For many years, I used to brag about how little sleep I needed. 5 or 6 hours was plenty; 7 was a luxury. I even once blogged about the benefits of resting as an alternative to sleeping.
I’m not alone.
Many (perhaps even most) of my colleagues / acquaintances have told stories about getting very little sleep while still doing their jobs. It’s become hard to find someone who will admit to needing 8 hours of sleep per night. It’s almost like sleeping has become a cultural taboo – akin to goofing off.
For me, the height of sleep-deprivation mania came when someone justified this collective delusionment by quoting Napoleon:
Six hours’ sleep for a man, seven for a woman, and eight for a fool.
There’s lots to dislike in the quote – including the obvious slight to women. But it got me thinking. I like to sleep. And I’m more alert, more productive, and happier when I sleep more.
There’s scientific evidence to back this up.
Dr. Charles Czeisler, Harvard Medical School Senior Physician, conducts research to understand the “neurobiology of the human circadian pacemaker.” In more common English, the biology of sleep. His research shows that even small amounts of sleep deprivation impact our performance and even our health.
Great athletes and other performers already know this. In the now-famous study showing deliberate practice is needed to master a skill, sleep was the second most important factor in improving performance. The top performers slept an average of 8 ½ hours per day, including a 30-minute afternoon nap. This is nearly 2 hours more than the average American.
In “Why Great Performers Sleep More” Tony Schwarz writes:
When researchers put test subjects in environments without clocks or windows and ask them to sleep any time they feel tired, 95% sleep between seven and eight hours out of every 24. Another 2.5% sleep more than eight hours.
That leaves only 2.5% of people who really need less than 7 hours of sleep every night. To me this effectively debunks the myth that people can operate well on little sleep. And it’s a wakeup call – pun intended – to business leaders everywhere.
If you want to improve your organization’s performance, you need to pay attention to whether your employees are getting enough sleep.