The other night I was helping my daughter with her homework for a school assignment and we ended up having a very interesting conversation about sleep, where she asked me whether it would make sense to stay up late and finish her project and lose valuable sleep, or risk not meeting the deadline for the assignment and get a full night’s sleep.
For some people the short term temptation of sacrificing sleep and health for work might seem noble, but as a leadership coach with a strong healthcare background, my philosophy is that if we stop taking care of ourselves, we lose capacity to take care of others and business. For that reason, my advice to my daughter was simple. I recommended to her that she doesn’t lose sleep over it and take care of herself first.
Of course, this is a very realistic problem not only school kids struggle with these days, but also many of my executive coaching clients who, like my daughter, find themselves with a challenging choice whether they should be sacrificing sleep for work, or sacrificing work for sleep.
Even though, I’m sure we all know intellectually that we all need to get that solid 7 to 9 hours of sleep each day, research conducted by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) in 2014 showed that more than one third of the US adult population gets less than 6 hours of sleep per night. This phenomenon is not only restricted to the west either. Singapore, for example, is currently ranked the third most sleep deprived country in the world with a whopping 80% of our professionals getting less than 8 hours of sleep per day with slightly less than half sleeping less than 7 hours per day. Furthermore, approximately 60% of Singaporeans are losing sleep over stress, showing that our workforce is really struggling to manage their sleep habits while trying to manage the demands of work and life.
For that reason, I thought it might be helpful to share with you what poor sleep quality can do to a person’s performance and leadership capacity.
For recommendations on what to do to improve your sleep habits, feel free to watch the accompanying video below.
1. Poor Sleep Causes Errors That Cost Resources and Money
In a 2014 article in the Current Health Sciences Journal, researchers examined the correlation between sleep deprivation and number of errors made at work in nightshift nurses. What they found is that when fatigued, sleep deprived nurses made a whopping 3 to 5 times more mistakes than when not fatigued. Similar findings have also been shown in many other industries as well, showing that fatigue and error making is not limited to the type of occupation, meaning that similar results can be expected in any occupation.
An interesting fact about errors is that we don’t know we are making them at that moment in time. If we did know we were making an error while making it, well, then it wouldn’t be an error it would be on purpose, which would be termed as sabotage.
As I have learned in my practice, most fatigued people in leadership positions often do not know how many errors they are making because they have support staff who clean up their messes for them. Even though this may be seen as a nice luxury to have, it is also a poor utilization of valuable resources that could otherwise be used to contribute to the company’s bottom line. Just from an error-making standpoint, consider how much money is spent in wasted talent utilization simply because we are choosing to prioritize late night work over an investment in sleep.
2. Poor Sleep Increases Stress and Anxiety
According to a recent report from the American Psychological Association, the average American only gets 6.7 hours of sleep per night and almost half of those people claim that when not rested they become more irritable and angry at work, lose interest and motivation, lose patience with their loved-ones, and stop taking care of themselves. More interestingly is that when fatigued, the perception of negative stress rises dramatically, meaning that a fatigued brain will turn an issue the size of a mosquito into one the size of an elephant.
In today’s dynamic and disruptive business climate, where we are confronted daily with new challenges, having a brain that is exhausted will only magnify the interpretation of the problems at hand and will not have the patience to work with colleagues and try to see other people’s perspectives.
A consequence of this is that when staff members are repeatedly met with a lack of patience and irritability, they may be more inclined to stop bringing their ideas and perspectives to the table, which in turn could greatly inhibit team engagement and excitement, which in turn will likely lower overall performance, and ultimately the company’s bottom line.
In a business climate where we need to be able to do more with less resources, we can’t afford to show up at work feeling exhausted, irritable, and stressed.
3. Poor Sleep Impairs Judgment and Increases Distractions at Work
In a 2012 article in “Nature and Science of Sleep” researchers reviewed literature on the relationship between sleep deprivation and symptoms of ADHD. ADHD is typically characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. What they found is that sleep deprivation, in itself, presents the exact same symptoms in non-ADHD children and adults. Their finding was that sleep deprivation diminishes the capacity of the prefrontal cortex to inhibit impulsive decision-making and sustain attentional tasks.
From a performance and leadership capacity standpoint, it goes without saying that in order for us to get things done and keep our selves on task, we need to have the capacity to be able to override any novel distractions that come our way.
As I mention in my book: Headstrong Performance, research on employees in North America shows that the average worker only spends a few minutes on task before being distracted, and taking a good 20 minutes before. Researchers from the University of Irvine in California further studied the psychological effects of disruptions at work and found that workers who respond to distractions do get the same amount of work done than non-distracted workers, but do so at a heavy cost.
Distracted workers perceive themselves to be 20 percent busier, suffer 30 percent more stress, are 50% more frustrated, and require 30% more effort to get their work done.
With sleep deprivation leading to impaired judgment and increased responsiveness to distractions at work, its no wonder workers are feeling overwhelmed with their work-loads.
4. Poor Sleep Results in Chronic Inflammation
In a 2012 article in the Journal of Neuroscience Nursing, the authors state that poor sleep is a direct contributor to elevated levels of inflammation in the body and brain, which in turn has been associated with a direct decline in cognitive capacity.
What this means is that poor sleep doesn’t only inhibit our ability to make decisions, perform better, and be more effective leaders, but that our poor sleep habits leave a permanent footprint of damage in the body and brain.
The researchers stated, in that same article, that chronic inflammation doesn’t only lead to cognitive decline, but also sets the stage for high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even certain cancers. It goes without saying that these chronic conditions in themselves, can greatly inhibit ones performance capacity.
5. Poor Sleep Diminishes Creativity and Innovation
In a 2011 article in Bloomberg Magazine, over 1,500 C-suite executives were interviewed on what CEOs really want out of their executives. Interestingly, the most wanted quality CEOs seek in their executives is Creativity.
Especially in today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) business climate executives need to be able to dig deep to overcome the challenges within their respective industries. One essential skill to overcome these challenges is our ability to access our creativity so we can conceptualize and innovate new technologies and interventions.
In a 2004 article in Nature Magazine, researchers investigated the relationship between 8 hours of sleep and the capacity for insight. What they discovered is that participants who slept a full 8 hours were two times more likely to find solutions to mental challenges than participants who didn’t sleep.
What this means is that if creativity, problem solving, and innovation are daily requirements in your work, or in that of your team, then getting a minimum of 8 hours of sleep should be considered a business strategy and not a luxury.
So, as you can see, getting 8 hours of sleep per day should not be considered something you do if you have time left. Nor should sleep be considered a lack of productivity time. If your goal is to be a top performer and inspirational leader then sleep should be an essential strategy for you and your team.