Good leaders tend to have a few standard traits, such as emotional intelligence, passion and charisma, and good problem-solving abilities. These traits pioneer organizational success by contributing to high individual morale while allowing leaders to make decisions that are in the best interest of the organization or company as a whole. As it turns out, many of the traits needed for effective leadership are positively boosted by sleep, or conversely, negatively impacted by a lack of sufficient sleep.
The Connection Between Leadership & Sleep
The amount of sleep that a leader gets – and the “sleep culture” that they convey to their subordinates – are crucial but often forgotten factors in an entity’s organizational fabric. Sleep culture includes behaviors such as answering emails late at night or praising employees who do so, and because subordinates look to leaders for cues about workplace behavior, the poor sleep habits of upper management are likely to rub off on the team. In fact, one study showed that, when bosses slept poorly, they were more likely to exhibit abusive behavior the next day – contributing to lower levels of engagement and morale among subordinates.
And poor sleep among leaders may be more common than we’d like to believe. One recent report showed that 42% of leaders get 6 hours of sleep or fewer each night. Many leaders may believe that it’s more worthwhile to spend their hours squeezing in as much strategic thinking, emails or planning as possible, but research consistently shows that one of the most important things a leader can do to improve their performance (as well as the performance of their company) is to get more sleep.
Don’t believe us? Here’s proof that demonstrates the effects that lack of sleep has on each of the leadership qualities mentioned above (emotional intelligence, passion and charisma, and effective problem-solving capabilities).
- Emotional Intelligence: One study specifically wanted to look at how sleep influences the quality of the leader-follower relationship. In the study, researchers monitored the sleeping habits of 40 managers and their 120 direct subordinates during the first 3 months of them working together. Results showed that leaders who were chronically sleep-deprived had worse relationships with their workers and displayed more hostile behaviors – but the leaders were completely unaware of this dynamic.
- Passion & Charisma: We are all familiar with how we feel after a night of really bad sleep – unmotivated, unfocused, and lacking energy. The troubling news is that those who are chronically sleep-deprived (getting fewer than 7-9 hours of sleep on a consistent basis) may experience these symptoms at varying degrees all the time without even knowing. We know what you’re thinking: “That doesn’t apply to me. I can function excellently on a few hours of sleep all the time.” We hate to break it to you, but only 1-3% of people are actually among the “sleepless elite” for which this is true. And you’re probably not one of them.
- Problem-Solving: Lack of sleep affects a leader’s ability to make sound decisions. In one study that observed the financial decision making of its subjects, one group was allowed 5 hours of sleep a night, the other 8. Each group had a choice: they could take a certain amount of money that was guaranteed, or take a risk on receiving a higher amount of money, with the possibility of receiving nothing at all. Over the course of a week, the sleep-deprived group gradually shifted towards the riskier option, and interestingly, they were also unable to perceive this change happening in themselves.
As you can see, sleep needs to be a priority for leaders. It’s not a suggestion – leaders must receive adequate sleep to create a stable, productive environment for employees and positively impact the overall success of a business or organization.
The Connection Between Leadership & Sleep
Are you a leader that’s sleep-deprived more often than not? Hey, no judgement here. It’s an epidemic that befalls even the best leaders. Try these practical tips to improve your sleep quality and be the role model that your business, organization or group needs.
- Maintain a consistent sleep/wake schedule, even on the weekends. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
- Keep the bedroom dark, cool, and quiet. Use a white noise machine or eye mask if you need to.
- Establish a relaxing nighttime routine, like taking a bath or shower and reading a book. Seriously, try it. It works.
- Save the bedroom for sleep. Avoid working, eating, or doing leisure activities that stimulate the mind (like playing video games) in the bedroom.
- Don’t consume caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine within the two hours or so before bedtime.
- Exercise. Though be strategic about the time of day, as some people have trouble sleeping if they exercise too close to bedtime.
- Limit electronic device use at least an hour before bed to avoid blue light exposure. If this feels impossible, wear blue light blocking glasses, or use a computer extension or app that does the job for you.
- If possible or needed, take short, 20-minute naps during the work day for a burst of energy.
It’s also possible that a consistent lack of sleep is caused by a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea. In this condition, you experience multiple momentary pauses in breathing throughout the night, and this poor quality rest over time can cause a number of problems such as low energy and increased irritability, which will negatively affect your ability to perform as a leader. Those with sleep apnea are also at a higher risk factor for serious health concerns including stroke, diabetes, and mood disorders like anxiety and depression.
If you believe that you might be suffering from sleep apnea, you should consult with a medical professional to be diagnosed and receive treatment that will improve your sleep and quality of life.