Do you believe that top executives sleep less than others? What about you — do you think that you sleep more than the average executive? Is it enough?

On one hand, sleep has become a national obsession. We are concerned with how much or little sleep we are getting. We are peddled sleep aids, white noise apps, mattresses, products, and books. Tech devices measure our sleep, enabling us to pour over our exact sleep statistics for each night. Arianna Huffington even called for a sleep revolution.

On the other hand, people brag about how little sleep they get, taking pride in a work-ethic where less sleep equals more productivity.

So what’s the reality — how much do people sleep? Is sacrificing sleep really a strategy for success in your career? To find out these answers, we conducted a global survey of leaders’ sleep experiences. We asked 384 men and women — from professionals in non-managerial positions to c-level executives — about their sleep habits, patterns, rituals, and problems.

Does Successful = Sleepless?

We asked respondents to estimate the number of hours that others sleep. Here’s what we found: people think that the typical high performing executive gets 42 minutes less sleep than the average employee and 27 minutes less than they themselves do.

This finding reveals more than just ignorance about how much other people sleep. From the answers people gave, we get insights into the kinds of underlying beliefs people have about performance and sleep. If you believe your VP sleeps less than both you and your colleague down the hall, you are showing an implicit association between getting less sleep and being a high performer at work.

The reality is different. In fact, there were no differences in self-reported sleep across all our respondents; consultants, CEOs, managers, and professionals in non-managerial positions all report similar sleep habits.

Executives were also some of the least likely to endorse such statements as “I think of high performers as energetic people that don’t need much sleep” or the assertion that “putting in long hours and sacrificing sleep is a necessary trade off to get ahead at work.”

When it comes to sleep, the view of the top does not match the view from the top.

Why This Matters

Beliefs can undermine any efforts to educate people about the importance of sleep. We now know that sleep is vital for a number of leadership skills and qualities such as decision-making, creative thinking, and emotion regulation. However, if people (erroneously) believe that success is a matter of sleeping less, than no amount of neuro-scientific evidence about the benefits of sleep to performance can convince them otherwise.

As you think about sleep habits and your career, arm yourself with statistics and facts rather than preconceived myths.

Stay tuned for future posts as we continue to bring sleep out of the dark, and download Sleep Well, Lead Well: How Better Sleep Can Improve Leadership, Boost Productivity, and Spark Innovation.


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