Could a good night’s sleep lead to a better Brexit deal?
For the past three years, Brexit and its bewildering state of affairs have dominated news headlines both in the UK and abroad. Now, with less than two weeks to go until the 29th March deadline, it looks like the fate of the British people will be shaped by the late-night, last-minute decisions of overworked, underslept members of Parliament.
Given the complexity and immense scale of the matter at hand, Brexit is bound to have taken a heavy toll on the wellbeing of the decision-makers involved. How can we be sure, therefore, that they are physically and mentally up to the task of making the right decisions for the nation at large? And, could a few hours of extra sleep lead to a better deal for everyone?
How much do leaders sleep?
It is a unanimous fact in science; good quality sleep is on par with diet and exercise to fully prosper and thrive in life. So it’s surprising to see many of the world’s leaders, those who are in charge of ensuring their country lives a long and prosperous life, boast of how little sleep they get, as if this makes them seem more capable somehow.
Mimicking, perhaps, the behaviour of leaders past (Margaret Thatcher famously claimed to get by with just four hours of sleep every night), many leaders continue to deprive themselves of the most powerful performance enhancer known to man.
Although it may be an attempt to seem hard working, they are actually putting themselves at the risk of burnout and sabotaging their decision-making ability. Unfortunately, this group of bad sleepers includes the PM, who has been reportedly spearheading the Brexit negotiations whilst getting a mere five hours of sleep every night.
The good news is that we might be on the brink of a change in attitude towards sleep. A recent study looking at the sleeping patterns of 35,000 leaders found that the higher up in an organisation, the more sleep people actually got. On the one hand, one reason for this may be that with seniority comes delegation, which is bound to free up time for those higher up the ladder, allowing for more sleep. On the other hand, however, it also seems that senior executives have begun to realise the benefits of a good night’s sleep on their performance and their ability to lead.
Sleep more to be a better, healthier leader
We have all felt on edge, anxious and distracted after a poor night’s sleep. But did you know that a night of sleep deprivation affects brain function to a similar degree as alcohol intoxication? Chronic sleep deprivation can have an even more serious effect, with research showing that potential consequences include: poor judgement, greater impulsivity, reduced decision-making skills, and an increased risk of dementia and heart disease.
Even though sleep may seem like a dormant process, it is actually a highly active time during which our bodies are undergoing a series of important processes that help optimise our physical, mental, and cognitive health. Outlined below are some examples of the ways in which better sleep can help make a better leader out of everyone!
To be a great leader, good memory is an important ability. From facts to deadlines to names, a good leader relies on their ability to remember all the things that matter when it comes to doing a good job.
There are three steps required for something to become a memory, all of which are dependent on good quality sleep. First, one needs the ability to acquire a memory which is the process of learning or experiencing something new. However, a sleep deprived person will experience difficulty when trying to do so, as their ability to focus and concentrate will be greatly diminished.
Secondly, the memory needs to “stick, a process called consolidation which occurs in the hippocampus. As we sleep, the hippocampus replays the events of the days and are then stored across different, interconnected brain regions. But with a lack of sleep, these connections significantly weaken, affecting our ability to remember things in the long term.
Last but not least, you need to able to recall the memory, which if sleep deprived, would be difficult as the storing process may not have occurred.
Great leaders are great decision makers. We depend on leaders to make the right choices, especially during a challenging time with great uncertainty and change. But what lies behind one’s ability to choose the better course of action is their ability to balance emotion, reason, and logic.
However, research has shown that compared to normal sleepers, those with chronic sleep loss such as insomnia sufferers, are much more likely to engage in risky behaviour. Imaging studies have shown that these sleep-deprived participants have reduced activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for decision making. This area of the brain guides us to make decisions maintaining links between previous experience and the associated emotional state which we’ve associated such experiences with.
It should, therefore, go without saying that good quality sleep is a very important step towards making sound decisions and avoiding potentially disastrous outcomes.
Good communication is at the core of good leadership. Whether in an effort to motivate, negotiate, encourage or train others, being a strong communicator is key. However, even a single night of reduced sleep has been shown to increase levels of stress, anger and anxiety in response to low-stress conditions.
This is because when you are sleep deprived, your amygdala, the emotional part of your brain becomes hyperactive. In a study that investigated the ability to read emotions, participants who slept less interpreted neutral facial expressions as fearful. The inability to recognise another's emotions correctly can not only lead to poor judgement but can cloud your decisions as well as cause problems in relationships both at work and at home.
Overall, it is very clear that sleep deprivation has a disastrous effect on all the prerequisites of a strong leader. Good sleepers are not lazy. A minimalistic sleep routine should not be glorified but should instead be recognised as an uneducated habit. By depriving themselves of sleep, people are putting themselves in serious danger of deteriorating mental and physical health and putting the rest of the country at risk…
Therefore, sleep better to lead better. Here you may ask, how you can turn all this knowledge into sustained behaviour change. Follow our 5 Sleep Essentials and ACT article, which provides some simple, practical, research-backed guidance to ensure that you get better rest to help you become a more successful leader.