Good leaders make good sleep a priority | Opinion

ZZZZZ: Better sleep, better leadership.
ZZZZZ: Better sleep, better leadership.

There was a time when people used to boast about their long work hours and how little sleep they needed. Some wore it as a badge of honour.

There is strong research that shows sleep deprivation inhibits good decision-making and, therefore, good leading. In fact, suffering from lack of sleep can be the equivalent of being drunk on the job. We wouldn’t stand for that, so why is it OK to be tired at work?

In his book, Essentialism, Greg McKeown says that former US president Bill Clinton admits that every mistake he made in office was a result of him being sleep deprived. McKeown says that to be at our best we need to ‘protect the asset’, and that asset is ourselves. A key way of being at our best is to get enough sleep, yet plenty of us burn the candle at both ends.

Harvard Medical School Professor Charles Czeisler, a sleep medicine expert, in his article Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer, claims that going without sleep for 24 hours or a week of sleeping four or five hours a night induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1 (twice the legal limit to drive a car). While some executives are driving themselves to work long hours, thinking they are serving their organisations, it is likely they are making bad decisions and letting their people down.

A recent Australian study claimed 40 per cent of employees aren’t getting enough sleep. The data from Workscore shows that employees who are getting the recommend seven to nine hours a night have greater well being, enjoy better work-life balance and have more energy than those sleeping less. As leaders, what should be doing better when it comes to sleep? 

First, making sure we are getting enough. Between seven and nine hours is recommended. Make it a priority. 

Second, making sure that we switch off from work. Most us have work as a place we go to, as well as home. We should have a ‘third place’ that is a buffer between the two. Some examples are the gym for a workout or the beach or bush for a walk. We should also ‘unplug’. Don’t check phones and devices for emails and messages after a given time and certainly not during the night. 

Finally, encourage your employees to follow these good practices.

Sleep well, lead better.

Greg Mowbray is a leadership speaker, author, mentor and consultant.  Contact him at