Source: Unsplash/Emilio Garcia

Harvard Business Review

Managers need more rest. Here’s how to get it

Harvard Business Review
9 minute Read

How much sleep do you get each night? Most of us know that eight hours is the recommended amount, but with work, family, and social commitments often consuming more than 16 hours of the day, it can seem impossible to make the math work. Perhaps you feel that you operate just fine on four or five hours a night. Maybe you’ve grown accustomed to red-eye flights, time zone changes, and the occasional all-nighter. You might even wear your sleep deprivation like a badge of honor.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Although the ranks of sleep advocates are no doubt growing — led by the likes of Arianna Huffington and Jeff Bezos — a significant percentage of people, and US executives in particular, don’t seem to be getting the sleep they need. According to the most recent data from the National Health Interview Survey, the proportion of Americans getting no more than six hours a night (the minimum for a good night’s rest for most people) rose from 22% in 1985 to 29% in 2012. An international study conducted in 2017 by the Center for Creative Leadership found that among leaders, the problem is even worse: 42% get six or fewer hours of shut-eye a night.

You probably already have some understanding of the benefits of rest — and the costs of not getting it. Sleep allows us to consolidate and store memories, process emotional experiences, replenish glucose (the molecule that fuels the brain), and clear out beta-amyloid (the waste product that builds up in Alzheimer’s patients and disrupts cognitive activity). By contrast, insufficient sleep and fatigue lead to poor judgment, lack of self-control, and impaired creativity. Moreover, there are lesser-known secondary effects in organisations. My research shows that sleep deprivation doesn’t just hurt individual performance: when managers lose sleep, their employees’ experiences and output are diminished too.

So how can we turn this knowledge into sustained behavior change? A first step for sleep-deprived leaders is to come to terms with just how damaging your fatigue can be — not only to you but also to those who work for you. Next, follow some simple, practical, research-backed advice to ensure that you get better rest, perform to your potential, and bring out the best in the people around you.

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