With today’s fast paced society, we are literally losing sleep hand over fist, with many of us not getting the recommend 7-9 hours a night. This is likely to strike a chord with many business owners as in a survey of 180 entrepreneurs, as many as 4 in 10 agreed that they do not get enough sleep at least 4 nights a week.
It has been proven recently that a lack of sleep can harm decision making, which could ultimately harm their business and productivity. Also good quality and the correct amount of sleep has been linked to the quality of leadership that people can offer.
It’s long been known that all leadership behaviour relies on at least one or more higher brain functions. Neuroscientists know that although other brain areas can cope relatively well with too little sleep, the prefrontal cortex cannot. Basic visual and motor skills deteriorate when people are deprived of sleep, but not nearly to the same extent as higher-order mental skills.
Previous research has shown that there is a strong correlation between leadership performance and organisational health. In order to maintain strong organisational skills, good quality sleep is essential as sleep deprivation impairs a person’s ability to focus selectively.
Sleep is beneficial for a host of cognitive functions that help us solve problems effectively, including insight, pattern recognition, and the ability to come up with innovative and creative ideas. One study has shown that a good night’s sleep leads to new insights; participants who enjoyed one were twice as likely to discover a hidden shortcut in a task than those who didn’t. Likewise, an afternoon nap has been found to aid creative problem solving; subjects who took a nap after struggling on a video game problem were almost twice as likely to solve it than subjects who had remained awake.
So what can business do to help themselves and their leaders?
Businesses could develop training programs that are focused on increasing the awareness of long lasting behavioural change in regards to sleep and overall wellbeing. Oversee and revise any policies which could impact negatively upon employees’ sleep.
Beyond having more rested and therefore more effective leaders, another argument for focusing on sleep is that it prevents burnout in leaders. A recent Harvard Medical School study of senior leaders found that 96% reported experiencing at least some degree of burnout. One-third described their condition as extreme. There is now a large body of evidence on the bi-directional relationship between sleep and stress; a lack of sleep creates heightened emotional reactivity, and the experience of stress results in worse quality of sleep. In addition, poor sleep has been found to be a major predictor of reduced engagement at work. It’s time for organizations to find ways of countering the employee churn, lost productivity, and increased health care costs resulting from insufficient sleep.