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Why leaders need more sleep

Stephen Chambers sleep

If you want to be an effective leader, make sure you get enough sleep, writes Christopher M Barnes for Harvard Business Review.

How much sleep do you get?

We all know we’re supposed to be getting at least eight hours a night, but that’s not easy when you’re working 16-hour days and struggling to juggle the demands of work and family life.

If you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re not alone. Between 1985 and 2012, the number of people in America getting no more than six hours’ sleep a night increased from 22% to 29%, according to the National Health Interview Survey. When it comes to business leaders, 42% get six or fewer hours’ sleep a night, according to a study conducted in 2017 by the Center for Creative Leadership.


Sufficient sleep allows us to consolidate and store memories, process emotional experiences, replenish glucose (brain fuel), and clear out beta-amyloid (a waste product that has a negative effect on cognitive efficiency).

Insufficient sleep can lead to poor treatment of employees, loss of charisma and impaired creativity. It also rubs off on employees, having a negative impact on their behaviour and emotions. “When the boss doesn’t feel rested, the whole unit pays the price,” writes Barnes.


The author identifies seven ways to ensure you start getting more sleep.

1) Be consistent. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. Make getting sufficient sleep a habit.

2) Control your intake of alcohol, caffeine and nicotine. No alcohol for three hours before bedtime; no nicotine for four hours before bedtime; no caffeine for seven hours before bedtime.

3) Take care of your body and your mind. Exercise (not right before sleep) regularly and practise mindfulness and relaxation meditation.

4) Turn off your smartphone. Melatonin is vital to the process of falling asleep and the blue light from your smartphone screen suppresses its production.

5) Track your sleep. It’s easy to overestimate how much sleep you are getting. Use a sleep diary or sleep tracking device (Barnes recommends an ActiGraph monitor) to be sure.

6) Tackle sleep disorders. Some estimates suggest 30% of Americans suffer from insomnia. If you’re a sufferer, seek treatment.

7) Take a nap. Research shows that a 20-minute nap can have a significant restorative effect.


Prominent advocates of sufficient sleep include Jeff Bezos, founder, chairman and CEO of Amazon; Ryan Holmes, founder and CEO of Hootsuite; and Arianna Huffington, CEO of Thrive Global. So if you choose to take Barnes;’ advice, you’ll be in good company.

“Making a small number of key decisions well is more important than making a large number of decisions,” says Bezos. “If you shortchange your sleep, you might get a couple of extra ‘productive’ hours, but that productivity might be an illusion.”

Source Article: Sleep Well, Lead Better
Author(s): Christopher M Barnes