One morning about two years ago, I jumped out of bed well before dawn even though I had got to bed at midnight after a work function, headed to the gym before attending a morning session where US publisher Arianna Huffington presented to a 1000 strong audience. I felt tired, cranky, and crumpled, Ms Huffington looked glowing, groomed, healthy and calm. Her secret? Sleep. Lots of sleep.
Arianna became a strong advocate of a good night’s sleep in 2006 after collapsing in her office due to sheer exhaustion. She believes our dismissal of sleep as timewasting compromises our health, decision making and even our sex lives. Her book, The Sleep Revolution, is an exploration of sleep from all angles – its history, the role of dreams, the downside of sleep deprivation and new understanding of the vital role sleep plays in every aspect of our life and particularly health– from weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease to cancer and Alzheimer’s.
I recalled Arianna Huffington’s insights last week watching our sleep deprived politicians drag themselves across the national stage. And the whole subject of sleep is a very live issue at Stellar now that we are working with A.H. Beard, leading manufacturer of quality bedding. Consequently, I was intrigued by articles on leadership and sleep in the Harvard Business Review and the McKinsey Quarterly recommended by Dr Carmel Harrington, Managing Director at Sleep For Health and resident sleep expert at A.H. Beard.
The authors, Nick van Dam and Els van der Helm, surveyed more than 180 business leaders. Four out of ten leaders admitted they do not get enough sleep at least four nights of the week. Such sleep deficiencies can undermine important forms of leadership behaviour and eventually hurt financial performance.
They also referred to an experiment that demonstrated that employees feel less engaged with their work when their leaders have had a bad night of sleep.
Running a fast paced public relations company, I am conscious of promoting rest and recuperation particularly after busy periods. But I do worry about our political and business leaders as they propel themselves seemingly from one issue to another issue. I am sure a good night’s sleep would solve a lot of their problems.
Van Dam and van der Helm point out that lack of sleep creates heightened emotional reactivity, and the experience of stress results in worse quality of sleep. Lack of sleep affects the prefrontal cortex which directs all the higher order cognitive processes such as problem solving, reasoning, organising, planning and getting things done.
And finally, research shows that after roughly 17 to 19 hours of wakefulness (say at 11 pm to 1 am for someone who got up at 6 am) individual performance on a range of tasks is equivalent to a person with a blood level of 0.05% – the legal drinking limit in many countries.
In that case, I would prefer to go home, enjoy a glass of pinot and pop into bed for a good long sleep.
Marguerite Julian, Director at Stellar Concepts