Sleep on It: Why Rest and Restoration Are Essential to Successful Leadership

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Have you encountered a tired leader?  Have you ever noticed your own behavior or responses to your team when you are tired?  Short fuses, unexpected tensions, and distracted activity can be result of a lack of rest and a hindrance to the communication skills and culture you are seeking to build in your organization. 

Numerous studies show that sleep is critical to our health and wellness. Sleep researchers and health educators agree, making plans to get a good night helps us function at our best. In a recent article, Karen Engle, Ed.D. of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension observes: “Sleep, like diet and exercise, is important for our minds and bodies to function normally. In fact, sleep appears to be required for survival. Rats deprived of sleep die within two to three weeks, a time frame similar to death due to starvation.[1]

Yet many leaders continue to work long hours and late at night to get their work done.

Why?

Because it is a habit.

As Dr. Donna Arand, Clinical Director of the Kettering Medical Sleep Disorders Center in Dayton, Ohio points out: “The body loves conditioning. It functions well with regular schedules.”  When we are out of the habit of regular sleep we acclimate to this new normal, and a shorter night of rest becomes our routine.

Leaders, I’d like to challenge you to think of your rituals of rest and restoration as even more important that your workout routine.

So, if you want to get your sleep habits back on track, here are some new habits to try and get your sleeping well again.

1.      Go to bed at the same time every day.

As Dr. Arand pointed out, the body loves conditioning. So let it know when it is time for bed!

2.      Have wind down rituals at the end of the day. 

Have you noticed that it is easier to rest when you are on a vacation? We are already wound down at the end of the day, because we didn’t get wound up with work. Our bodies need time to transition from wakefulness to sleep. The rest of the time we need to help ourselves wind down by giving our bodies some cues that it is time to rest and sleep. How do you wind down at night and get ready to head to bed?

3.       Sleep in a dark room.

“Even the light from the alarm clock can fool the brain into thinking it’s not sleep time,” says Dr. Carol Ash, medical director of Sleep for Life in Hillsborough, N.J. Leave the phone in another room. The blue light is not good for you after 7 pm anyway!

4.      Stay away from caffeine and alcohol.

I know, you don’t want to hear me say this, but take a break from the coffee and alcohol for 3 weeks and see how you feel. You will get a better night’s sleep and have more energy throughout the day. I promise.

And finally,

5.      Get up at the same time every day.

This habit of waking and resting will give your body great cues about when to get going and when to wind down.

With some intentional planning you can get your sleep schedule back on track. And if you need some motivation, try this quip from sleep researcher Dr. Carol Ash:

 “People think you can make up for bad habits,” says Dr. Ash. “But it’s like
only brushing your teeth on the weekends.”

Enough said!


[1] Karen Ensle, Ed.D, RD, FADA, CFCS in https://njaes.rutgers.edu/sshw/message/message.php?p=Health&m=74