion. Use ear plugs or blackout curtains if necessary.
  3. Use fitness wearables to understand your individual sleep needs. Most have sleep tracking functionality which will help you gain insight into how much rest you’re getting and the kinds of activities that impair or promote good sleep.  
  4. Exercise — just not right before bed. Exercise promotes good sleep but if it is done too close to bedtime, it can act as a stimulant.
  5. Disconnect from your electronic devices. Park your devices before going to bed. The combination of constant connectivity and blue light is known to interfere with rest.
  6. Put your work aside before you go to sleep. Ruminating about work won’t help anything. Mindfulness practices and other stress reduction techniques are helpful for learning how to relax your mind. If you are worried about something, try writing it down before bedtime and only revisit it the next morning.
  7. Keep tabs on alcohol and caffeine. We all know that caffeine can interfere with rest, but people are less aware that alcohol does as well. Alcohol may help you fall asleep but it can decrease the quality of your sleep, and wake you up when it wears off.

Get the most out of your sleep and see what it can do for you physically, psychologically, and emotionally. Then reap the benefits both at work and in your personal life.

Access CCL’s study of the sleeping habits of managers and executives: Sleep Well, Lead Well: How Better Sleep Can Improve Leadership, Boost Productivity, and Spark Innovation.


Contributing Author Biography: Dr. Jessica Payne is an Associate Professor at the University of Notre Dame. Dr. Payne’s research focuses on how sleep and stress influence human memory and psychological function.

After new information is encoded into memory, it continues to be processed and transformed by a process known as consolidation. This process solidifies memories, making them resistant to interference and decay, but emerging evidence suggests that it can also change memories in ways that make them more useful and adaptive. The questions driving this line of research are, “What happens to memories over time?” and “What are the mechanisms underlying memory solidification and memory change?” Dr. Payne uses two powerful tools to probe memory – sleep and stress. Both provide important mediums for targeting the consolidation process in humans. Dr. Payne combines behavioral, pharmacological and cognitive neuroscientific (EEG, fMRI) approaches to investigate these questions.

Another line of research examines important clinical questions, including how disturbances in sleep and stress influence memory consolidation in individuals with major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders such as PTSD, and how this, in turn, influences psychological functioning.

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