Leadership Perspectives

Want to be more productive? Spend more time sleeping.

September 22, 2014

Woman SleepingAn article last week in the Wall Street Journal focused on the effect of adequate sleep – and sleep deprivation – on work performance.  Pointing out famous short-sleepers, such as the late Margaret Thatcher, who famously operated on far less than the often recommended eight hours sleep per night, the article makes the case that most of us would still be more productive, make fewer mistakes, and earn more money if we got enough sleep on a regular basis.

Cited is the research of Matthew Gibson and Jeffrey Shrader at the University of California, San Diego, Department of Economics.  In their paper “Time Use and Productivity: The Wage Returns to Sleep,” released earlier this summer, Gibson and Shrader concluded that “a one-hour increase in long-run average sleep increases wages by 16%, equivalent to more than one year of schooling.”

Of course, it isn’t just the sleep itself that increases wages.  You can’t take your sleep log – or even your fitbit – into your boss and get a raise.  Rather, it’s all the wonderful things that sleep does for us that makes us more productive and effective and, in turn, leads to the wage increase.

While we sleep, the blood pressure slows, the immune system is strengthened, important hormones are secreted, and many of the body’s restorative functions like tissue repair, muscle growth, and protein synthesis take place.  There is a growing body of evidence that sleep is critical to brain plasticity; that ability of the brain to rearrange and organize its contents through the process of memory consolidation. If this is true, then sufficient sleep is critical to our ability to recall information.

Those who sleep adequately think more clearly and accurately, enjoy better health, and are more efficient.  Studies have shown the causal effect of inadequate sleep on doctors’ mistakes, poor student test scores, and increased mortality.

Let’s face it.  While the theories and studies are intriguing, this news is not surprising.  Anyone who has ever tried to take a test, give a speech, or untangle a snarly problem, after a night (or more) of insufficient sleep knows that being sleepy prevents us from doing our best work.

Yet many leaders still don’t get enough sleep.  Often it’s simply because they are in chronic ‘push’ mode, trying to do increasingly more to meet the demands of their organizations, their kids, their clients, their spouses, and their communities.

The irony is that when we deprive ourselves of sleep, we are LESS able to meet all the demands placed on us.  Perhaps we should consider spending more time sleeping so that we are better able to actually do more.

By the way, Gibson and Shrader found that the optimal amount of sleep required to maximize earnings is nine hours.  How does your sleep time compare?

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