Sleep. All business leaders need it, most crave it, but throngs do not get the kind of restorative and rehabilitative sleep required to optimize mental clarity, focus, ideation, awareness, productivity, and overall job performance. The result is egregious opportunity loss relative to realizing one’s full leadership potential. In addition to the CDC declaring “insufficient sleep” an “important public health concern,” a RAND Corporation study sheds more ominous light on the issue, finding that business losses in the U.S. resulting from deficient sleep reach a staggering $411 billion (2.28 percent of its GDP)—the highest economic loss incidence of the countries studied.
The RAND study also established that even “small changes to sleep duration could have a big impact on the economy,” like if individuals who normally sleep under six hours slept even just one or two hours more, over $226.4 billion could be added to the U.S. economy. It also linked sleep deprivation to lower workplace productivity, resulting in “a significant amount of working days being lost each year” with the U.S. annually losing around 1.2 million working days due to insufficient sleep—not to mention untold millions more being lost due to sleep deprivation-driven “presenteeism,” there is a demonstrative and urgent need for change.
In business, this change indubitably needs to start at the top for all upper management, then trickle all the way down to the front line, according to Alvaro Vaselli, founder and CEO of Nuvanna—a sleep science and productivity-driven mattress company. He notes, “Many sleep-related issues are extraordinarily easy to rectify, and can have a relatively immediate impact on a business bottom line. Curating improvement in this all-important aspect of one’s life is a leader’s fiduciary duty to the organization as I see it.”
Alvaro’s passion lies with solving common problems many commonly experience during the night, allowing them to achieve balance in their overall life through a consistently goodnight’s sleep.
“When the body achieves a natural flow with the mind, it makes a difference in how a person experiences the world,” he says. “If recuperative sleep is good for people in general, think about the edge leaders in each of their fields who maintain quality, restorative sleep can have over the competition.”
With this in mind, below are Alvaro’s easy-to-follow strategies that leverage the power of a quality night's sleep for getting ahead.
It is no surprise that professional athletes are always on the lookout for every single advantage they can utilize in order to outperform their opponents. With a career that spans a maximum of 15 years, they want to stay on top of their game for the duration. “Brady is the healthiest great champion the NFL has ever had, both physically and mentally” (Sally Jenkins, The Washington Post). The longtime New England Patriots quarterback, with multiple Super Bowl victories and MVP awards, is widely regarded as an athlete whose training and determination pushed him from a mediocre sixth-round draft position to the most-revered and respected professional football player of his generation. Tom Brady is very open about his approach to a more natural, healthier way of exercising, training, and living, which challenges some commonly held assumptions around health and wellness. He makes lifestyle choices that amplify and extend his performance as well as his quality of life.
The same principles that Brady used to outperform his opponents on the football field can be used by leaders in a company setting to outperform their competition. One of the key factors to this edge is mental clarity, which simply cannot happen in a body that is running on fumes.
“When people have slept less, it’s a little like looking at the world through dark glasses,” according to Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, longtime relationship scientist and director of the Ohio State Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research. “The well-rested brain versus the sleepy brain will accomplish much more but will also be happier and less stressed while doing so.” When groggy and sleep-deprived during the day, in addition to one’s overall quantity of work suffering, the quality of work will also be worse than someone who consistently receives eight or more hours of deep sleep. Leaders who make a commitment to deep, uninterrupted sleep for eight or more hours report more focus, more energy and more motivation than their counterparts.
Better Sleep = Better Temperament = Better Relationships = Greater Success
As stated above, those leaders who are well-rested report feeling happier and less stressed than their counterparts. Relationships are major components to winning in the business world. According to Steve Tobak, “The key to business success is winning and keeping customers. And the key to winning and keeping customers is, and has always been, relationships.”
According to Paul O’Brien in Business 2 Community, “It is known that if a strong relationship is in place, employees will be more productive, more efficient, create less conflict, and will be more loyal.”
Leaders who are well-rested can model positive, healthy relationships with their employees, which trickles down to their customers. By giving one’s body the sleep it needs to perform optimally, CEOs are able to give 100% of themselves in their personal and professional relationships, which helps relieve stress, maintains positive mental health, and leads to a more balanced work/leisure lifestyle.
