Taking Sleep Seriously

The weight of evidence is so strong that we really have to kill off all the macho, heroic myths around sleep deprivation. I remember that, years ago, there was much talk about how Margaret Thatcher only needed four hours of sleep each night when she was Prime Minister of Great Britain. I’ve also seen similar claims related to Tony Blair.

In my student days, it was almost seen as a badge of honour when you put yourself in the situation to ‘pull an all-nighter’ to get n assignment completed and handed in with minutes to spare the next morning.

Now I’m older, and hopefully a bit wiser, i can see that it was a basic equation between prioritising time for what was necessary/ important or what was fun, immediate and wanted. I don’t think I can really remember a single occasion when a night spent working and getting no sleep wasn’t the result of bad judgement and lack of self-control/ regulation rather than genuine volume of responsibilities and necessity.

I’ve been writing for some time about how sleep deprivation is exacting a toll on students and limiting their learning potential. here’s a very well written and presented article from McKinsey & Co that looks at another perspective – the organisational costs of insufficient sleep, especially when leaders are making decisions without getting enough shut-eye;

McKinsey – The organisational Cost of Insufficient Sleep

The article sets out a very strong case that the implications are so great that this must really matter to organisations. Rather than perpetuating cultures where people are recognised and rewarded for appearing to make personal sacrifices by going without sleep, organisations need to see that they potentially pay a heavy price when people are operating in less than effective states. In other words, they have to educate their workforce and help them to develop positive and healthy habits. Two days ago, i wrote about the Netflix culture. Interestingly, that was very clear that there should be n rewards or recognition for people according to how long they spend on the job or how much time they put in to work. Recognition should link purely to outcomes and the link to time should be de-emphasised.

I think it’s often quite hard to change such habits in adulthood. As a result, the right habits need to be established from an early age. This means;

a) Developing good routines and patterns around sleep and bed time for very young children,
b) Not treating staying up late as a special treat (too many do it with junk food as well).
c) We should teach our children about the basics of the science related to sleep, so that they understand why it’s important (not just tell them to do what we say),
d) We need to set good examples to our children about getting a healthy amount of sleep, including things like switching off devices an hour before bed. When we are at a less than optimal level of effectiveness due to lack of sleep, we should acknowledge this to our children.

In the past, we really didn’t know just how harmful these sleep issues could be. Ignorance is no longer an excuse, so we must change our ways.

%d bloggers like this: