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Henley Leadership Group Blog

Effective Leadership: Do You Get Enough Sleep?

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Reading Arianna Huffington’s The Sleep Revolution prompted me to reflect upon my coaching clients.

A question I have asked them for years is, “How many hours of sleep do you average a night?” I ask because I know the impact poor sleep habits has on leadership effectiveness.

More often than not, I see eyes roll or hear groans of regret about their lack of sleep due to heavy workloads, living during an era of being available 24/7 on demand, and the new global work week. Hectic work schedules combined with heroic efforts to remain an engaged and productive family member with some small slice of social life often means that rest gets sacrificed. It has become the professional badge of honor to be exhausted, and it comes at a great price to both leaders and their organization.

 I reviewed a random dozen of my client engagements from this past two years, each of whom had received a 360-feedback report on their leadership. The leaders with the overall highest ratings, especially by their direct reports and peers, also reported sleeping an average of 7-8 hours per night. Additionally, they happened to be the ones who felt the most fulfilled in general. Now, this is a small and rather unscientific sample, but let’s back that up with a recent article from the Harvard Business Review that cited a Harvard Medical School study of senior leaders. It found that 96% percent reported experiencing at least some degree of burnout. One-third described their condition as extreme. There is now a large body of evidence on the bi-directional relationship between sleep and stress: a lack of sleep creates heightened emotional reactivity, and the experience of stress results in a worse quality of sleep. In addition, poor sleep has been found to be a major predictor of reduced engagement at work.  

 Reduced engagement leads to poor decisions, weakened relationships and loss of connection to the strategic vision of the organization. So what to do, when it seems impossible to get more sleep? Just start small. You might experiment with just one or two of these ideas at first.

  1. Turn off all electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
  2. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier one week, 30 minutes the next.
  3. Read ANYTHING but work related material at the end of the day, including emails.
  4. Avoid alcohol or do not have more than one drink at night.
  5. Take a 15-minute nap or at least lie down and close your eyes for twenty minutes a couple of times a week.
  6. Avoid caffeine after 2pm.
  7. Stretch for 5-10 minutes before getting into bed.
  8. Listen to music, a brief meditation tape or favorite podcast to disengage and wind down.
  9. Take short 5-minute breaks several times a day to reduce accumulated stress.
  10. Stay in bed an extra 10 minutes. Do not get out of bed in the morning until you are present to gratitude about at least one thing.

You will feel better and those who work with you will too!


 Van Dam, Nick and Van der Helm, Els. (2016, February 16) There’s a Proven Link Between Effective Leadership and Getting Enough Sleep   https://hbr.org/2016/02/theres-a-proven-link-between-effective-leadership-and-getting-enough-sleep.

Van der Helm, Els and Walker, Matthew.  (2009 September) Overnight Therapy?  The Role of Sleep in Emotional Brain Processinghttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2890316/