We live in a world that values action, and in many circumstances that’s just as it should be.
Put your shoulder to the wheel … Do or die … Be the change you wish to see … Go and make … Be doers of the word … Carpe diem … Go to sleep.
Wait, what was that last one?
That’s right: Go to sleep.
At times, the most important action we can take as leaders is to sleep.
In some circles, leaders consider it a badge of honor when they brag about how little they sleep. They stay up late, arise early, and do little but work in between. But studies regularly reaffirm that adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night.
Such studies typically talk about the value of adequate sleep on your health as an individual, but your lack of sleep also can have an adverse effect on those you lead. Researchers from the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, recently confirmed that a lack of sleep makes us less likely to help others. Their study, in fact, indicates a lack of adequate sleep makes us less helpful on three significant levels: with other individuals, in groups, and as a society.
Well, that about covers it all, right?
It makes sense, of course. When we don’t get enough sleep, we’re more irritable. The distance between everyone else’s actions and our last nerve becomes extremely short. We’re either more confrontational or we withdraw. Our silence might keep us from contributing good ideas; our words, on the other hand, might come across harsh and be counter-productive.
When we’re tired, we instinctively think about how we feel, not about the needs of others, so we are less likely to serve others. And leadership is not about us but all about making a positive difference in the lives of others.
There’s a reason, however, why so many consultants start their first meeting with a leader by asking, “What keeps you up at night?” It’s because there’s always something to keep us up at night. The economy. Labor shortages. Political unrest in the country that sources our critical supplies. Stakeholder demands. A pandemic. Competition. Potential mergers. The list goes on, and it includes all the personal issues as well as the professional challenges.
What can we do so that we ensure we get the rest we need – and that others need us to have?
I’ve lost plenty of sleep to my worries throughout the years, so I’m hardly an expert on this topic. But here are some things that have worked for me.
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First, be proactive.
- Try to eat earlier in evening. Studies show it’s good to avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before you go to bed. I’ve found it’s helpful to have at least two hours between dinner and bedtime.
- Disconnect from your screens. Experts recommend turning off screens (phones, tablets, televisions) at least 30 minutes before going to bed. I know people who intentionally don’t have a TV in their bedroom. As one put it, “The bedroom should have two purposes. One is for sleeping and the other isn’t for watching TV.”
- Exercise during the day.
- Create a quiet, relaxing atmosphere in your bedroom with low or no light and cool temperatures.
- Try not to work late into the evening. This has never been hard for me because I don’t work well after about 9 p.m., so, other than when dealing with a true crisis, I seldom work late. Instead, we should do things to take our mind off work like meditate or connect with things that make us happy like reading, writing, doing photo albums, praying – whatever, just as long as it’s not work.
- Find your rhythm and keep to it. For me, going to bed early and getting up early is my rhythm. I work better in the morning when my mind is clear. You might be just the opposite. But it’s important to know your rhythm and stick to it as much as possible.
Second, react with a plan.
What about when you wake up at 2 a.m. because the two-headed dragon was just about to roast you with fire or because a nagging thought about work won’t let you go back to sleep?
Many people I know get up and read, although the experts suggest not doing anything that involves light exposure, especially electronics. Some people I know make use of these times by praying, especially by using a listening prayer. In other words, they silently say, “God, what do you want to tell me?” and then they listen. Other people sing calming songs in their head or make up fictional stories or reminisce about a favorite vacation – anything to shift their focus off the bad dream or the pressing problem.
The main thing is to make a good night’s sleep a priority. You will feel better and everyone around you will reap the benefits, as well.