How much sleep did you get last night? Managers across the globe reported that they got less than the magic recommended 8 hours. In Japan, for example, the national average is 5 hours and 59 minutes; in India, the average is 6 hours and 20 minutes. If you are an American, the numbers are not much different. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 83.6 million US adults sleep less than 7 hours. And we are becoming more sleep-deprived over the years. In 1942, getting 8 hours of sleep was the norm. Now the average across the globe is 6 hours and 45 minutes.
But we are managers, we are leaders, we are supposed to burn the midnight oil, right? In the end, work needs to get done! Well, yes, but should we compromise sleep? There is enough consensus that sleep deprivation is bad for your health. Lack of sleep has been related to cardiovascular disease, strokes, weight gain, memory loss, weak immune systems, diabetes, and decline in cognitive function. Overall, sleep deprivation is bad for our health.
But sleep deprivation is also bad for business. Sleep-deprived employees show low levels of work engagement, job satisfaction, job performance, citizenship behavior, creativity, and innovation, and high levels of decision errors and unethical behavior. When thinking about interpersonal outcomes, lack of sleep is related to high levels of social loafing, and low levels of team effectiveness and trust in negotiations.
What about leadership? Most of us want to be leaders, and most organizations spend millions developing leaders. My own research shows that sleep is good for leadership. My colleagues and I measured the sleep of 40 managers and their 120 direct reports during the first three months of their assigned time working together. We also asked for reports about the quality of these boss-employee relationships. Perhaps not surprisingly, we found that sleep-deprived leaders were more impatient, irritable, and hostile, which resulted in worse relationships. Interestingly, the leaders were completely unaware of the negative dynamic. In another study, we found that leaders’ ability to inspire subordinates is influenced by lack of sleep. We manipulated the sleep of our participants. Some slept through the night, whereas others had to wake throughout the night. We randomly assigned participants to one of the two conditions. In the morning, we asked participants to give a charismatic speech, and third parties evaluated the speakers’ charisma. Participants in the sleep-deprived condition scored about 13% lower than those in the control group. Recently, we found that circadian alignment (or the alignment between your chronotype and the time of the day) predicts charismatic leadership expressions. If you are a night owl, you are more charismatic in the evening than in the morning. But if you are a morning lark, you are more charismatic in the morning than in the evening.
If sleep is good for your health, business in general, and your leadership, how can we sleep better and longer? Here are some scientifically proven tips:
- Regularity: Go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time. The challenge is to do so every day, including weekends. The main reason that regularity is king is because we do have an internal 24-hour biological clock that expects regularity.
- Temperature: Keep it cool. Our body needs to drop its internal temperature by about two degrees Fahrenheit to initiate sleep and to stay asleep. This is why it is usually easier to sleep and stay asleep in a room that is a bit cold than a room that is hot. Aim to a bed temperature of about 65 degrees Fahrenheit (a little over 18 degrees Celsius).
- Darkness: We let light enter our lives even in the night. Basically, we are a dark-deprived society. We need darkness before going to bed. In particular, exposure to blue light can affect melatonin production. Melatonin helps regulate the timing of our sleep. So, avoid screens for at least one hour before going to bed.
- Walk it out. Do not stay in bed forever! The recommendation is if you stayed in the bed for about 25 minutes and could not sleep, get out of your bed and go do something different. The main reason for this is that the brain is learning to associate bed with wakefulness. We need to stop this association. Return to bed when you are sleepy! This will help the brain to gradually make the association between bed and sleep.
- Avoid coffee and alcohol. Avoid consuming coffee during the afternoon, and definitely minimize alcohol consumption in the evening. Coffee and alcohol interfere with your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
I must note that these are general tips for improving the quantity and quality of sleep, but make sure to find your routine. Some people are natural late sleepers, and they should not try to change their internal biological clock. Also, if you suffer from a sleep disorder, such as insomnia or sleep apnea, you need to treat those conditions first. You cannot ask professional athletes to improve their performance if they are hurt, right?
If sleep is good for your health, business, and your leadership, it should be a non-negotiable human need. As managers, perhaps it is our duty to model good sleep habits, and avoid the stigma that sleep is laziness. With that, I would like to say… Have a good night!
Cristiano Guarana is an assistant professor in the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, teaching Leading Organizations in the Integrated Core 1—Understanding Markets and Institutions.