Out of all our reset buttons, could sleep be the most magically restorative? At the very least, its absence is an effective indicator that we need to reset and resource.
As Sleep Revolution author, Arianna Huffington said "I can tell you with authority that when I'm exhausted, when I'm running on empty, I'm the worst version of myself. I'm more reactive. I'm less empathetic. I'm less creative. And all of us can testify to that."
Yep Arianna, I can. I am known in my family as someone who needs their sleep. As a child, whenever I got grumpy, mum would send me off to bed. Now as an adult, I am clearer about whether I need to actually ‘process some emotions’ shall we say or indeed go for that siesta. Whenever my niece and nephew come for a sleepover it makes me wonder how many parents must be sleep walking around this earth. So it is no surprise that sleep has been identified as 'an issue the corporate world cannot ignore' with research indicating a majority of managers across the board are getting less sleep than the recommended minimum. This is showing to have a real impact on manager’s health, social and emotional lives, and is having a negative impact on their performance in managing complex tasks and displaying effective behaviours. In The Business of Sleep, Professor Vicky Culpin goes on to say, “having approximately 1.5 hours less sleep a night than you need means that you are about one-third less alert the next day. If you have three people working for you, this is the equivalent of paying for one person to be asleep all day!”.
Certainly when we get leaders talking about how they can look after their well-being more effectively, the majority will talk about needing to improve the quantity and quality of their sleep. The irony is not lost, that after this meaningful walk and talk, we stick them in a mountain hut to sleep in bunk beds. If you want a mini case study in the correlation between happiness and sleep quality, there it is.
Sleep – it is a natural phenomena. We all need it. We all do it. And as natural and common as it is, we must give it the attention it deserves. From the perspective of being our common reset button to feel resourceful and rejuvenated, here are six sleep reflections…
Share: Professor Culpin recommends we put ‘sleep on the agenda’ – and in business where sleep deprivation seems to be carried around like a badge of honour, this is particularly important. We need to have conversations about it to share how different ways sleep loss can affect us and share tips on how we overcome it.
Maybe don’t share! By its very nature, sleep is a very individual thing – and - can be so dependent on others. I remember how unromantic and sad I thought it was that my grandparents had single beds. Now I get it. Maybe a sign of age, but friends are expressing a desire to have separate bedrooms and even sleeping rooms from their partner. This is a delicate topic to raise and one too important not to have.
Tune in (with or without technology): And so we take control of what we can, to enhance our sleep. Which requires that we tune into what our mind, body and soul needs, test and try out what works for us from the plethora of sleep advice tips out there, and make choices accordingly. Some friends have found wearing a Fitbit useful for the data it provides – helping them to dispel their own sleeping myths and to create some new patterns.
Let go: Surely to sleep is our most regular lesson in letting go. In order to sleep, we truly need to relax and surrender. As Professor Tom Rath, author of Eat Move Sleep, who advocates focusing on small choices which lead to big changes says, “at the end of a lousy day, before you make a small stressor into something bigger, give sleep a chance to do some repair work overnight”. The magic of a sleep to put things in perspective is literally mind-blowing isn’t it? How much sleep we need is individual – ex British Prime Minister was known to sleep only 4 hours a night. Arguably she should have had more.
If not you, who?: So yes, if you find it easier to do things for others rather than yourself, think of the wider impact of your sleep habits. Culpin brings in the time when in 2007, President Bill Clinton was interviewed on the US TV programme Daily Show and discussed his theory on how the relationship between sleep and mood shows up in US politics – "You have no idea how many Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate are chronically sleep deprived because of this system. I know this is an unusual theory but I do believe sleep deprivation has a lot to do with some of the edginess of Washington today". Suffice to say, we owe it an individual and societal level to get enough sleep.
Dream gifts: For sleep not only resets us physically, but emotionally and is a chance to delve into our resourcefulness at a subconscious level. I see sleep as one of the best personal development workshops around. In Wild Courage, Elle Harrison explicitly encourages us to start noticing our dreams as a fundamental way to develop our intuition, which is so integral to our creativity, innovation and decision making capabilities as a leader.
Sleep – all going well, it occupies about a third of our life. Something to be treasured indeed.
photo own of my nephew’s creation of putting his toy parrot Steve to bed!
Links to books referenced: