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Good Sleep and Great Leadership: Guest Written by Sleep School

It is a unanimous fact in science: good quality sleep is on par with diet and exercise to fully prosper and thrive in life. So it’s surprising to see many of the world’s leaders boast of how little sleep they get as if this makes them seem more capable somehow.

Hi, we're Sleep School, and today we've jumped on Accountancy Cloud's resources to share our thoughts on the relationship between good sleep and great leadership. Let's get started!

Sleep is your most powerful performance enhancer

Mimicking, perhaps, the behaviour of leaders past (Margaret Thatcher famously claimed to get by with just four hours of sleep every night), many leaders continue to deprive themselves of the most powerful performance enhancer known to man. Although it may be in an attempt to seem hard-working, they are actually putting themselves at the risk of burnout and sabotaging their decision-making abilities. Unfortunately, this group of bad sleepers includes Theresa May, who led the Brexit negotiations whilst getting a mere five hours of sleep every night.

The good news is that we might be on the brink of a change in attitude towards sleep. A recent study looking at the sleeping patterns of 35,000 leaders found that the higher up in an organisation, the more sleep people actually got. On the one hand, one reason for this may be that with seniority comes delegation, which is bound to free up time for those higher up the ladder, allowing for more sleep. On the other hand, however, it also seems that senior executives have begun to realise the benefits of a good night’s sleep on their performance and their ability to lead.

Sleep more to be a better, healthier leader

We have all felt on edge, anxious and distracted after a poor night’s sleep. But did you know that a night of sleep deprivation affects brain function to a similar degree as alcohol intoxication? Chronic sleep deprivation can have an even more serious effect, with research showing that potential consequences include: poor judgement, greater impulsivity, reduced decision-making skills, and an increased risk of dementia and heart disease.

Even though sleep may seem like a dormant process, it is actually a highly active time during which our bodies are undergoing a series of important processes that help optimise our physical, mental, and cognitive health. Outlined below are some examples of the ways in which better sleep can help make a better leader out of everyone!

Memory
When it comes to being a great leader, a good memory is important. From facts to deadlines to names, a good leader relies on their ability to remember all the things that matter when it comes to doing a good job.

There are three steps required for something to become a memory, all of which depend on good quality sleep. First, one needs the ability to acquire a memory which is the process of learning or experiencing something new. However, a sleep-deprived person will experience difficulty in this process, as their ability to focus and concentrate will be greatly diminished.

Secondly, the memory needs to ‘stick’ through a process called consolidation which occurs in the hippocampus. As we sleep, the hippocampus replays the events of the day which are then stored across different, interconnected regions within the brain. But with a lack of sleep, these connections significantly weaken, affecting our ability to remember things in the long term.

Last but not least, we also need to be able to recall the memory. However, this can be difficult when sleep deprived, as the storing process may not have been completed successfully.

Decision making
Great leaders are great decision-makers. We depend on leaders to make the right choices, especially during a challenging time with great uncertainty and change. But what lies behind one’s ability to choose the better course of action is their ability to balance emotion, reason, and logic.

However, research has shown that compared to normal sleepers, those with chronic sleep loss such as insomnia sufferers, are much more likely to engage in risky behaviour. Imaging studies have shown that these sleep-deprived participants have reduced activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for decision making. This area of the brain guides us to make decisions by maintaining links between previous experiences and the emotional state with which we’ve associated such experiences.

It should, therefore, go without saying that good quality sleep is a very important step towards making sound decisions and avoiding potentially disastrous outcomes.

More emotional
Good communication is at the core of good leadership. Whether in an effort to motivate, negotiate, encourage or train others, being a strong communicator is key. However, even a single night of reduced sleep has been shown to increase levels of stress, anger and anxiety in response to low-stress conditions.

This is because when you are sleep deprived, your amygdala (the emotional part of your brain) becomes hyperactive. In a study that investigated the ability to read emotions, participants who slept less interpreted neutral facial expressions as fearful. The inability to recognise another's emotions correctly can not only lead to poor judgement but can also cloud your decisions as well as cause problems in relationships, both at work and at home.

Overall, it is very clear that sleep deprivation has a disastrous effect on all the prerequisites of a strong leader. Good sleepers are not lazy. A minimalistic sleep routine should not be glorified but should instead be recognised as an uneducated habit. By depriving themselves of sleep, leaders are putting themselves in serious danger of deteriorating mental and physical health and putting those who depend on them at risk.

In short, if you want to lead better, you need to sleep better!

Join us on LinkedIn Live

Next Tuesday the 23rd of November at 11 AM, Sleep School Co-Founder's Adrian Baxter and Dr Guy Meadows will be live on Accountancy Cloud's LinkedIn event...

The Science of Sleep. The Importance of Rest to Founder Success.

We'll be discussing in more detail what quality sleep is, how you can achieve it and what it could mean for your leadership skills. Not only this, but we'll be ready and waiting to answer any questions you may have on the day, too! Don't miss it. Register now!