By David Kiger
We all need sleep, for a variety of health reasons. It’s also crucial to being a productive member of the workforce. And for CEOs, it’s an important part of being an effective leader.
But we’re not all getting what we need. For example, Fortune reports on a CareerBuilders survey, which asked 3,200 workers about their sleeping habits. Of those polled, 16 percent said they get eight hours of sleep per night. A far greater amount, 63 percent, get six to seven hours, and 21 percent get less than five.
What’s the cost? According to Fortune, a 2011 Harvard Medical School study showed that “sleepy workers” cost businesses a whopping $63.2 billion annually in lost productivity.
Let’s take a look at how sleep deprivation can affect business leaders and CEOs.
There are all kinds of studies available that show just how important sleep can be. This includes business-oriented research. Nina Zipkin featured one published by the Journal of Applied Psychology in a story on Entrepreneur.com. Two experiments were conducted among business students “to figure out the role sleep deprivation plays in a manager’s ability to rally the troops.”
The first experiment: Business students wrote speeches, and prepared to recite them in a commencement-style address, Zipkin explains. Half of the students were fully rested the night before the speech. The other half had two fewer hours of sleep, and had to fill out surveys every hour during the night. The following day, the research team recorded and judged the speeches.
“On the whole, the sleep-deprived group was rated as less charismatic than their well-rested peers,” Zipkin says. “Additionally, the participants who were sleep deprived found it more difficult to maintain and project a positive and excited energy, according to the study.”
The second experiment: Business students were separated into two groups — one fully rested, one sleep deprived. The students watched the speeches, each viewing three videos selected at random. They were asked to rate the charisma of the speakers.
“Perhaps unsurprisingly,” Zipkin writes, “the exhausted participants were less likely to find the speeches and the orators charismatic.”
There’s more to missing out on sleep than a cranky morning-after. If this continues over time, CEOs might find themselves taking on some behavior and habits that are far from ideal. Tina Williamson examines this for lifehack.org. Here are some of the ways that people break down, “like an engine without an oil change,” she says.
- “We become irritable and moody, and if sleep deprivation continues we can experience hallucinations and anxiety.”
- “We become emotionally flattened and our relationships suffer.”
- “We lose our ability to remember and suffer many cognitive delays.”
- “We can even fall prey to substance abuse.”
- “What’s even worse is that we can fall into micro-sleeps (5-10 seconds) that cause lapses in attention, which could lead us to nod off while doing an activity like driving. Not getting enough sleep is downright dangerous.”
Effects on productivity
A business leader who has a team full of weary staffers will inevitably find it difficult to reach high-performance goals. Julia Kirby examines this in a story for Harvard Business Review, saying that there’s a “selfish interest” in big businesses encouraging healthy sleep patterns.
“As the world’s largest employers, big companies stand to benefit directly from a greater awareness of the importance of sleep,” she explains. “It makes all the difference to productivity (which is diminished by sleeplessness in the same way it is by drug use or drunkenness), and hits the bottom line, too, in lower healthcare costs.”
Don’t follow the leader on this one
CEOs may boast of getting — or needing — little sleep. It projects the image of the always-working, never-tired, constantly-making-money business leader. But that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. The most recent example is Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who says he only needs three or four hours of sleep. In a story for Fortune, Geoff Colvin says that Trump is far from alone in claiming to require “suspiciously little sleep.”
“PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi tells me she sleeps about four hours a night,” Colvin writes. “Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne reportedly sleeps the same amount, as does Martha Stewart; Herb Kelleher reportedly slept four hours while running Southwest Airlines, and Margaret Thatcher did the same as British prime minister. Xerox CEO Ursula Burns tells me she sleeps about five hours, which is how much Bill Clinton reportedly slept as president. And they’re all slackers compared with fashion designer Tom Ford, who reportedly sleeps three hours a night and attributes his success to his energy rather than talent.”
Step away from the electronics
A common recommendation for better sleep is to disengage with your smartphone, tablet or laptop before heading to bed. Checking emails and texts late at night — especially when the correspondence is work-related — will do anything but relax you. The light from smartphones — known as blue light — can also play a role. A story on Uncubed.com details that “Too much blue light can reduce your levels of melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep.”
“If you’re an Apple user who can’t part with your iPhone or iPad for the night, you’re in luck. In March the company introduced ‘Night Shift’ with its iOS 9.3 release. Once enabled, the color temperature of your screen will shift based on location and time. When the sun sets, less blue light is emitted from the screen; and in the morning your screen returns to normal. The app f.lux, for Mac OS, Windows, Linux, and Android does much the same for your computer and phone display. But keep in mind, blue light is only half the problem with phones at bedtime. Any stimulation — from an email from the boss to a game of solitaire — can keep you awake.”
Because you’re the boss …
That’s another reason why sleep is important. Yes, it’s essential for everyone. But James Parsons takes it a step further in his story for Entrepreneur.com, saying that “sleep is perhaps more important” for CEOs and entrepreneurs.
“You need to be at the top of your game to make important decisions for your business and you can’t afford the losses that come with a lack of sleep,” he explains. “Yet, at the same time, there’s a pervasive attitude that a successful entrepreneur is up late working, running on caffeine more than sleep. There are more dangers than the immediate lack of energy and attention. Low-sleep lifestyles cause minor dysfunctions in the body that build up over time, and they don’t all go away when you do get that one restful night a week. They build up and can come back as more prevalent diseases and a shorter lifespan years or decades down the line.”
Some CEOs might scoff at the notion of meditation. But there are benefits that can come from these quiet moments. As Williamson writes, the primary cause of sleep problems is stress, including work and relationships. The goal, she says, should be “to turn off your mind.”
“Our mind does a lot of thinking, and we usually aren’t even aware that it’s happening,” she says. “But these thoughts are powerful, and sometimes thoughts can spiral into stressful, negative thoughts and control us. Meditation will give you powerful tools to be the watcher of your mind. By watching your mind, you can prevent urges and negative thoughts, and you can lead a stress-less life.”
Take it from a pundit
Political commentator and Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington has emerged as a leading advocate for proper rest techniques after she experienced health issues connected to a lack of sleep. Her latest book is called The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time. In a story by The Guardian, she recommends “setting ground rules,” starting with turning off all electronic devices in the bedroom, taking a bath and putting on pajamas.
Additionally, Huffington recommends “reading only physical books that have nothing to do with work — poetry, novels, philosophy. It’s a 30-minute ritual now, it’s not as if it takes a long time. I’ve given myself time to slow down.”
The results, she says, are significant: “I’m much more present in my life, much more joyful. I am, without question, a better leader, because I can look ahead with more clarity.”