What do Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have in common besides their wealth? It is their sleeping habits. Each of these highly successful men has expressed the value of a good night’s sleep. They personally extolled the importance of sleep in the workplace because it helps fuel their accomplishments:
- Amazon CEO Bezos makes eight hours of sleep a priority because he feels it is “needed amount to feel energized and excited.”
- As chief executive of Microsoft, Gates used to work through the night and nap midday, but he realized the practice affected his quality of life and ability to think. Now, he gets “seven hours of sleep a night because that’s what I need to stay sharp and creative and upbeat.”
- Buffett put in a Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letter that he “will not trade even a night’s sleep for the chance of extra profits.”
The Norm Versus The Exception
There are examples of executives who get by on four hours of sleep each night, including President Donald Trump, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo’s chair and CEO. However, they are exceptions.
Additionally, people need to recognize that the amount of sleep they get versus a colleague will have a different effect on their effectiveness and abilities. Hence, trying to emulate someone who gets little sleep is unwise.
Furthermore, the executives who regularly get little sleep are unusual. A Harvard Business Review (HBR) leadership assessment found that the more senior a person’s role is, the more sleep they get. The HBR piece theorized that senior executives delegate work, leaving more time for sleep, or their discipline in regard to the importance of sleep throughout their career helped them maintain a high-performance level.
Sleep Deprivation Affects Performance
McKinsey noted that research has repeatedly shown that sleep-deprived people hurt their ability to make accurate decisions. Additionally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called sleeplessness a public health issue and highlighted the importance of sleep.
Here are some of the other facts on the effects of inadequate rest:
- Studies show that those who do not get seven to nine hours of sleep nightly may suffer from impaired logical reasoning, shorter attention spans and other issues.
- Numerous studies show the effects of sleep deprivation in various careers, such as nursing and police, and the greater likelihood of injuries to the workers and others.
- A 2004 Harvard Medical School study found that hospitals could reduce medical errors by at least 36 percent by limiting doctors’ shifts to 16 hours a day and no more than 80 hours per week.
- Another study compared the effects of sleep deprivation to being intoxicated. After going 17 to 19 hours without sleep, the test subjects performed like someone with a blood-alcohol level of 0.05 percent, which is above the 0.04 percent legal limit for commercial drivers. After roughly 20 hours of wakefulness, people’s performance degraded to that of someone with a blood-alcohol level of 0.1 percent, well above the 0.08 percent legal limit for driving in the U.S.
- Additionally, McKinsey researchers found a strong correlation between leadership performance and organizational health, i.e., financial results. They determined that high-quality executive teams demonstrate four traits that are affected by sleep: a strong results orientation, ability to solve problems effectively, seek out differing perspectives and are better at supporting others.
The economic impact of sleep deprivation is huge. A RAND Corporation study calculated the productivity loss to U.S. businesses from lack of sleep at $411 billion, which equates to 2.28 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
Overcoming The Issue
In spite of all the data, more people are not getting enough sleep in today’s hyper-connected, 24/7 world than ever before. An HBR survey of business leaders found that 43 percent admit that they do not get enough sleep at least four nights per week. This ultimately will undermine their behavior and potentially hurt their firm’s performance.
As Bezos noted, shortchanging sleep might give someone some extra “productive” hours. However, the effect could “be an illusion. When you’re talking about decisions and interactions, quality is usually more important than quantity.”
Sleep is critical for cognitive functioning, creative thinking and developing innovative insight. Accordingly, business leaders need to support their staff and educate people on the importance of sleep. They should adopt policies and practices that ensure employees feel less pressured to consistently burn the midnight oil. Some suggestions from McKinsey include:
- Emails: Impose blackout times on work emails and texts, or things used to wait until morning. Some companies and jurisdictions impose this limitation. For example, in France, labor laws allow workers to switch off work devices overnight.
- Napping rooms: Research shows that a 10-minute to 30-minute nap improves alertness and performance. As a result, more companies, particularly in technology, are setting up sleep pods and nap rooms.
- Work-time limits: Several companies and industries are known for imposing a “long-hours culture” on workers, such as law-firm associates, IT personnel and hospital interns. To combat this, some companies impose rules, such as everyone out at midnight. Or, they encourage people to take a “planned night off” to relax and catch up on sleep.
- Tag teams: If staff must be responsive 24/7, create “tag teams” of employees who hand responsibility to other employees, much like the nursing staff at a hospital, at the end of their shifts.
- Mandatory work-free vacations: People do not use their paid vacations, much less make the time away from the office work-free. Research shows the average U.S. employee only used half of their allotted days off and 61 percent admit to working during vacation. So, some companies are incentivizing people with bonuses and perks to get some rest and take a vacation.
The importance of sleep to people’s overall health and well-being cannot be overstated. Regardless of whether someone is an executive, truck driver, office worker or athlete, good performance requires adequate sleep. Sleep deprivation impacts the ability to focus, perform higher cognitive functions, be creative and react.
As former President Bill Clinton, who used to get by on five hours of sleep nightly, acknowledged, “Every important mistake I’ve made in my life, I’ve made because I was too tired.” In today’s connected world, more people need to realize that sleep is important to be successful in the workplace and elsewhere.
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