Anyone that knows me knows that I like my sleep. I tell everybody I need 9 hours, and I have been eagerly awaiting this festive break so I can catch up on my sleep! 11 hours last night. 12 hours the day before. My friend, James, on the other hand needs 9 hours too, but is insomniac and unable to sleep before 02:00.
As the CEO of WELLBUSINESS™ which specializes in creating sustainable performance culture, I am always interested in identifying the increments that will make a difference to create that perfect sustainable performance culture.
Most of the executives I’ve coached over the years simply don’t get enough. Fact. They are driven to perform and seem to have a fear of missing out. There is also something cultural around celebrating the executive who finishes emails at 01:00 the night before and is back in the office at 5:30 the next morning.
I’ve found that, when questioned, these Execs lead to irrational and unjustified claims such as “I do not need sleep” or “I’m doing fine with a couple of hours of sleep”. A recent McKinsey survey of executives demonstrates how many of them remain in denial on this point. Indeed, two of the 20th Centuries most iconic business leaders; Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, claimed to not require sleep. Both of them died of Alzheimer’s related diseases.
What is interesting from a Human Resources perspective is that there seems to be many policies existing within the workplace regarding smoking, substance abuse, ethical behaviour, injury and disease prevention. Insufficient sleep, on the other hand, which could be considered by some as equally physically and mentally harmful (even potentially fatal) – is commonly, and sadly tolerated.
Professor Matthew Walker is one of my personal heroes in this space. He taught me that sleep is good and he is one of the World’s greatest sleep ambassadors. In his recent article entitled “Schleep”, he states that:
"Many companies do not do enough to promote healthy sleep, which can have serious consequences. As we will demonstrate, sleep deficiencies impair the performance of corporate executives, notably by undermining important forms of leadership behaviour, and can thereby hurt financial performance."
A humbling read is the incredible book “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari which highlights our intellectual abilities as mammals. That is what we are, mammals. Mammals that require sleep just like any other mammalian species on this earth, and yes, the advance of the scientific revolution and the increase in capitalism and consumerism combined with technology means our species is severely sleep deprived.
So simply what can ”we” do?
As individuals we can start by understanding our sleep patterns better. What behaviours interrupt our sleep and how many hours do you get on average? Understanding this will help to change your behaviours. Here are 4 easy tips that I’ve begun to practice:
Create a regular sleeping routine – I’ve become more regimented with my routine and make it clear to my dear loved ones that I intend to be in bed by 10:30pm. More than anything, this helps to keep myself accountable to a deadline.
Get away from the screens - I’ve moved my phone away from my bedside table. No more scrolling. World headlines do not make good lullabies. I now use an old fashioned alarm clock (remember them?)
Exercise - I go for a short brisk walk over my lunch break. This is especially important in the winter months as daylight helps to regulate our cortisol levels. Of course, any form of high –intensity exercise will do wonders for your sleep.
Focus time for clarity – I can’t reiterate this more. As a leader, I need do get away from the noise and block out the distractions so I can calm the mind. This helps to deal with everyday stressors and to find perspective.
As corporations if we want to create a sustainable performance culture that encourages healthy sleep, it starts at the top. Leaders need to be the role model as their behaviours often contribute to the wider working culture. No more emails after working hours. Encourage feedback, be present and supportive. Build trust so you can allow your employees to work flexible hours and give them that additional hour of sleep a day.