The Sleep-Leadership Link: How Getting More Zs Can Make You a Better Leader

In today’s fast-paced work environment and shaky economy, people are working harder than ever in an effort to be as productive as possible. Constant connectivity has contributed to a “24/7 culture” in which taking down time — even to sleep — is considered a luxury.

But sleep isn’t an indulgence; it’s a biological necessity. When you don’t get enough sleep, your overall performance and people skills suffer. You become moodier and more prone to stress. You even make yourself more vulnerable to chronic health conditions like heart disease, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

When you go back to school online to earn your Master’s in Organizational Leadership, you’ll understand the link between sleep and creativity, concentration and productivity. Unless you take care to get enough sleep each and every night, your performance at school, work and even in your personal relationships can suffer.

getting more Zs can make you a better leader

How Sleep Improves Performance

Sleep offers a range of physical health benefits, but it’s also crucial for our mental health and performance. While you sleep, your brain processes the information you learned that day and creates new long-term memories and muscle memories.

The sleeping brain solves problems, draws new connections that the waking brain might not see and processes emotions. Sleep even turns off your body’s stress response, helping you recover physically and mentally from stress.

Not getting enough sleep damages your ability to think creatively and impairs your memory, since inadequate sleep doesn’t give your brain time to process everything that happened during the day before. Sleep deprivation hampers your ability to communicate effectively and fouls up your people skills.

Lack of sleep even lowers your cognitive function and performance; without enough sleep, your performance at work will suffer and, by extension, so could the whole company.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

Most people need between 7.5 and 8.5 hours of sleep a night. About five percent of people need more sleep, and about five percent of people need less sleep. Everyone should get at least six hours of sleep each night. When you sleep fewer than six hours, your brain doesn’t have time to enter REM sleep often enough to adequately process the previous day’s experiences.

Not all sleep is created equal. There are actually five stages of sleep, of which REM is the fifth. Stage 1 sleep occurs during the first five to 10 minutes of sleep; your body begins to relax during this stage, but if you were awakened, you probably wouldn’t remember having been asleep.

Stage 2 sleep lasts about 10 to 25 minutes and is often accompanied by a falling sensation. During Stage 3 sleep, which lasts about 30 minutes, brain waves slow down. During Stage 4 sleep, which lasts about 30 to 40 minutes, the body repairs itself. During REM sleep, which lasts about 30 to 40 minutes, your brain processes the day’s events, creates memories and reinforces learned skills.

Sleep stages don’t occur in a rigid, numerical sequence, however. You bounce back and forth from one stage to another throughout the night, going into REM sleep every 90 minutes or so. You need to be able to complete each of the sleep stages four to five times throughout the night in order to be adequately rested.

How to Get More Sleep

If you want to succeed in your career, you need to make sleep a priority. Go to bed at the same time each night, and wake up at the same time every morning, even on weekends. Holidays, vacations or other events might interrupt your sleep schedule, but get back to it as soon as possible.

Create a relaxing bedtime ritual to make it easier to fall asleep. Reading, meditating or taking a hot bath are all good ideas. Keep TVs, phones and computers out of the bedroom.

Don’t stay in bed if you can’t sleep. You should reserve your bed only for sleeping; the more you associate getting into bed with going to sleep, the easier it will be to fall asleep quickly. If you can’t sleep, get up and do something relaxing for a few minutes. You will soon feel ready to go back to bed.

Exercise every day for at least 20 to 30 minutes, but not sooner than three hours before bed. Don’t drink alcohol sooner than three hours before bed. Eliminate caffeine after 2:00 p.m.

Establishing healthy sleep practices takes discipline, and you might even have to put your foot down against those who suggest that sleep is a waste of time. As a leader in your organization, however, you’ll have the power to begin to change prevailing attitudes about sleep, and make it easier for all of your employees to get adequate sleep, too.

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