Leaders: Don’t Neglect Your Sleep

Not long ago, I had a student struggling to pay attention and focus. I asked about their sleep habits. The student responded by stating that “one must be willing to sacrifice sleep in order to be successful.” So, I inquired about the source of this misguided belief, and the student informed me that it had been shared in a leadership group on LinkedIn.

Let me say that leadership advice that encourages sacrificing sleep is highly misguided. The quote in question comes from Eric Thomas. He states that “You can’t sleep. Broke people sleep. You got be willing to sacrifice sleep, if you sleep you may miss the opportunity to be successful.” That might sound good to some, but this type of pep rally leadership advice is not only unhelpful but can also be quite harmful. In fact, I would say that the opposite is true.

Sleep plays a crucial role in maintaining a leader’s overall health and well-being, which in turn affects the unit or organization they lead. Moreover, it directly impacts goal achievement. This article will explore what I call “The Four M’s” of sleep and leadership: Mammal, Mind, Motivation, and Metabolism.

M1 – Mammal: As mammals, we need sleep to maintain our overall health and well-being. Studies have repeatedly shown that a lack of sleep can weaken the body’s immune system, making it more susceptible to infections. Chronic sleep deprivation has also been linked to an increased risk of hypertension, heart attack, and stroke. I am not a physician, but I am guessing that a sick or dead leader might impact effectiveness to some degree.

M2 – Mind: Limited sleep can lead to difficulty concentrating, memory problems, decreased decision-making ability, irritability, anxiety, and depression. It also slows down reaction time and problem-solving abilities and negatively affects the brain’s plasticity and ability to learn new things. For leaders responsible for making important decisions, these attributes do not seem the most desirable.

M3 – Motivation: Fatigue and lethargy make it difficult to summon the energy to engage in tasks or activities. A lack of sleep can also make it more difficult for the body to cope with pain, resulting in increased pain sensitivity. This can further reduce motivation and make a leader less likely to engage in activities. While it is easy to follow a leader that cannot or does not move, it is not exactly something anyone would call “inspirational.

M4 – Metabolism: Sleep deprivation can disrupt the hormones that regulate appetite, leading to increased hunger and cravings for high-calorie foods. It can also interfere with the body’s ability to process glucose, increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Chronic sleep deprivation has also been linked to an increased risk of aging-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease. None of this sounds very good, either.

Now, imagine an overweight and lethargic person who does not seem to be able to think clearly and is always sick. Is this the person you choose for your next big opportunity or the person you want to lead your organization to greatness? Does this person sound like someone who is going to be overly successful? On both counts, probably not. So, we should probably not encourage the behaviors contributing to this end.

Leaders! You need to prioritize sleep for the sake of your own health and the health of your organization. Similarly, organizations need to encourage behaviors that contribute to better quality sleep and leadership. Moreover, organizations must avoid hiring motivational speakers who provide such terrible advice.

The good news is that sleep is easy to achieve and maintain with a proper diet and a little exercise. Specifically, adequate magnesium, sodium, calcium, and potassium levels can help promote deeper and better quality sleep, and getting enough physical activity contributes to the need while keeping the body in peak working order. Again, prioritize health. If you go down, you are no good to yourself or your team.

My advice is to ignore pep rally leadership advice. When leaders prioritize sleep, they will be better equipped to lead themselves and their organizations to greatness. Remember, better quality sleep contributes to better quality leadership. In fact, let me provide a quote that you can live by:

“You have to sleep. Great leaders sleep. You have to be willing to sleep, if you don’t sleep you may be too tired to seize the opportunity to be successful.”

Dr. David M Robertson

It is crucial to critically evaluate the advice received. That’s why I incorporate both leadership and health science in my leadership development program. This ensures a comprehensive approach to effective leadership, considering all factors that impact it.