Having ordered iPhone 6 Pluses the night before and being concerned they were "too big," at breakfast at a diner in San Francisco I asked someone how he liked his--and the conversation turned to fatigue science. You see, the person I met was Sean Kerklaan, CEO of the perfectly named company Fatigue Science. He described to me that his company is doing to corporations what Billy Beane did to baseball: using hard data to transform performance and safety by teaching companies how to mitigate employee fatigue. In fact, Fatigue Science even works with pro sports teams in the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB to help manage athlete fatigue.

Fatigue is costly: think how much Wal-Mart might shell out for their sleep-deprived driver who recently crashed into comedian Tracy Morgan's limousine, permanently injuring him and killing his friend. Sleep debt--i.e., the effect of chronically insufficient sleep--literally impairs not just motor skills but thinking and decision-making identically to being drunk. Sean has the data to prove it, he tells me.

Chip, CEO 1-2-3: Business leaders who are sleep deprived, might as well be drunk in the boardroom, right Sean?

We know that regularly getting 5 or 6 hours a sleep a night can eventually have the same impact on one's ability to process information, think logically and make quick decisions as someone who has had a few drinks, which wouldn't be the most optimal state to show up and run a business in.

Tell us about your target market.

We sell exclusively into the enterprise market and provide objective fatigue analytics to professional sports teams (NBA, NFL), heavy industries (oil, gas, mining) and research. While consumer wearables are trying to figure out how to measure and process sleep data, we have over 20 years of US military research in sleep, fatigue, and the effects of both on human cognitive performance--all of this is behind our technology.

What would be different about a business leader who gets eight hours per night of quality sleep, versus those who get by on less?

We read all the time about these high-performers who claim to need no more than 4 or 5 hours of sleep, but there are a number of challenges to that, scientifically. If you're constantly working in a state of fatigue, it can actually be quite difficult to self-assess the extent of your fatigue and even more difficult to realize your own performance impairments. Business leaders prioritize their 7-8 hours of regular nightly sleep are likely to be more balanced and productive. It's not a silver bullet, you can't just sleep in on the weekends and think it will make you perform better during the week, but good consistent sleep will pay dividends that extend even beyond your work-life.

Why are people in such denial? What is it that makes people so resistant to the absolute, incontrovertible, fact that we need a lot of sleep?

I think we are living in a world right now, where we are always plugged in and there's this sense that there are not enough hours in the day to manage all the demands of work and life without sacrificing sleep. So we just push ourselves through the week and we get by and start to think '6 hours a night is fine'.

What got you so interested in fatigue that you started a company?

When I was in my 20′s, I had a great career in finance but was constantly experiencing this feeling of grogginess and needing a nap. I had no idea that my nightly sleep was suffering due to an undiagnosed sleep disorder called sleep apnea. After arriving at a successful treatment and finally getting some good sleep--It totally changed my life and I shifted my career focus. I originally started a company which offered treatment products to individuals with sleep apnea, which eventually led me to Fatigue Science, where we are addressing a number of causes of fatigue at an operational level and have the opportunity to make a much larger impact.

You're a busy CEO, like so many of CEO-1-2-3 readers. How much sleep did you get last night, and tell us about how what you do to get good sleep.

I worked 14 hours yesterday from 7am through to 9pm non-stop and I was in bed by 9:45pm. I set rules for myself including no TV or computer time at least 45 minutes before I go to bed. Also, I wake up at 6am, so I try to be in bed by 10pm. On the nights I don't make it to bed on time, I try to get up a bit later. Showering before bed is also part of my routine, the shower brings up the body temperature and as it lowers to regulate, it triggers melatonin production which will help you fall asleep.

What are three things you know that CEOs should know?

#1 Be smart (and safe) about how you plan your travel and travel for your team: plan sleep on the plane to line up with the time you should sleep in your next time zone. So it's day time at your destination while you are flying, don't sleep on the plane so you can hopefully get to sleep at night in the next city.

For safety reasons, don't pick up a rental car after taking an all night flight--take a taxi to your hotel and encourage your employees to do the same. If there is further travel required by car, arrange the travel in such a way that it allows for sufficient sleep prior to driving, even if it means arriving a day early to catch up on sleep at an airport hotel.

It's amazing how little we think of safety sometimes, like driving when we are jet-lagged and exhausted. That's really important. What's the second tip?

#2 Make healthy sleep part of workplace culture--Whether your employees are operating machinery or sitting at their desks crunching numbers, fatigue will impair their ability to make smart decisions and directly impact your organization's bottom line. Make sure you are providing workers with sufficient sleep opportunity outside of work and facilities that are appropriate for your work environment.

What do you think of offices having nap rooms?

Nap rooms in an office might send the wrong message and encourage variable sleep hours that don't make up for restorative nightly sleep, whereas sleeping quarters at a facility where people are working shifts give employees the opportunity to catch some sleep before they get in their cars and drive home.

Interesting! OK, one more tip?

#3 Lead by example! CEO's should challenge themselves to get 7-8 hours of sleep for a couple weeks and see the difference it makes in their productivity, overall daily function and sense of well-being. Good, consistent sleep can take even high performers to the next level.

So how can the readers get in touch with you?

Published on: Oct 31, 2014