Sleep: (Don’t) let it go

Once upon a time, we had a culture where working around the clock, with little sleep, was something to brag about – a one-upmanship about who could function best when sleep deprived. But this, we now know, is a fairytale. There is no happy ever after.

While many successful leaders still claim they get by on sweet little shut-eye, a growing body of new scientific research shows sacrificing sleep is a classic mistake, and the implications on productivity and performance are grim. Thankfully, the culture is slowly shifting.

Many business leaders are now recognising that being well rested – and promoting its benefits in the workplace – will rescue themselves and their teams from the negative consequences of getting inadequate sleep, which impacts on creativity, learning, and problem solving.

Here are three reasons why prioritising sleep can help leaders and employees get ahead:

1. Be a force for change

According Arianna Huffington, author of The Sleep Revolution, “The ubiquity of technology and its addictive nature have made it much harder for us to disconnect and go to sleep.” But, she argues, leaders can be a “force for change” – and the statistics underline its significance.

In Australia, sleep disorders cost more than $5 billion a year in health care and indirect costs. The Re-awakening Australia report links lack of sleep with lost productivity and driving and workplace accidents. Evidently, sleep is not expendable, it’s must have.

As a leader, you have a choice to lead by example and create a workplace culture that values and respects the importance of rest. Is it really appropriate to be sending late-night emails or contacting employees after hours? Think twice about the message you’re sending to your team.

2. Can-do attitude or dysfunctional?

An Australian study that found that after being awake for 17 to 19 hours, we can experience levels of cognitive impairment equal to having a blood alcohol level of .05 per cent. And if we’re awake just a few hours more, we’re up to the equivalent of 0.1 per cent – that’s legally drunk!

As sleep plays a vital role in our decision making, emotional intelligence, and cognitive function – a lack of it – reduces productivity and effectiveness, even our charisma. With a good night’s sleep, leaders bring a can-do, charismatic approach, which beats being in a dysfunctional fog.

Studies show charismatic leaders are associated with better outcomes across organisational effectiveness, and employee job satisfaction and performance because they, “inspire more reverence and a heightened sense of collective identity”. Which one are you?

3. Sleep on it, for a better bottom line

Because poor sleep undermines important forms of leadership behaviour, which in turn, influences the effectiveness of employees, many experts are calling on companies to implement sleep training programs to break the vicious cycle and improve performance.

As sleep is one of the pillars of good health and wellbeing, it makes sense that businesses invest in doing what they can to protect the sleep of their teams. It means implementing evidence-based initiatives (for example, nap rooms) and actively detaching rest from laziness.

If you are a business leader that continues to burn the candle at both ends – and is not respectful of the importance of rest for your team – your views are frozen in the past. Let it go. By capitalising on the evidence that supports sleep, you can break the sleep-debt spell.

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