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To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Sleep = Performance

One of the most overlooked aspects of personal performance is getting enough sleep. Elite athletes, from marathon runners to power lifters have made getting enough sleep a priority and an important part of their training.

In the business world, sleep is not often a priority. In many cases, lack of sleep and fatigue is considered a badge of honor. World-class executives are often reported as “only needing four hours of sleep” a day, rising at 3AM and getting their day going. Entrepreneurs in start-ups are expected to operate in a fatigue-induced state - to embrace the grind. Real go-getters, they say, can sleep when they are dead.

New doctors used to routinely work 24- to 36-hour shifts. Not surprisingly, studies concluded that tired doctors made significantly more mistakes, often with deadly consequences. While the practice has declined in some hospitals, it is still in place in some areas.

The military is another bastion of fatigue. Many areas of the military operate consistently on whatever sleep they can scrounge. Sometimes it’s driven by operational necessities, other times it’s based on cultural norms. Masking fatigue with stimulants like caffeine or tobacco is common. Sleep deprivation is often a contributing factor in accidents, mishaps, and PTSD.

I’ve met many people who brag about how little sleep they need. Rarely do you hear of someone bragging about how they regularly get a full-night’s sleep.

Healthy sleep habits can significantly improve your overall health and reduce the risk of accidents on the road or in the workplace. It’s obvious that operating a semi-truck, a machine press, or helicopter in a sleep-deprived state is a bad idea. But what about for the standard office worker? The consequences might be less dramatic, but it can impact performance. Without getting to deep into the physiology, poor sleep increases stress hormones, many that drive feelings of hunger and increased desire for calories and fats. These stress hormones make grabbing that doughnut in the break room or eating high-fat, high-calorie lunch much more likely. This can then set off a cycle whereby mid-afternoon you are adding a food-coma to your fatigue, compensating with caffeine and/or sugar, and setting yourself up for another night of poor sleep. Your work performance will likely suffer during the workday and getting in a workout afterwards will probably not happen either.

To have a more positive outcome, studies show that the average adult needs 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to function at optimal levels. To accomplish this, it can take some planning. Here are several best practices to get you started:

1. Admit you are not special. Seriously. There are some outliers who don’t need much sleep. You are probably not one of them.

2. Think like an athlete. Your performance in your work, life, and personal health can depend on a foundation of sleep. Make it a priority.

3. Reverse-engineer the process. Subtract 7-9 hours from the time you need to get up in the morning and that should be the time you go lights out. Subtract however long it takes your brain to wind down from that time, and that is your bedtime. Set an alarm as a reminder.

4. Build a routine and stick to it. Young children often have a bedtime routine that signals to their brains and bodies that it’s time for bed. Adults should be no different. Try to stick to your routine, and bedtimes on weekends.

5. Avoid bright lights at bedtime, especially the blue light emitted from phone and tablet screens for an hour before bed.

6. Consider turning off electronics (TV, phone, tablet) an hour before bed and reading a hard-copy book for 20-60 minutes. This will help your brain go into “low-power mode” more effectively than watching Netflix or scrolling through social media.

7. Keep the bedroom for sleeping only. Don’t work in bed, watch TV, eat or do any other activity that can be done in another room of the house. You want to associate your bed with sleep, not the stress over the unread emails.

8. Buy an old-school alarm clock. The temptation to use your phone as a clock and alarm can lead to you using your phone during the night.

9. It’s OK to say no. Going out with friends on a weeknight or colleagues while travelling might be fun, but can crush your performance the next day. It’s OK to prioritize your sleep.

10. Experiment with what works for you. There are many variables you can try – from light levels, to sounds (relaxing music or white noise), room temperature, blanket weight, or scented oil diffusers. You can try drinking sleepy-time tea or eating a low-glycemic carbs an hour or so before bed. Try out what gives you the best sleep and stick to it as best you can.

Sometimes having a solid sleep strategy and disciplined sleep routine is not enough. Sleep disorders are common and often go undiagnosed and untreated, or self-diagnosed and self-medicated. If you routinely have trouble sleeping, staying asleep, or getting quality sleep, we encourage you to seek a professional for help. The Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine offers an online directory of providers.

Part of being a successful professional includes self-care – and sleep is an important building-block for a successful day.

Do you struggle with getting enough sleep? Do you have a tried & true strategy for getting enough that you’d like to share? Let us know!

Thanks for reading and sweet dreams.

The Rivet Group is an executive search and consulting company focused on working with top professionals across disciplines. If you are ready for a new role, hire for your team, or perform better and need help, we’d like to hear from you. Visit to learn more about us.

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