Leaders Who Don’t Snooze Lose
The area of the human brain that evolved most recently is the pre-frontal cortex. It’s the area of the brain that controls reasoning, problem solving, inhibition, organizing, planning, and the executing of plans. It’s also the part of the brain that’s most dependent on your getting enough sleep.
A recent Harvard Business Review survey of 180 business leaders revealed that 43% — 4 out of 10 — said they don’t get enough sleep at least four nights a week. It’s easy to understand how this happens in our 24/7, always-connected world, but it’s a problem.
Earlier studies by McKinsey&Company found that there are four traits in particular that closely correspond with excellence in leadership:
- Operating with a strong orientation to results
- Solving problems effectively
- Seeking out different perspectives
- Supporting others
Unfortunately for sleepy-headed leaders, all four are affected adversely by a lack of adequate rest.
Operating With a Strong Orientation to Results
Lack of sleep impairs one’s ability to focus. After 17–19 hours awake, concentration degrades to the equivalent of a person with a 0.05% blood alcohol — in some countries, that’s considered drunk. After 20 hours, it’s as if you have a 0.1% blood alcohol level. That’s like being legally drunk in the U.S.
Solving Problems Effectively
Sleep promotes insight, pattern recognition and the ability to come up with new ideas. Participants in one study were more likely to find a hidden shortcut after a good night’s sleep. Naps can also refresh a person’s ability to problem solve, and dream sleep apparently sets the sleeper up for creative thinking by allowing the brain to associate unrelated information in novel ways.
Seeking Out Different Perspectives
Sufficient sleep enhances the absorbing and utilizing of different perspectives since it makes the brain more capable of encoding new information, consolidating it in your memory, and retrieving it for use. It also promotes a clear-headed ability to weigh different opinions without imposing a cognitive bias.
When you lack sleep, you’re far more likely to misinterpret others’ emotional cues, and it’s much more likely that you’ll feel and express negativity rather than a supportive attitude. A study showed, in fact, that employees feel less engaged with their own work when their bosses are over-tired.
The takeaway? Don’t feel guilty for shutting down your devices tonight. Get some sleep.