Man sleeping on train; image by Lily Banse, via
Man sleeping on train; image by Lily Banse, via

Sleeping well is highly correlated to good health and good leadership. The more your brain has to manage new knowledge instead of just dealing with repetitive situations, the more sleep deprivation puts you at risk of functioning poorly.

If you are a leader, your lack of sleep can affect your work performance, seriously so. If you go for 20 hours without sleep, you function at the same level as someone with a 0.1% blood alcohol level. This means you may be subject to irrational decisions and preventable accidents.

“Less sleep equals more productivity” is a myth. Working long hours is often expected, and your work culture may reward working a lot and sleeping little. People tend to believe that leaders have to set an example of a good work ethic by working long hours. This can make you define your worth or contribution through the amount of time you spend working.

You don’t feel as though you’re a good leader unless you’re always at work. In fact, research has shown that even small amounts of sleep deprivation can take a toll. Sleep deprivation is associated with health problems, mood changes, lack of productivity, and cognitive impairment. Here are some of the reasons why lack of sleep can be so destructive for leaders.

Woman with head resting on hand; image by Niklas Hamann, via
Woman with head resting on hand; image by Niklas Hamann, via

Inability to make decisions

If you’re in a leadership position, you depend on the functioning of the decision-making regions of the brain. Poor sleep impairs these regions of the brain. When you are sleep-deprived, all your available energy is consumed keeping your basic functions working, leaving higher functions severely handicapped.

Negotiation trainers warn that people who go into a business negotiation without having enough sleep are at a distinct disadvantage – their negotiation skills are impaired.

Impaired concentration and problem-solving

Insufficient sleep reduces your capacity for attention. Sleep deprivation impairs your pattern recognition, insight, and creativity – which means you have less ability to problem-solve.

When your ability to make decisions and learn is affected, you’re impaired in being able to see a problem from different perspectives. When faced with a work problem that you would typically be able to solve quite quickly, you won’t have the insight or creativity to find a good solution.

Supporting others is a challenge

You react more emotionally to others which can make supporting them a problem. The appearance of a sleep-deprived leader, with bloodshot eyeballs and bags under eyes, may also result in the staff under you thinking of you as less effective. Your team is also hardly likely to be motivated by what you say when you seem to be so low in energy yourself.

Increased Risky Behavior

Your willpower also drops when you haven’t had enough sleep and a tendency towards riskier behavior increases. You can imagine how this could affect your leadership skills when negotiating with a client.

Your rashness would severely undermine your normal negotiation tactics and strategies. You would be more likely to take risks in your negotiations and may just come away from a meeting realizing that you’ve made promises you can’t keep or given way in circumstances where a better outcome was possible.

If the idea of not being steadily productive scares you, you need to realize that your commitment to constant activity affects your capacity for creativity too, and you won’t be able to come up with the ideas you need to be an effective leader.

What you can do about it

Prioritizing healthy amounts of sleep does not just happen magically, you need to pay attention to your habits consciously and adjust them accordingly.

Shift your thinking and actions away from measuring your productivity by how many hours you work. It may be difficult, especially if your company culture expects the opposite. Your health and productivity will suffer, and you may even end up being completely burned out if you don’t.

Once you’ve realized that you don’t really raise productivity by sleeping less, you can work on making sure you get your 7-9 hours of sleep a night. You can find many tips online on how to establish effective sleep routines and what to do before you go to bed to ensure that you get a good night’s sleep.

When you’re sleep-deprived, you cannot be an effective leader because your decision-making skills are impaired, and your creativity is lacking. You have less empathy for those you’re trying to lead, and your negotiation skills are severely compromised. Taking time to relax and having enough sleep ensures that your brain can function optimally and this, in turn, improves your relationships and work performance.

You will find that you procrastinate less, you’re more supportive of others and you’re able to negotiate more effectively. You can concentrate on what’s important and come up with creative ideas that benefit your organization and make you a more effective leader.

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