Leadership Perspectives

How important is sleep?

Marie Peeler


Recently a client asked me how important I thought sleep was.  I didn’t hesitate before I said “Critically important” with some vehemence.  The context of the conversation was leadership, leadership performance, and showing up emotionally centered and resilient in the face of challenge.

My answer didn’t surprise him.  I think he was simply looking for confirmation of what he already knew… or permission to acknowledge just how much of a problem a chronic lack of sleep was to him.

It’s not uncommon to hear executives and others in leadership positions brag about how little sleep they get, as though that fact were a badge of honor to be proudly displayed.  In reality, that’s a bit like being proud of existing on a diet of potato chips and sugar cookies.

But existing on less sleep than we really need seems, on the surface at least, to fit our hyper-productivity culture.  If we are not wasting precious hours sleeping we can do more, right?

Not so fast.  Sleep is not an indulgence of the lazy.  It is a fundamental need of all living beings.  Get less sleep than you need, and your body and mind are simply not going to function optimally.  Understand all the things that a good night’s sleep can do for you before you blithely decide to forego it.

Adequate sleep primes us for learning and decision making.  When we don’t get enough sleep, we simply don’t have the same ability to focus and concentrate.  Our thinking can be fuzzy and our ability to process information becomes impaired, reducing our ability to learn and negatively impacting our decision making abilities.

Sleep makes you smarter.  While you sleep, your brain processes memories and solidifies learning from the day before, through a process known as ‘consolidation.’  Although scientists still don’t understand the process, they do know that neural connections, critical to memory, are formed when we sleep.

Sleep improves your mood and your emotional control.  Ever notice how much more likely you are to snap at someone or to say something that you will later regret, when you are tired?  You’ve probably noticed that when you are better rested you are in a better mood, but sleep also gives us an important edge in emotional control as well.  Not getting enough sleep makes us more likely to laugh uncontrollably, cry unexpectedly, or lose our tempers appropriately.

That’s not all. Studies have also shown that an adequate amount of sleep each night boosts immune function, increases motivation, and increases metabolism.

The case is clear.  Consistently getting a good night’s sleep will improve your mood, your memory, your cognition, and your health.  With the New Year approaching, getting your z’s might be the best resolution you can make.