How Bad Sleep Affects Leadership With Time

Have you skipped a vital meeting lately because you took a teeny-weeny nap? Maybe or maybe not. Not all of us make napping a habit. But, have you noticed any reduction in your productivity lately?

Then this article is for you.

As a leader of your team or organization, do you prioritize sleep and other healthy practices?

That can be difficult because there might be a problem to fix or a project whose deadline needs to be moved up. Something is always turning into a priority over your sleep and general health. You promise yourself you’ll look after it later, but that later never comes, does it? You’re always ‘on call’ or expected to be, and as a result, you might think – I don’t need sleep, or I can manage with a few hours of sleep.

McKinsey’s quarterly report on the organizational cost of insufficient sleep talks precisely about this problem. In their survey of 196 business leaders, 46% believed they didn’t need sleep to function better. Yet, they contradicted themselves by saying they also thought their organization should have more sleep education programs.

Here are some highlights of their study.

The Problem

A lack of sleep tends to deteriorate primary visual and motor skills but not to the extent that higher-order mental functions are impaired.

This means things like memory and learning, problem-solving capabilities, attention, concentration, and creativity are hampered.

You may think you are making good decisions or functioning at your best, but you may not be. Previous studies by McKinsey have found a strong correlation between leadership performance and organizational health.

How do leaders suffer because of a lack of sleep?

Bad sleep affects leadership blog


Numerous studies have shown that sleep can lead to discovering shortcuts in tasks or getting new ideas. Even the most famous and creative people used napping or sleep to get creative ideas. One study found that creative thinking can take place during dream sleep as the brain connects unrelated information and you stumble across a solution. 

Problem-Solving skills

As a leader, you need to consider many different perspectives before making a decision. McKinsey’s report talks of the before and after effect of sleep on our ability to assimilate information. It’s easier to learn or remember new things after sleeping or a nap. By extension, sleep can improve your decision-making ability because you can better connect emotional responses by involving financial rewards and punishments.*

Next time you have important emails to send regarding critical decisions late at night, consider sleeping on it. You might get a better perspective on things in the morning. 

Building relationships

Did you know a study found that a lack of sleep can affect a person’s ability to trust others? It has to do with empathy. We cannot understand people’s emotions or pick on the subtle queues that indicate a person’s feelings. Think about it, you’re irritated, groggy, and quick to anger when you get too little sleep. So how could you display more empathy? Employees have reported they feel less connected to the team or the goals set when their team leader, boss, or manager has had a poor night’s sleep. 

The core of leadership is about connecting with people, and when we can’t even do that because we thought – I don’t need sleep, what is the point? 

It’s time to throw in your capes and start taking sleep more seriously. What can you do to sleep more? 

At the organizational level 

  • Change company policy – including a system that switches off work emails between a specific time.
  • Reorganize to distribute the handling of messages or support to other members. Setting up multiple teams that can answer customer support calls can give each team enough time to rest.
  • Starting programs to stress the importance of sleep on health and performance.
  • Having nap pods or designated nap time. In which case, the pillow napEazy can come in very handy for a nap at your desk.
  • Taking breaks, vacations, holidays, or just a day off to reconnect and recharge.
  • Making it daily practice to get 8 hours of sleep. This means you need to switch off all your devices by evening and make clear you’ll only be available in the morning.
  • Use technology to set reminders or automatically switch off. I’ve tried this, and it really helps draw boundaries and reminds you to care for yourself. 

Following a set routine that involves a good diet, fixed sleeping and waking hours, and mealtime makes all difference. 

* McKinsey’s Quarterly Report On The Organizational Cost Of Insufficient Sleep

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