Leadership and Sleep
Hi everyone and welcome to this episode on leadership and sleep. My name is Christine Hansen and I'm your sleep expert and coach to CEOs, Executives, and successful Entrepreneurs.
Today we're going to talk about a topic that's close to my heart, especially as we have Elon Musk, whom I adore, who’s a visionary and has fantastic ideas, having this tough war with Arianna Huffington on the topic of sleep. This time I am absolutely with Arianna on this one. It is worrisome to me to see that people, who are as visionary and as so modern like Elon Musk, still falling into that trap of thinking that sleep is something that you can sacrifice. It is also worrisome that in his mind his company isn't working without him not sacrificing sleep, which for me is a model that's not sustainable.
So today I'm going to into why so many successful leaders still think that sleep is something that they can sacrifice and why they shouldn't. I'm going into the science of why that is the case and I'm also going into new research that has really, really gone in depth on specifically the impact of leadership, when it is impacted by sleep. The latest research is less than a week old now. (This was recorded in August 2018).
Let's first start with this whole notion of sleep being a commodity that you can use as you see fit. A lot of people say it started with Thomas Edison, which was 130 years ago, when sleep research was practically nonexistent. He was obviously not a fan of sleep. Inventor of the light bulb and he claimed only to have slept 4 hours a night and apparently made his workers also sleep only 4 hours so that they could work for him.
Now after that, sleep deprivation was considered as something very manly for a long time. It was seen as something that was connected with success in business. Psychologists suddenly started to say, you didn't need quite as much as it was thought before. Basically, not to sleep was a badge of honor. So, you had two buckets here. You had people, who were saying, I don't need sleep, I'm not a wuse. All of us that need a lot of sleep are just big babies. And you had another bucket, where people were like, well, if I want to be successful I will have to sacrifice something and the easiest thing to sacrifice and the most invisible kind of thing was sleep. They thought, okay, I have to pay my dues, which is just a thought that we have a lot of the time. I really have to get into doing another episode just on that, but it's kind of this price that you have to pay, in order to be successful and for them it was sleep, having to work harder and then having to sacrifice something. So that is what it was like for a long time.
Now having said that, I want to use a quote, which I adore by Oxford University professor Russell Forster. He said that “We are the supremely arrogant species; we feel we can abandon four billion years of evolution and ignore the fact that we have evolved under a light, dark cycle and long term acting against the clock can lead to serious health problems”. I adore that! We are arrogant enough to think that we can beat something that nature has obviously intended and it's necessary. I repeat it over and over again, but mankind is the only species that voluntarily deprives itself of sleep, which is mind blowing to me.
On the second note though, the serious health consequences are without a doubt something that a visionary person, someone who wants to build a legacy, someone who wants to lead, someone who wants to set an example should be aware of. Isn't it your goal to be here on this planet as long as possible? To have an impact as big as possible? To be here, healthy, sharp, present as much as you can? Why would you then sacrifice sleep, which has been shown to have an impact on everything. Research is here. It's up to date. It's contemporary. Sleep is having an impact on your brain. It's really difficult to go into a flow; meaning into alpha and delta waves when you are super stressed. When you are sleep deprived, you are always running on high beta waves, which is a flight and fight kind of state. The flight and fight state is making you always see the negative, which is keeping you anxious and frustrated, instead of being in an alpha state, where you are creative and focused. It's also having an impact on your organs.
Sleep deprivation has been linked to heart disease, to Alzheimer’s, to insulin issues, basically everything, diabetes, obesity and it's also been associated with permanent brain damage in experiments that they've done with rats. So, this is serious stuff.
Now, there are three major reasons why I think leaders might be interested in how sleep is impacting them. A lot of people have this idea that leadership has to do with your mind and with your brain, with your intellect and what you create and what you translate in your message.
The first thing that is impacted by sleep, is your homeostatic drive. Here's the truth: You are not in control, as to when you are tired and how tired you are. The more you are awake, the more your body is pushing you to go to sleep and it will win. If you are behind the wheel, when your body wins, and it just is 3 seconds of sleep that it wants to sneak in and you have an accident, it's on you and it will win, because that's what it does. It's your homeostatic nature. It's ingrained, there's no way around it. So that's the first thing. That's not smart. If you are someone who wants to lead and lead by example, I would hope so.
