When we arrived in the UK in March, the first thing we noticed was that the sky wasn’t dark at night. In Australia it was pitch black where we lived and we never really thought much of it….until we got here and couldn’t sleep.
Just before leaving Australia I was fortunate enough to go on a 4 day retreat during which time I learned about the brain and sleep from Dr Carmel Harrington. In order to be effective at work and to lead others effectively, it is CRITICAL for us to get adequate and good quality sleep. Let’s look at why.
When are asleep our brain is at its most active:-
- Forming and clarifying (getting rid of extraneous data) new memories, pruning old memories, linking emotion to memory and doing a whole maintenance update on our neurons
- Making decisions and solving problems – this is why the old wives’ tale ‘sleep on it’ is important because our brains continue to find the answers when we are completely unaware during our sleep cycles. This is also why we often wake up in the morning with the problem solved
- During REM (rapid eye movement dream phase of sleep) the CEO executive function of our brain is deactivated which is why we can have those ‘eureka moments’, insights, bursts of innovation and brilliant ideas that happen in a different part of the brain.
There is a list of inventions and creations that emerged from dreams on
Wikipedia, these include Paul McCartney’s song ‘Yesterday’, Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, the invention of benzene and the automatic sewing machine.
So how much is ‘adequate’ sleep?
You might be surprised. Dr Sean Drummond of the University of California identified that a good sleep is about 7 hours and 5 minutes and a poor sleep is around 6 hours and 4 minutes or less. Not a lot of difference. ‘Short sleepers’ like Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton and Madonna exist(ed), but they are in the minority and some experts claim that they never realise(d) how sleepy they were. I leave it up to you to assess the decisions they made!
What does this mean for us as Business Leaders?
We cannot function effectively on too little sleep and there is no viable substitute.
In many organisations a lack of sleep still seems to be viewed as a ‘badge of honour’ or something macho. Nothing could be further from the truth. Look at the diagram below to see just how sleep deprivation can impact us (and it doesn’t state everything). How many of you know of a boss or colleague you would never go near if you knew s/he had slept poorly the previous night?
Disasters such as Chernobyl, The Space Challenger and Exxon Valdez have all been linked to lack of sleep and decision-making. Mortality rates of surgeons who are sleep deprived are on the increase and there have been multiple accounts of near or actual airline disasters because of pilot sleep deprivation.
We need to acknowledge the potential damage that a 24/7 ‘always on’ culture can have on the wellbeing, physical and psychological safety of our staff and promote awareness of the need to get a good night’s sleep.
And why I love my Blackout Blind
When we sleep we need a dark environment because of our ‘vampire’ master hormone melatonin. When it’s getting dark in the evening we produce melatonin which induces sleep. Light inhibits the production of melatonin and so, when exposed to light during our natural sleep cycle, our brains are shouting internally “WAKEY WAKEY!” and we’re ready for the day…at 3am. This is why it’s important, especially for young people, not to have any LED light in the bedroom and for us not to be accessing digital devices that light up.
Since purchasing our blackout blind my quality of sleep has improved no end. I hardly wake up during the night and feel rested and refreshed not long after waking up.
When it comes to ensuring that we get good quality sleep we all know what to do but are we prepared to do it? This reminds me of the Japanese proverb “To know and not to do is still not to Know”.
If you would like a list of tips and additional resources for better quality sleep please send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Sleep forms one of the three legs of our self-care three legged stool which is covered in our ‘Dealing with Change and Building Resilience’ Development Programme.