Why is sleep like Popeye’s spinach for CEOs?


The average person in the UK gets 6.5 hours sleep each night [source: BBC]. This stat probably doesn’t surprise you. When a deadline is looming and the pressure is on, it can be tempting to cut an hour or two from your sleep to carry on working.

On top of this is the impression that many top executives survive on a bare minimum amount of sleep. In a typical workweek Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer is reported to sleep 4-6 hours a night, while Donald Trump gets by on just 3-4 hours [source: Business Insider].

This approach might seem logical. After all, how can you compete if you’re asleep? But not getting it can have negative consequences in both the short and long term for your health and happiness. It can also make you less responsive and productive at work.

A growing body of research now demonstrates the impact of what not having enough sleep can have on our bodies and minds. Research conducted at Surrey University discovered that when volunteers reduced the amount of sleep they have by one hour a night (from 7.5 to 6.5) around 500 genes were affected. This included increased activity in genes associated with diabetes and risk of cancer. What is also interesting is that the opposite happened when the volunteers had an extra hour of sleep [source: BBC].

How much sleep do we actually need?

We’ve all heard that getting in our 8 hours is important. But it’s a bit more complex than that. The amount of sleep needed varies between individuals. Rather than aiming for an arbitrary target, it’s more important that you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to face the day ahead. If you find yourself having to reach for the coffee or energy drinks before you feel able to function in the morning, it could be time to review how much sleep you are getting.

What are the problems with not getting enough sleep?

Missing out on sleep doesn’t just mean that you feel a bit tired the next day (although that is one of the consequences). You may not realise how many problems are associated with not getting enough sleep. They include:

  • Irritability
  • Weight gain
  • Slow reactions
  • Increased risk taking
  • Inability to learn
  • Memory problems
  • Unhappiness and depression
  • Increased stress
  • Increased risk of diabetes and cancer

While you sleep, it is a time for your brain to work through the information and memories that you have from the day, sorting and storing them as appropriate. By not getting enough sleep, your ability to process what is going on and make decisions is negatively impacted. Getting enough sleep means that you’ll wake up clear headed and ready to take in more information the next day.

When it’s busy and stressful at work, sleep can seem like a luxury. But ensuring you get enough sleep is actually an essential step to making sure everything at work remains on plan and under control.

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