The afternoon slump: why a good night's sleep will make you a better leader

Thursday, March 31, 2016 - 17:51

The pressure is building. The company you work for is rolling out a new product line, and the commencement date is closing in quicker that you had anticipated.

It seems like time is flying by. Your phone won't stop ringing and your inbox is filled to the brim. You finally check the time and it is 1.30 am.

Do you a) forgo sleep and attempt to conquer all that sits before you or do you b) climb into bed and wake up refreshed ready to tackle your workload?

Is sleep the cousin of death or the father of success?

The caffeinated, sleep-deprived executive in you will no doubt have chosen option a. However, is this a healthy and sustainable practice - or does a healthy night sleep lead to better productivity? And what do careworn executives outwardly project to their employees?

Sleeping is a pathway to success

The feeling a good sleep gives you is fantastic; you can do anything, beat anybody and overcome a number of challenges. Is there anything better than a good night sleep? As a leadership training course will tell you, while anecdotal evidence does have its value, science has shown that sleep does much more than make you feel better.

Researchers from the the Indiana University School of Medicine found that there have been a huge number of studies that show a correlation between cognitive performance and sleep deprivation, the oldest dating back to 1896.

It is their conclusion that sleep deprivation leads to a series of effects on cognitive function. Cognitive performance - such as memory and decision-making - declines as a result of a lack of sleep.

As tactical and strategic thinking are essential to managers and leaders, reducing the amount of time you spend sleeping can have a major impact on the success of your actions. However, simply organising time for sleep may not be the only action required to lift a leader's performance.

Blue light has been known to cause a number of problems for those that use devices regularly. Harvard reported that researchers from the University of Toronto found that the secretion of melatonin (the hormone that helps you sleep) was significantly suppressed by blue light.

With the continuing use of fluorescent bulbs and LED lights, workers around the world are being exposed to to greater volumes of blue light. As this can suppress the hormone you need to sleep, simply scheduling sleep is pointless unless you reduce your exposure to blue light.

Sleep (mis)management is more than an individual pursuit

While many would have you believe that energy management is an individual issue, in today's world, where hyperconnectivity forces employees to be on call 24 hours a day, it is a topic that organisations need to address.

Research from McKinsey & Company shows that leaders are aware of this. While 46 per cent feel sleep deprivation has very little impact on leadership performance, almost half of respondents believed that their organisations asked them to be switched on for too long and expected them to answer emails and phone calls.

While a culture of responsiveness is important within an organisation - as it helps develop rapport among a number of stakeholders - it can also lead to lower productivity and an ineffectual workforce.

If leaders are able to find viable and sustainable solutions to sleep deprivation, not only will it lead to better decision making and organisational outcomes, it will also allow executives to lead from the front.

Acting in a way you want your employees to act is surefire approach that can lead change and offer workers a strong role model to follow. Beginning with yourself is not only the best place to start, it is also a healthy place to start.