I am sure most professionals would agree that there are serious adverse consequences to not having a good night's sleep during the work week. Some of these consequences include difficulty maintaining focus while on the job, slowed reaction time, and a sharp decrease in motivation, among other consequences (1). There is an inverse relationship between the ideal amount of sleep we should be getting and our chronological age. On average, babies need between 14 – 17 hours of sleep, but as we grow older, our need for sleep decreases. In adults, adequate sleep averages 7 to 9 hours per night (2, 3). This is a necessity for working executives.

Although many people know this, not everyone can stick to it. Why is that? Based on the results of a study, between 30% and 40% of the adult population sleeps less than 7 hours per night. Common excuses from entry-level executives to organizational leaders like “I have emails to send" and “I still have unfinished tasks" or "the board meeting's tomorrow” are quite common. There will always be justifications for not sleeping adequately regardless of gender or role. 

Senior Executives: Sleep Quality Is Particularly Important

This might surprise you. Many top executives insist on getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post, who is renowned as a "sleep evangelist" and whose conviction in the benefits of a good night's sleep propelled her to write a book called "The Sleep Revolution", swears by 8 hours of sleep a night, at least ninety-five percent of the time. The CEO of Carlsberg Group, Cees’t Hart was quoted as saying that when he sleeps less than 7 hours because of travel, he performs less optimally as a consequence (4).  Researchers observe that sleep is critical to productivity and work performance. Sleeping less than 7 hours has its own consequences, and research also shows a positive correlation between sufficient sleep and happiness (5) in workers.

CONSEQUENCES OF SLEEP DEPRIVATION AND THE REPERCUSSIONS ON QUALITY OF WORK

In the growing culture of hustling that seems to have been largely popularized and propagated by a hard-driving segment of the millennial generation, sleep deprivation it seems, has tragically become a badge of pride to be publicly displayed on social media channels by way of memes along with captions like "crushing it", "good things come to those who hustle" and "hustle 80 hours a week…".

As much as this ethos of hard work promotes self-sufficiency and contributes to an individual's sense of purpose and overall well-being, and ironically, contrasts sharply with the other reputation of the millennials as being spoiled, lazy, entitled and hence in need of "adulting", when taken to extremes, can have long-term physical and mental health consequences. Studies point to trade-offs like performance deterioration along with decline in creativity and inspiration, eventually setting in when we deprive ourselves of sleep (6).

With prolonged sleep deprivation, one may also experience lability of mood and an eventual degradation of executive function that may interfere with the decision making or the problem solving process. We know from research that it's during sleep that the brain works to regulate hormones, store memory, enhance attention, and improve body tissue function. With that perspective in mind, it's all the more critical to have sufficient sleep consistently, especially if you are an organizational leader or working towards becoming one.

Avoid Negative Consequences of Poor Sleep Hygiene

Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit and general partner at VC firm, Initialized Capital calls attention to the extreme form of working long hours at the expense of sleep "hustle porn" during a 2018 European Web Summit in Lisbon. Ohanian happened to be speaking from experience. He admits to compromising his health by working long hours in the early days of starting Reddit, and consequently developed depression. Ohanian has become somewhat of an evangelist for mental health, judging by his reminder to his audience to "…not succumb to hustle porn."

If you are at risk of succumbing to or have already succumbed to hustle porn, it's not too late to turn the ship around. Begin by making a commitment today to sleep between 7 to 9 hours a night. Here are some practical tips you can apply to help you stay the course and making this a habit:

Stop Late Afternoon Intake of Caffeine

For many executives, coffee drinking is virtually a mandatory ritual at various times during the workday, and especially so when you don't get enough sleep. Studies show that the effects of caffeine in the body can last for as long as 8 hours. Caffeine can prolong sleep onset latency or the onset of sleep, reduce total sleep time, shorten deep sleep time, conversely lengthen light sleep time and perceived sleep quality. Whereas the awake state is when optimum acquisition and performance of learned tasks take place, sleep is critical to memory consolidation or the storing of what you learn during the day into long-term memory (7). Therefore, avoid caffeine consumption, especially after 5 p.m.

Avoid Electronic Equipment Before Going To Bed 

silver laptop on bed in a dark room
Keep away from electronic gadgets before bedtime.

Limit the use of electronic devices before going to bed. Experts recommend ceasing the usage of electronics 1 hour before going to bed, and that includes television, mobile phones, and laptops. Stop sending emails or even watch the news on mobile devices or television. Electronic screens emit blue light rays that will suppress melatonin production that helps helps sleep onset. Start by cutting back on your use of electronics by increments of 15 to 20 minutes earlier if going cold turkey is too much of a stretch.

Establish A Bedtime Ritual For Consistency

Keep to a consistent sleep-wake schedule every day, even on weekends. Having a consistent sleep schedule will also reduce the risk of insomnia if you do it consistently. An effective way of setting a consistent and regular schedule is to incorporate a routine or bedtime ritual. One ritual you could consider incorporating, especially if you have unfinished business and are feeling emotionally overwhelmed, is to write a to-do list for the next day, but in addition to that, perform a "parking" exercise in which you put down or "park" all of the outstanding tasks and challenges you have not yet completed or resolved, thereby giving yourself permission to put away worrying thoughts that rob you of rest and revisit them at a later time.

Another ritual that can calm a chattery, over-active mind is do a few minutes of mindful diaphragmatic breathing. You could start by either sitting in an upright position, preferably propped up by a pillow underneath you or lie flat on your back, gently closing your eyes and just engage in deliberate slow, deep breathing through your nose, filling up your abdominal cavity fully as you inhale and exhaling through your mouth. Another ritual that is supported by research to be efficacious in calming the mind is the practice of mindfulness meditation (8) which can be done in tandem with diaphragmatic breathing to encourage the onset of sleep by scanning all major parts of your body for stress and consciously set loose and release stress build-up.

Create A Comfortable Environment For Sleep

You should ideally separate your bedroom from your work area as a way to condition your mind to associate your bedroom as a place for rest. In addition, because sleep is very important for work performance, a room that is completely dark will help improve sleep quality. Experts say a dark room sends signals to the brain so yhttps://sleepcouncil.org.uk/perfect-sleep-environment/ou can sleep and rest. Experts also recommend a comfortable temperature to maintain the quality of your sleep, above 16 °C and no greater than 25 °C.

Exercise

a woman running with sunset on the background

Some might argue you that if I don’t have enough time to sleep as it is, where do I find the time to exercise? Scientific evidence suggests that regular exercise (9) actually helps improve the overall quality of sleep, reduces stress and alleviate anxiety – which might actually contribute to greater productivity and being more effective at what you need accomplished. Aim to exercise an average of 2-3 times a week for 20-30 minutes to get the most out of your exercise regimen. On a cautionary note however, exercising is linked to an increase in the level endorphins in some people, which in turn raises the level of arousal or wakefulness. Hence, it's a good idea to avoid exercising within 1-3 hours of your bedtime.

If you value an effective workday, take it from the reformed experts who have previously succumbed to "hustle porn" and prioritize sleep as a strategy to get more out of your day. If you have ideas or techniques that can enhance sleep quality, I would love to hear from you.