Dear fellow biological organisms,
I am going to advocate for your sleep hygiene because sleep won’t advocate for itself. Rest is often the thing that gets squeezed at both ends when other things should be cut out instead.
Consider this: When the biological organisms over at the US Central Intelligence Agency want to break down, disorient, and psychologically rewire another biological organism who may wish to do harm, they sleep deprive the subject. They call this “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
When American doctors, nurses, financiers, managers, and parents of newborns want to make a difference, complete their work, or be perceived as competent, we often sleep deprive ourselves. We call this doing our jobs.
With the exception of parents of newborns (sorry man, nature is cruel), you don’t have to accept culturally imposed poor sleep hygiene. Even better, if you are an organization’s leader, you can set the tone from the top.
Sleep gets squeezed in business all the time. And we tell ourselves that this time is worth it. That this particular business trip, this particular set of circumstances, this particular deadline or goal, warrants powering through. But, after years of watching it happen over and over, watching people run themselves ragged and gain weight, I’ve come to the conclusion that we all need to be reminded constantly that we’re not robots.
Last year, BMW’s CEO collapsed on stage during a press conference at the Frankfurt Motor Show. The stated cause? Fatigue.
The problem is that sleep deprivation disrupts our circadian rhythms and leads to poorer brain performance. Working long hours even causes us to be negatively biased and less happy.
When I travel with executives around a city for investor client meetings, there is a lot of pressure to fit in as many meetings as possible, sometimes even skipping lunch or having the C-level officer eat during his presentation. I always disliked this and tried to carve out time for the executive to eat in peace or have downtime. My reasons were both caring for the individual, but also selfish: When I had a “buy” rating on a stock, I wanted the executive to put his best foot forward to instill confidence in new investors. Running ragged helps nobody.
When my team created a schedule, I would point out repeatedly, “We are biological organisms. We are biological organisms.”
The people who stood out to me — and they were nearly always star performers — were the ones who did advocate for their own downtime and time to sleep. It often came across as IDGAF, but, it worked.
And yet, I so often failed to adhere to my own advice. The national live television appearances I regret were the ones I did when I was not well rested. I cringe to watch myself on CNBC after I didn’t get a full night’s sleep.
No matter your job title, your primary means of making an income involve your self and your brain. Your brain needs sleep to function well. You are a brain-athlete. (In high school, I was a mathlete who competed in math competitions. Picture me intimidatingly lifting my graphing calculator and flexing my biceps.)
You can read a ton more about this — scientific proof of the need for sleep is everywhere. And questions about why we must deal with biological limits are better left to philosophy and religion.
In conclusion, this post is not about being a wuss. It’s not about a 35-hour work week or arbitrary numbers. I love our culture of achievement and git-er-done. But, it is fundamentally unintelligent to ignore our own biology.
We should conduct business in a way that optimizes performance. What can you cut out besides sleep?
Get some sleep.
Supporting research links:
Why sleep deprivation is torture (Psychology Today)
How the CIA tortured its detainees (The Guardian)
Sleep deficit: The performance killer (Harvard Business Review)
Sleep is more important than food (Harvard Business Review)
There’s a proven link between effective leadership and getting enough sleep (Harvard Business Review)
BMW chief’s collapse highlights executive stress (CNBC)