When was the last time you slept for 8, or maybe 7 hours? If that was yesterday, good on you!

With boundaries between work and other aspects of our life getting blurred, many of us are pressed for time, and wish for more than 24 hours in a day! We try to squeeze out that extra nugget of time from other important activities, like sleep. But if you are aiming at becoming a successful, influential leader, then this might thwart your chances.

The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine conducted a study, which concluded that lack of sleep in employees makes an organization vulnerable to safety and productivity gaps. This leads to fatigue related productivity losses of $1,967 per employee annually. Taking this forward, neuroscientists dug deeper into the brain’s functioning in sleep deprived states, and its effect on one’s leadership skills. Let’s explore some findings.

Fewer hours of sleep reduces our REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep – the deepest stage of our sleep cycle occurring every 90-minutes. Here our brain helps process the day’s events. It converts them into permanent memory, and the learned information/ skill is stored as muscle memory. Dr. Jessica Payne of University of Notre Dame, says, without sufficient REM sleep, we won’t remember information or access it when needed. Hence, we limit our ability to have new insights and make important connections. This in turn affects our decision making and creative abilities.

Moreover, lesser REM sleep also causes more stress. People are more likely to only remember negative images and experiences—leaving us working with a skewed perspective while evaluating a situation. We are more prone to have negative moods and emotions, which narrows thinking processes.

It is also proven that the prefrontal cortex malfunctions, when a person is sleep deprived. This part of our brain directs what psychologists call ‘executive functioning’ – problem solving, reasoning, organizing, and planning. McKinsey’s research on 189,000 professionals validates that top-performing leader usually have four types of leadership behavior, including result-driven work, the ability to solve complex problems, finding diverse perspectives, and supporting others. All these functions are performed by the prefrontal cortex!

Driving this point further, research on brain performance shows that if a person works after being awake for 20 hours, their performance is equivalent to someone with a blood alcohol level of 0.1%, which is legal inebriation. Think heightened emotions, tangled thought processes and faulty reasoning. Not something a leader wants!

And finally, McKinsey sleep specialist Els van der Helm surveyed 180 business leaders, and discovered that the brain is more likely to misinterpret facial cues and overreact to emotional events when tired. People tend to express more negative feelings and are less likely to fully trust someone else. That’s a steep decline in a leader’s social abilities.

Thus, if you still feel you don’t have time to rest, think twice. Recently, Harvard Medical School shared that 96% of senior leaders feel burned out to some degree, with one-third describing their burnout as extreme. Only sleep can fix that. So set your alarm straight!

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