You may realize that sleep is key to productivity, but research also points to its importance for leaders.
Your sleep routine may be downright essential to your work and the success of your business. Eti Ben Simon, a neuroscientist and postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley's Center for Human Sleep Science, points to several studies that track sleep's impact on productivity, including one by Christopher M. Barnes and Nathaniel F. Watson published in February 2019 that looked at how sleep can help maximize employee effectiveness.
Team leaders' lack of sleep could even diminish their perceived charisma in the eyes of their employees, according to another study by Barnes, along with Cristiano L. Guarana, Shazia Nauman, and Dejun Tony Kong, published in May 2016.
"A good night's sleep is important for every system in our bodies from our brains to how we're motivated, to how we deal with stress, all the way down to our immune response--which is very relevant right now," says Ben Simon.
Sleep "is tied to optimal functioning," says Aric Prather, an associate professor at UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, who has studied the subject for 15 years. Sleep plays a role in emotional health and physical health and is critical for a strong immune system, he says.
So, how can you get your best sleep? The experts have some suggestions:
Set a routine
Prather and Ben Simon each cite the importance of a more or less fixed sleep schedule, seven days a week. That means going to bed at the same time every night, especially when your body begins to signal that you're tired, and waking at the same time every morning.
To ensure you have a good transition into sleep, create a wind-down routine, Prather suggests. "Cue your body that night is here," he says. That may mean turning off your devices, stopping your intake of news and information, and taking a shower or bath to ramp up your parasympathetic nervous system and bring on sleep.
"The goal is to let your body let go of all the engaging and angsty things that happened throughout the day," he says.
"It's important to keep regularity in the hours you go to sleep and wake up," says Ben Simon. "When sleep corresponds to a rhythm, I like to give the analogy of riding your bike with the wind at your back: When you're in sync with your rhythm, the quality of sleep is better."
Don't toss and turn
Waking up in the night is normal--especially when worries may intrude on good sleep--but tossing and turning in bed as you try to fall back to sleep hinders restfulness.
"If you're not able to sleep, and you're awake for 20 or 30 minutes, you want to get out of bed," says Prather. Tossing and turning have the potential to counter the conditioned arousal that lets your brain and body associate your bed with sleep. To reset yourself, Prather suggests getting out of your bed. "Try to wind yourself down again. Read, watch a little TV. Something until you begin to feel sleepy again and then get back in bed," he says.
And try not to worry too much. Anxiety and sleep are bidirectional, Ben Simon notes. "If you've had a bad night, you're likely to have a worse day," she says. "If you have a bad day, you're likely to have bad sleep. If you get better sleep, that's enough to reduce anxiety the next day."
Make sleep a priority for yourself and your company
This is a big one for founders and company leaders to keep in mind: The way you help structure your employees' days can set the tone for their nights.
"I would recommend that employers let employees know sleep is valued here," says Ben Simon. She suggests not sending your team emails late in the evening with the expectation that they will respond immediately and not setting meeting times so early in the morning that they might cause your team to lose sleep. "The most important thing is to prioritize sleep," she says.
Supporting your team's ability to get good sleep can have a huge impact on your company's culture and bottom line.
"I do a lot of work on sleep and the immune system, and we really have shown fairly conclusively that when people get, say, less than less than six hours of sleep per night on average, they are significantly more likely to get a cold," Prather says. "It's very, very clear that sleep is a crucial piece to protecting you from infectious disease."
That has been important for long time, but now it's even more essential--and potentially lifesaving.