I can sleep when I am dead!?
I love sayings and quotes because these words of wisdom really get to the heart of the matter – and we can learn a lot from them. That said, I don’t see any wisdom in this quote from the filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder that you are bound to have heard before. On the contrary: It is simply wrong! Getting enough sleep and the right quality of sleep is essential for our health – and it allows us to function properly. Chronic sleep deprivation is detrimental to our health and costs the economy billions.
Many top managers boast about how little sleep they need. For example, the former Credit Suisse CEO Brady Dougan only sleeps four to five hours per night. And Apple CEO Tim Cook starts his day at 3.45 a.m. Even Napoleon, who slept a mere four hours per night, claimed that only fools and the sick needed more sleep. However, they were or are all wrong: On average, adults require seven to eight hours of sleep per night (depending on which study you read) in order to recuperate properly. Unfortunately, we don’t always follow this recommendation – in fact, we are sleeping less and less.
Over the last 20 years, the average amount of sleep per adult has decreased by around one hour – with consequences for our health and our ability to function effectively. Several years ago, Jens Acker from the Clinic for Sleep Medicine in Zurzach Bad explained to the Swiss newspaper NZZ that: “Only around 5% of people can manage on less than six hours of sleep – any anything less than five hours is biologically unhealthy.”
Sleeping makes you smart and productive
Why is that the case? Being asleep does not mean you are inactive. Even though your heart rate and blood pressure are reduced, the body remains highly active. We consume the same amount of energy while sleeping as we do when we are awake – that energy is simply used for other purposes. The brain processes what has happened during the day and breaks down harmful waste products – in other words, it clears up and cleans up. Your memory transfers data from your short-term to your long-term memory, and new connections between brain cells are generated, enabling us to recognize how things are interrelated. This facilitates learning. Through sleep, we strengthen our mental abilities and are more focused. In other words: Sleeping makes us smart and productive. In addition, sleeping allows our immune system to work at full power. During sleep, a large number of substances are released in the body that boost our immune defenses.
The facts speak for themselves – but unfortunately, people living in our part of the world do not really enjoy good quality sleep. The Swiss health survey carried out in 2017 revealed that 27.9% of men and as many as 40.4% of women have difficulty falling asleep or sleeping through the night. When they are facing challenges at work – which is not a rare occurrence – as many as 81% of all German managers experience sleep disorders.
‘Drunk’ from sleep deprivation
What exactly are the adverse effects of chronic sleep deprivation?
- The harmful waste products that accumulate in the brain cannot be eliminated sufficiently, which makes it harder to process information, concentrate and solve problems. This also impairs our creative abilities.
- Sleep deprivation makes a person less emotionally stable and less relaxed. As a result, they tend to be more moody – as you will no doubt have experienced yourself after a bad night’s sleep.
- The Clinic of Neurology at the University of Zurich found that chronic sleep deprivation causes people to systematically take greater risks than usual – which is not ideal in a business context.
- The reduced functioning of the immune system leads to more infections.
- In addition, chronic sleep deprivation can have a serious long-term effect on your health, such as causing heart problems, strokes or diabetes.
- A lesser-known fact is that a lack of sleep causes us to gain weight because we eat more and burn fewer calories due to our metabolism slowing down. Muscle mass also decreases.
- It is estimated that fatigue is a contributing factor in around 20% of serious traffic accidents.
- People who sleep less than six hours per night run a significantly higher risk of suffering a burnout.
After just one week of insufficient sleep, people start to behave as if they have one promille of alcohol in their blood – which is not an ideal basis if you want to work efficiently and effectively. It is no wonder that sleep deprivation is estimated to cost the Swiss economy around CHF 5-8 billion, while the economic costs are around EUR 57 billion in Germany and they even exceed USD 400 billion in the US.
You should follow the example of Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet, Sheryl Sandberg and Bill Gates – who believe in the cleansing power of getting enough sleep. If you want to improve the quality of your sleep, you can read my blog ‘For a good sound sleep’: Link.
P.S. For those of you who are interested in the topic of sleep, you may also want to read the ‘Carte Blanche’ report on the topic ‘Work smart, not hard’ that I had published in last December’s edition of the Swiss business magazine Bilanz (only available in German). It is based on the same belief that rest makes you productive. Here is a link to the article:
© Claudia Kraaz