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When Leaders Are Tired

There is an epidemic of tiredness in the UK. We don’t always help ourselves either. Working right up until it’s time to go to bed. Not taking short breaks in the day. Being glued to Facebook or plugged into smart devices. We are so busy (or think we are) that we don’t rest properly.

But being tired is bad news for living and leading. Bill Clinton said “Every important mistake I’ve made in my life, I’ve made because I was too tired.”

The problem with tired leaders is that they are not fully themselves, and that can cause real problems. Think of those late-night emails or weekend calls that set the tone of always on / always available / always working / no down-time / work-first.

Being tired reduces our performance, harms our relationships, ruins our moods, hurts our brains, and makes us less ethical.

Our state of sleep deprivation impairs our judgment, and can bring out the worst in us.

  • Insomnia is significantly associated with lost performance at work. A 2016 study concluded that sleep loss costs the UK economy more than £40 billion annually.
  • Regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes – and it shortens your life expectancy.
  • Most of us need around eight hours of good-quality sleep a night to function properly – but some need more and some less.
  • As a general rule, if you wake up tired and spend the day longing for a chance to have a nap, it’s likely that you’re not getting enough sleep.
  • If you seem to catch every cold and flu that’s going around, your bedtime could be to blame. Prolonged lack of sleep can disrupt your immune system, so you’re less able to fend off bugs.
  • Lack of sleep can also make you put on weight
  • Chronic sleep debt may lead to long-term mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
  • Studies have suggested that people who usually sleep less than five hours a night have an increased risk of having or developing diabetes.
  • Long-standing sleep deprivation seems to be associated with increased heart rate, an increase in blood pressure and higher levels of certain chemicals linked with inflammation, which may put extra strain on your heart.

When it comes to healthy sleep, the evidence is powerful:

When you sleep more than the bare minimum, the volume of grey matter in your brain increases, which is linked to improved psychological health. During sleep, the brain clears out harmful waste proteins that build up.

Cheri Mah, a researcher at the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic, investigated the impact of sleep on the brain. She asked eleven college basketball players, over three seasons, keep a normal schedule for a few weeks and then take naps for five to seven weeks and try to get ten hours of sleep per night (and eat carefully).

  • All eleven players increased their performance.
  • Three-point shooting and free throws increased nine percent.
  • The players reported less fatigue and better moods.

Mah said: “The findings suggest that these athletes were operating at a sub-optimal level. They’d accumulated a sleep debt....... It’s not that they couldn’t function—they were doing fine—but that they might not have been at their full potential.”

The importance of sleep has been noted in sports, business, the military, and beyond. General George S. Patton said: “Tired officers are always pessimists.” Nobody wants to follow a tired leader. They can become cynical, since their weariness literally wears them down. They settle for sub-optimal decisions or courses of action because they judge them in the hazy heat of the moment to be “good enough”.

Leaders need not just better and more sleep, but also a healthy rhythm of self-care, including mindfulness, meditation, exercise, and regular breaks.

We can learn some good sleep habits from successful leaders. Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Eleanor Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and John F. Kennedy all took regular snoozes during the day.

As leaders, we must take the time to prioritise and organise so we get proper rest. We need to manage ourselves, setting appropriate boundaries, investing in ourselves and our health, and working smarter, not harder. Our business and our team depend on it.

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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2018 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.

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