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Better Leaders Are Better Sleepers Here’s Why

Sleep is not a luxury but a necessity for optimal leadership performance

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Image Credit: Midjourney

Business leaders are often regarded as indefatigable individuals who thrive on minimal sleep while they relentlessly pursue their dream careers. Throughout the business world, many are even admired for their tenacity and ability to work long hours. But is this lack of sleep actually contributing to higher levels of success? Studies seem not to think so.

We know a lack of sleep negatively affects other areas of our lives: from draining our cognitive abilities to making us more irritable. Then, why has the narrative of ‘you can sleep when you’re dead’ become the mantra for so many aspiring entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers? If sleep deficiency is terrible for our mental and emotional health, then it cannot be the impetus that drives business success. 

The prevailing notion of the sleepless, hardworking executive is being challenged by research that indicates leaders who prioritize their rest are more energetic, efficient, and compassionate. From enhancing decision-making abilities to fostering a positive work environment, I want to talk more about the power of well-rested leadership.

The Science Behind Restful Leadership

A clinical review put out by N.F. Watson and C.M. Barnes detailed sleep’s significant contributions to effective leadership. Ineffective leadership that stems from sleep deprivation doesn’t only affect the stamina and ingenuity of leaders, it also has a direct impact on company culture and employee performance. One study that observed 88 leaders across several industries found that abusive supervision was more prominent after the leader acknowledged a poor night’s sleep the night before. 

Sleep is not merely a passive state of rest, which we so often forget. It’s a dynamic process during which the brain experiences critical functions necessary for optimal functioning. During sleep, the brain consolidates memories, processes information, and rejuvenates neural pathways. Leaders who enjoy sufficient sleep are better equipped to think critically, make sound decisions, and retain essential information. Additionally, well-restedness makes leaders better emotional regulators. This translates into greater patience, empathy, and compassion for team members, which creates a positive and supportive work environment. 

Enhanced Cognitive Abilities and Creativity

Cognitive excellence and creativity are crucial for effective leadership, both of which are contingent upon being rested. A well-rested leader experiences improved focus, concentration, and problem-solving skills, which enables them to tackle challenges and devise innovative solutions with clarity and efficiency. Sleep also helps leaders think more about complex decisions and propose necessary solutions.

Sleep also plays a vital role in the creative process. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, the stage during which dreams occur, is associated with enhanced creativity. Leaders who achieve enough REM sleep are more likely to think outside the box, approach problems from different perspectives, and inspire their teams to do the same. 

“Sleep is an investment in the energy you need to be effective tomorrow.” – Tom Roth

Productivity and Efficiency: Quality Over Quantity

The myth of the sleepless executive working round-the-clock is slowly giving way to a more effective approach to leadership: quality over quantity. Leaders who prioritize their sleep understand that long hours do not necessarily equate to increased productivity. In fact, in today’s competitive business landscape, making the most out of one’s working hours and effectively meeting goals is only possible when well-rested.

Studies have found that leaders who get adequate sleep report higher levels of productivity and efficiency. They can accomplish tasks faster, make more informed decisions, and communicate more effectively with their teams. In contrast, underslept leaders often experience diminished cognitive performance, leading to errors, delays, and poor judgment. By valuing their sleep, leaders set a positive example for their teams, promoting a healthier work-life balance and overall well-being.

Emotional Intelligence and Empathetic Leadership

Leadership is not solely about driving results; it is about inspiring and guiding individuals to reach their full potential. Emotional intelligence plays a vital role in fostering strong relationships and cohesive teams. Well-rested leaders have an edge in this area, as sleep profoundly impacts emotional intelligence.

Adequate sleep supports the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for emotional regulation and empathy. Leaders who prioritize their rest can better understand and respond to the emotions of their team members. This empathy creates a culture of trust, support, and open communication within the organization. On the other hand, leaders suffering from sleep deprivation are prone to emotional instability, leading to erratic behavior and strained relationships. A lack of empathy from the top can trickle down, resulting in disengaged and disheartened employees.

Sleep is not a luxury but a necessity for optimal leadership performance. Embracing a culture that values rest and work-life balance will undoubtedly lead to more energetic, efficient, and compassionate leaders, setting a new standard for success in the modern business world. The next time you find yourself contemplating pulling an all-nighter, remember that true leadership excellence begins with a good night’s sleep.

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