Why Sleep is a Leadership Secret Weapon

What if I told you you already have access to the best supplement for your life and leadership? Meaning you already own it and it’s free. Your only cost is NOT taking advantage of it. Would you be interested? 

If you’re like me (and most people I know), you’d jump at the chance to improve your life. 

That’s why I’m willing to share what I think is a secret weapon for effective leadership: getting enough sleep.

Sleep As a Luxury

Many folks feel like sleep is a luxury, an option they can implement as needed. That’s why people say things like:

  • “I can get by on 3-4 hours of sleep a night.”
  • “I’ll sleep when I die.”
  • “I guess I’m just permanently tired.”

I know I fit into the “sleep as a luxury” crowd. Certainly, I recognize how important sleep is — but that hasn’t helped me prioritize it. My excuses are lengthy, and I’m often tired because of them. Like many people I know, I’ve viewed sleep as a “supplement” and have seen it like a healthy protein shake or vitamin water, trying to add a little sleep to my routine when I’m taxed, sick, or overtired.

I’ve found, however, that this isn’t good enough. That’s why I’ve made “getting enough sleep” one of my primary goals for 2024. 

How Much Sleep Do We Need? 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend seven to nine hours of sleep for those in the 18-64 age range. And SingleCare’s recent survey found that 44% of Americans get less than the recommended amount of sleep. 

But my doctor brought up a good point. In my annual checkup in December, he asked, “Alex, the AVERAGE person gets under 7 hours of sleep per night. Do you want to be average?” 

He then gave me examples of high achievers and how much they sleep. For instance, he shared that Lebron James sleeps an average of ten hours per night and naps for one to two hours every afternoon. 

Now, I’m a die-hard Michael Jordan guy, but maybe I want to sleep like Lebron? 

How Much Sleep Do You Get?

Do you know how much sleep you’re getting? 

Do you know how much sleep you need? Here’s a clue: this isn’t what you think — it is what your doctor, your significant other, and the team you lead believe you need. 

What are you going to do about it? 

After my doctor’s visit, here’s the sleep routine I committed to. Feel free to use it as a starting point for customizing your sleep routine.

My goal for 2024 is to be in bed (a controllable variable) for 8+ hours on 80% of nights or 292 days of the year. That means on a typical work night, I’ll be in bed from 9:30 p.m. until 5:30 a.m. 

My weekend goal is not to allow my go-to-bed time to move more than an hour later, and the same goes for my wake time. The reason for this is to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm. 

I aim to do this 80% of the time because I acknowledge that some days won’t be typical — I regularly travel for work and have early wake-up calls and other obligations. That said, I’m committed to being the guy that others poke fun at for leaving work dinners early. I feel confident that my health gains will far outweigh any good-natured teasing. 

The Early Results

As I write this post, I have a few weeks of my “new” sleep schedule under my belt. And even though it’s been a relatively short time, I’m already seeing many positive results:

I was able to stay calm and focused when a personnel issue arose. The extra sleep provided the necessary reserves to handle the added stress. I didn’t break out with canker sores (a normal response for me), nor did I feel the need to medicate with an extra glass of wine at night. 

I’ve been showing up at home with more energy for my wife and kids. I want to point this out because going to bed a little earlier is also a sacrifice for Sarah. Yet, she sees a difference in me. With more sleep, I am more help for her. 

Besides noticing an uptick in my physical health, I’ve also seen an uptick in my clarity and creativity. For example, I was able to craft the message I delivered at our holiday party in 50% less time than it usually takes me to create a message.  

One Last Word of Encouragement 

I will close with one more thing my doctor told me about sleep: Certainly, robbing yourself of sleep today is something you can do. But you must realize that, like a business, you’re simply trading in future earnings to stay “alive” today. Eventually, you will become “sleep-poor” and have no reserves to cash in. 

With this in mind, what do you lose in going to bed earlier or sleeping a little later? As I’ve found, there’s much to gain.