The second thing is that you have a circadian rhythm. A circadian rhythm is your biological clock and we are all different. Some of us are have our peak in the early morning hours and some of us like me, we are night owls. We actually like to work later in the evening and maybe even at night. You cannot go against your circadian rhythm. You can try to optimize it a little bit with melatonin and maybe a little bit of caffeine; but if you go against your circadian rhythm, if you get up early in the morning because you really want to force it to be creative, you are basically having a car that's been outside in subzero degrees and you know when you switch it on, it takes a while to warm up. On top of that, it has been shown that the brain, that helps you memorize things, is not really working if you are trying to go against your circadian rhythms. Your work is futile, sorry to say it like that. That's also something that we really, really have to think about. You go with your circadian rhythm and the more sleep deprived you are, the worse it's going to be if you try to go against it.
The third thing is that you're trying to sustain your ability to be focused and to be creative, is going to be less and less, the less you sleep. Simply put, if you have more days where you don't sleep enough, it's going to be much more difficult during the day to maintain your cognitive function. On top of that, because you stress your body to perform and perform, you are, as I mentioned before, in this high brain bitter wave mode, which is something that stresses your body out. It's an emergency kind of reaction and it's completely unproductive for sleep. If you go to bed and you've just been in that mode, it's going to be very difficult to go to sleep. So even if you're super tired, having to go from these high bitter frequencies into alpha, which is the beginning of sleep and then you go into theater and delta sleep, which is deep sleep; it is going to be really, really hard and it's going to get harder and harder. So, to get out of that cycle is absolutely crucial in order to get your function back during the day.
Historically, what I find really interesting, is that any kind of studies that have been made for leadership, have said that leadership or bosses are either the one or the other. They are good bosses or bad bosses. Studies that went more in depth have shown that there is a correlation with their sleep patterns and not surprisingly, bosses who didn't have enough sleep, were not as charismatic obviously; but they were also a lot harsher, abusive and even unethical. I found that absolutely astonishing! On top of that, it's also been shown that their subordinates have been affected by sleep in different ways. It has been shown that leaders, who lead by sleep deprivation have created a culture in their subordinate team, where they in turn also got less sleep, which means the complete productivity of the whole structure has suffered. This has been studied multiple times. I think one of the last studies was done in 2013. It's not just that subordinates were not treated as well as they should be, but also the productivity of the subordinates has been impacted, as they started to sacrifice sleep, perform worse and their bosses actually said that they were starting to perform more unethical as well. That is a big, big, big red flag!
In the most recent study published in August 2018, they looked at leaders, who did not have enough sleep and the immediate impact on a new team. Not surprisingly, they were considered to be more impatient, irritable antagonistic, which resulted in worse leaderships and relationships. Researchers thought that was going to change over time, as the team got to know their leader a bit better. However, that didn't happen. Even after three months the relationship was still on a bad foot and it didn't diminish. Sleep deprivation was just as damaging at the end of three months, as it was at the beginning. However, the leaders were completely unaware of the negative dynamic. This is incredible! How are you supposed to lead if you're not sleeping and you probably don't even know it?
This is huge, and it really goes to show that sleep has to be a factor, if you want to be a visionary and if you want to be a top leader. It's a nonnegotiable!
The last two last points I want to make are:
Even if you want to motivate your people as much as you can, even if you try to be as patient and everything, your message will not come across as well, if you haven't slept than if you got enough hours of sleep. They did studies where they had people giving motivational talks. Some of them had enough sleep and some were purposefully sleep deprived. The result was that those, who were sleep deprived performed 13 % worse than those who didn't. That's a lot! You can have the best coach to help you get to the top, but if you didn't sleep enough, that 13% are going to impact your speech, which is huge!
The last thing, which is kind of tongue in cheek, is that research has also shown that older executives are actually the ones that are getting the best sleep, which I find hilarious. Through interviews with those people, it came out that they've learned from their mistakes. They were looking at different biological markers, but in the end what they found, was that it was experience and learning from their ignorance (and arrogance?) that they've come to the result that they shouldn't have sacrificed their sleep. Now sleep is one of their top priorities! I find this hilarious in a way.
If you are a leader, if you have a company that is structured with people, where you are worried that your KPIs, your bottom line is impacted, that your team building, your whole atmosphere is suffering, because people just don't jive, don't work well together, you have to consider sleep and if you want help in that department, get in touch with me. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will come to your company or we do it remotely and we will fix this.