Business Leadership and the Importance of Sleep

 

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In today’s business world, many top executives are severely shuteye-deprived. According to a McKinsey survey of more than 180 business leaders, four out of ten respondents claimed they don’t get sufficient sleep at least four nights a week. This is bad news for the business world. As studies show, sleep deficiencies often have a substantially negative impact on executive performance and ultimately a company’s bottom line.

The Center of Executive Functioning

The cornerstone of business leadership is executive functioning, or the ability to get things done. Executive functioning relies on the higher-order cognitive processes indispensable to business leadership. Among these is: problem-solving, reasoning, organizing, and planning. Orchestrating all of these crucial functions is a region of our brains called the prefrontal cortex.

Business leaders rely heavily on at least one (and usually more than one) of the executive functions regulated by the prefrontal cortex. While many sectors of the brain can deal with sleep deprivation (up to a point), the prefrontal cortex is a notable exception — virtually defenseless against prolonged wakefulness. When sleep is curtailed, the effectiveness of this brain region plummets. In contrast, non-prefrontal processes such as motor skills fare much better in the face of reduced slumber.

Sleep Deprivation and Problem Solving

By way of example, let’s see how sleep deprivation affects one of the key executive functions — problem-solving. As is universally-known, sufficient sleep is crucial for a slew of cognitive skills needed to effectively solve problems. Among these skills is insight, pattern recognition, and the ability to innovate.

One of the McKinsey studies demonstrated that adequate slumber facilitates the ability to develop new insights. Participants who had a good night’s rest were “twice as likely to discover a hidden shortcut in a task as those who didn’t.”

Sleep power, however, is not restricted to nighttime. The same survey revealed that “subjects who napped “after struggling on a video game problem were almost twice as likely to solve it as subjects who had remained awake.” These finding strongly support previous studies that identified a link between creative thinking and dream sleep.

Promising Solution for the Sleepless

While business leaders battle with sleepless nights, they may be sitting right under the solution – literally. The conventional incandescent bulbs typically illuminating home and office emit only blue ‘daytime’ light waves. Good during the day. But they often ‘fool’ our circadian rhythms and other bioprocesses at night. Exposed to prolonged incandescent light (as most people are), our bodies often stay awake while simultaneously yearning for shuteye. Night after night.  Compounding this problem is their tendency to work late on laptops, which also emit harmful blue light rays.

Business leaders may want to consider biologically-correct LED bulbs as an alternative to current home and office lighting. By generating the proper balance of daytime and nighttime illumination, LEDs sync with our circadian rhythms that regulate natural sleep patterns.

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