Motivational speakers, CEOs and political leaders frequently claim that they neither need nor get much sleep. For example, Tony Robbins reportedly gets only four to five hours a night, Richard Branson only five to six hours and Donald Trump a mere three and four hours a night.
Similar claims are common universal throughout the business world. Think about it. How many times have you heard "I'm working so hard I rarely have time to sleep" from a coworker? Or said it yourself?
We've created a business culture where constant "sleepybragging" (i.e. humblebragging about how much sleep you're not getting) encourages everybody to get as little sleep as possible.
How did this happen?
According to the neuroscientist Matthew Walker, Ph.D. author of the just-published NY Times bestseller Why We Sleep:
"Everyone is desperate to seem busy because we equate busy-ness with importance and one way to demonstrate that you are desperately busy and therefore important is to brag about how little sleep you're getting or how little sleep you get the chance to get." (Quote from an interview on the Every Little Thing podcast.)
Sleepybragging is dangerous because it trains your brain to think about sleep as if it's a behavior that leads to failure. According to Walker, the latest research proves that virtually every major fatal disease is directly and causally linked to not getting enough sleep. Here are just some of the health problems that sleepybragging encourages:
- CANCER. According to multiple studies, if you get less than 6 hours of sleep a night you have a 40% greater chance of contracting cancer compared to people who get 7 or more hours. Studies of cancers in mice show that lack of sleep doubles tumor size.
- HEART DISEASE. If you get less than 6 hours a sleep a night, you have a 45% increased risk of developing heart disease or dying from a stroke or a heart attack. Even a single week of getting four hours a night can propel your blood sugar to pre-diabetes level.
- DEMENTIA. Numerous studies have shown a causal connection between chronic lack of sleep and early onset of Alzheimer's, which can manifest itself in an inability to take in new information or inability remember simple facts, such as your date of birth.
The absolute worst thing about sleepybragging (and the behavior it encourages) is that it increases the likelihood that a friend or family member will emulate both the bragging and the behavior. This is especially true for your children, because you might unlock a genetic tendency towards insomnia (which tends to run in families.)
There are plenty of great articles on the Web about how to get more sleep. However, all that great advice will remain ineffective or useless if we continue to treat eight hours of sleep as if it's a sign of laziness or failure.
With that in mind, here's what you can--personally and immediately--to start changing the culture:
- Stop your own sleepybragging. If you must brag about sleep, brag about how much you're getting... and how much better you feel and sharper you are now that you're getting enough of it.
- Call bullsh*t on other sleepybraggers. When people brag about how little sleep they're getting, say something like: "Yes, I can tell you haven't been getting enough sleep because the quality of your work has suffered."
- Complain when gurus give sleepybrag advice. Rather than emulating motivational speakers who recommend minimal sleep, leave comments explaining that they're doing very real damage to the health of their fans and clients.
This is serious stuff. Last summer, I nearly died of a heart attack and major open heart surgery. I contracted major, serious heart disease even though I am relatively young, have a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and am of normal weight. The ONLY risk factor I had was... chronic lack of sleep.
While I can't say that my near-death experience was a direct result of the toxic sleepybragging that's crept into our business culture, it certainly didn't help that I could pretend, and credibly explain away, my lack of sleep as being part of a success plan.