As with Tom Brady’s key shift to a healthier lifestyle in order to enhance mental clarity, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos explains how making “a small number of key decisions well is more important than making a large number of decisions. If you shortchange your sleep, you might be a couple of extra ‘productive’ hours, but that productivity might be an illusion.” When discussing the difference between interactions and decisions, quality is more important than quantity.
Living the balanced work/leisure lifestyle mentioned above helps leaders maintain their edge over their competitors. Leaders who do not disengage at the end of the day but instead constantly check their emails in the evenings and on weekends are the ones with a greater chance of burning out or being less engaged over time.
Cheri Mah, a researcher in the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory, “showed that basketball players at the elite college level were able to improve their on-the-court performance by increasing their amount of total sleep time.” This was demonstrated by an increase of nine percent in their free-throw shooting and an increase by 9.2 percent in their three-point shooting.
What activities a leader engages in outside of work are just as significant for their work productivity as what activities they engage in while working. Stuart Brown explains that “for wellbeing to really become a value, one would need to practice wellbeing in and outside the work environment.” Truly engaging in deep, restful sleep, while working less hours, will result in more productivity because both mentally and physically all systems will be working at an optimal level.
Improved Sleep Helps Leaders Start Their Day the Right Way
While the following habits may seem trivial, when added together, they help create a leader mentality, a leader lifestyle that translates to success in and out of the boardroom. According to psychological research, “people who make their bed in the morning are happier and more successful than those who don’t.” Think about it this way instead – by taking 30 seconds when one first gets out of bed, your first accomplishment has already occurred, putting one in a “winning” mindset from the outset.
Many successful leaders start their day early. This is only successful, though, with a reasonable, consistent bedtime routine if one wants optimal results. Upon rising, for the first 60 minutes do not engage in any work-related activities such as checking email, social media, or even watching the news. Instead wake your brain up gradually with meditation, a healthy breakfast and exercise, and engaging in activities that feed your soul. Do this before jumping into the business of the day. Once you have successfully taken the time to nourish your body and soul, it’s time to start knocking out the mindful assignments before the phone starts ringing and people vie for your attention. This will help leaders maintain that sense of accomplishment and productivity.
Avoiding caffeine is another great strategy that gives successful leaders an edge over others. While people assume they perform better with caffeine, it’s actually detrimental to most systems in one’s body. Because of its spikes, valleys, and addictive quality, one actually underperforms when relying on America’s drug of choice. By nurturing one’s body in the positive ways mentioned above, healthy eating, deep, reparative sleep and regular exercise actually produce higher quantities and quality of energy than caffeine. After a few days without this stimulant, leaders find they develop more confidence and function better without it.
Related to the caffeine addiction, which creates jitteriness, agitation, and irritability when consumed in high quantities and inconsistently throughout the day, those with sleep deprivation are usually more impatient and make poorer decisions than their counterparts.
A study from UC Berkeley “found that after a poor night's sleep, the parts of the brain associated with automatic behavior were extra active, while the frontal lobes which affect self-control were more inhibited.” Therefore, leaders who are sleep deprived are more likely to respond instinctively rather than making conscious, healthy decisions. Another study from Clemson University found that people who didn’t get enough sleep had a “higher risk of being impulsive and distracted, as well as [made] poor decisions.” Successful leaders need to be able to make great decisions, especially in stressful situations, and be the atmosphere of the company that they would like to project to their customers. A sleep-deprived leader will have a more difficult time accomplishing that goal.
When one sleeps, the glymphatic system, known as the brain’s cleaning system, goes into overdrive. This reportedly purges your brain of “organic waste materials that build up during waking hours, removing unwanted proteins and metabolic waste.” By removing this waste, it protects your body from Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders.
In addition to the insights above, Alvaro urges that people need to commit to being truly asleep when sleeping and truly present while awake. He believes that “we all have an opportunity to put happiness within reach by building the right foundation for their lives, starting with a truly restorative night’s sleep.” So, it seems the old adage “you snooze, you lose” couldn’t be further from the truth since a solid night’s slumber can optimize professional success.