Sleep On It: Improving Your Bottom Line Through Better Sleep

Nearly half of executives struggle with sleep deficiency, according to research published in the Harvard Business Review.

At times, it seems more crucial to accomplish all the day’s tasks, staying up to spend more time on email or prepare for a presentation rather than sleeping.It may be that chronic stress has made sleep elusive. Many struggle to balance their own well-being with the demands of a big job and commitments to family. But perpetually losing sleep can reduce productivity and effectiveness in all parts of one’s life.

Good sleep habits not only have personal benefits but can also help your company’s bottom line.

The importance of sleep

Sleep-deprived workers struggle with problem solving, long-term planning, effective decision-making and supporting others. These are considered some of the most crucial skills for any executive, based on McKinsey and Company’s survey of over 189,000 employees in 81 distinct organizations.

In addition, prolonged sleeplessness can cause mental impairment similar to drinking alcohol. After 20 hours of wakefulness, the body reaches a level of impairment similar to a 0.1% blood alcohol level.

Not to mention, lack of sleep can have damaging effects on personal health. Ongoing sleep loss can cause weight gain, decrease immune system function and increase risk of disease. It can also exacerbate other conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and depression.

How to get better sleep

Even with an understanding of these personal and professional benefits, getting to sleep is often a challenge. To help get a better night’s sleep, consider following these tips backed by research:

  • Follow a sleep schedule: fall asleep and wake up at similar times to prevent an irregular sleep pattern. If you cannot control when you fall asleep, at least adopt a regular time to wake up.
  • Increase sunlight exposure during the day to keep your body’s natural circadian rhythm healthy.
  • Engage in moderate aerobic exercise on a regular basis. As little as 30 minutes a day of this type of exercise (walking, biking, light jogging, etc.) can help improve sleep quality. However, exercise can be stimulating for some people, so it is best to exercise at least two hours before bedtime to allow the body and mind to relax.
  • Create a sleep sanctuary: use cozy fabrics for sheets and bedding, limit sleep distractions in your bedroom and remove any blue light (such as TV and computer screens) or external noise.
  • Find some relaxing tasks that will help you transition to bedtime. Just as you would lull a child to sleep with a book, you may want to identify some tasks that help soothe you. Some people relax with a warm bath, a calm book, light stretching or soothing music.

You’ll also want to:

  • Limit caffeine, alcohol and tobacco consumption. These substances, especially when consumed before bedtime, can cause sleep interruptions and make it difficult to relax.
  • Exercise restraint with food and liquids at night to limit the need to get out of bed for bathroom breaks.

If you’re really having a hard time getting restful sleep (and do not have any special considerations that prevent you from doing so), you may opt for the bold strategy of sleep restriction. Limit your time in bed to a specified period, say 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. every night (but not less than 5.5 hours). Then gradually increase your time in bed by 15-30 minute increments every week or two, until you reach an optimal amount of sleep. This process helps to limit unrestful time in bed and can be effective in producing better quality sleep.

You may have already bought in, using do not disturb on your phone, maintaining a regular sleep schedule and having a comfortable sleep environment, yet you still can’t get to sleep. Much like any other professional task, sleep is a process. It will not suddenly become easier overnight, but you can improve over time.

If you find yourself struggling, reach out to a medical professional or sleep expert. For example, in preparation for their 2017 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers hired Dr. Chris Winter, a sleep scientist. As Winter noted, an effective relaxation strategy can help retrain individuals who are taught to quickly go from 0 to 60 go back down from 60 to 0.

Creating a sleep-positive workplace

Beyond these personal changes, there are also small steps you can take to create a more sleep-positive workplace:

  • Discussing your lack of sleep to finish work can generate competition amongst employees. So instead of saying that you stayed up all night to finish an assignment, say that you used your time and deep focus.
  • Rather than hosting late-night work events that center around alcohol (a sleep deterrent), consider an extended lunch or an outdoor picnic.
  • If you know you have a deadline that will keep you late at work, notify your team that you’ll be sleeping in or budgeting a long lunch so that you can squeeze in a nap the next day. (Just don’t let it happen too often so that you can maintain a consistent sleep schedule.)
  • You may also consider developing a transparent schedule around your on and off hours. For example, you may identify specific hours, such as 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., in which you respond to questions, work on tasks and stay engaged. This way, there is less of a question regarding your availability and less of a need to feel always on.

Remember, you are not a machine. How you sleep can have a significant impact on your personal and professional health. Prioritize it thoughtfully.

Please note that I am not a medical professional and this does not constitute medical advice. Do not pursue any radical sleep strategies without consulting your doctor.