When considering Executive Well-being, one of the most potent and arguably the easiest levers to pull for a massive positive performance impact is the ‘sleep’ lever.

In their increasingly frenetic lives, many of my clients report working longer hours, taking work home, staying connected to screens for longer, getting up earlier to squeeze in some exercise before the day descends on them … but the impact this has on the amount of sleep they get can be massive.  And not in a good way.

Sleep is the time that our bodies use to undertake regular maintenance and repair.  Brain scans show that during sleep dye can travel more freely through wider channels, indicating the brain’s increased ability to remove toxins while we relax.  And when we awake rested, we have increased mental clarity and our ability to manage our emotions appropriately is enhanced.  As are our energy levels.

So how much sleep do we actually need?

In experiments when people are left to wake naturally, 95% of people wake after 7-8 hours of sleep.  Only 2.5% need less than 7 hours, and only 2.5% need more than 8 hours.  That said, some people seem to be changing the question from ‘how much sleep is optimal?’ to ‘how little sleep can I get away with?’.   Obviously we can get away with less than 7.  But should we?

The effect on driving prowess after just 6 hours sleep is the equivalent of being over the alcohol limit.  On 4 hours it is much worse – even though it may still be ‘legal’.  What about driving after that ‘all-nighter’ you had to pull in order to get that report / proposal / budget in on time?

Some people wear their habitual lack of sleep as a badge of honor.  It shows they are working hard; that they are driven.  Others feel incapable of taking action to increase the amount of sleep they regularly receive, and so it becomes ‘just the way it is’.  Whatever the reason, it is likely to have an adverse affect on performance, relationships and well-being.

In a recent study, a number of mid-level managers were asked to record how long they slept each night, over the course of a month.  Their team members were asked to record the quality of their interactions with their manager over the same time period.  To reinforce the commentary above, results showed that high quality interactions correlated strongly with lots of sleep, while interactions with sleep-deprived managers just didn’t appear to go so well.  Intuitively, many of us know this (or at least we can see it might happen to others … when we are lacking sleep our judgment is impaired, so we are less likely to be aware of our own shortcomings).  But many of us are missing the important step of doing something about it.

So what action can you take to ensure that you are getting enough sleep to function at your best?

Deciding on a ‘bed time’ and ‘wake up time’ with the required 7-8 hours in between and then sticking to it is a good start.  As is turning off all screens at least half an hour before going to bed (the blue light tells our brain it is daytime and messes with our body’s natural rhythms, thus making it more difficult to nod off, and reducing our sleep quality once we eventually get there).

So, whatever it takes to get you to that regular 7-8 hours, give it a try.  Your body and brain will thank you for it.  Other people in your network are likely to notice too.

Sweet dreams!

Author: Nicola Deakin