Why we love sleep and give it so little attention


'One out of every two adults across all developed nations will not get the necessary sleep they need this coming week’, says Matthew Walker in the inspiring book Why we Sleep.

I would describe myself as a good sleeper, I get close to eight hours a night. And then I thought back over this past week, nights out, sleeping in hotels and travel delays, unexpected news that kept us up late planning, my youngest waking me up at 5am. Reality is I haven’t slept very well this week, and it seems I am not alone.

One out of every two adults! My reaction before I had read the book would have been ‘It’s ok I can catch up at the weekend’. Well it seems it doesn’t work like that, your body doesn’t work like that. You simple carry a sleep deprivation debt round with you every day and it builds up, you can’t magically pay it back at the weekend.

How much thought do you give to your sleep? How much sleep do you get?

If one out of every two adults doesn’t sleep well, what does that mean for your team? One half of your team doesn’t sleep well, one half of the drivers on the road don’t sleep well, one half of your family doesn’t sleep well.

Quite simply you can eat well, exercise, practice mindfulness, go to retreats, swim with dolphins! But if you are not getting a good sleep every night, none of these things are enough. Even trying to lose weight when you don’t get enough sleep will not work, your body will lose lean body mass not fat!

Matthew Walker’s book is fascinating, a must read, we all need sleep and this shines a light on how sleep and a lack of it, impacts our health, businesses and communities.

And yes people sleep differently, ‘night owls’ and ‘morning people’ as we often label each other. I’ll admit until reading his book I thought that people who described themselves as night owls or ‘I’m not a morning person’, just couldn’t be bothered to get up early! Well scientific research proves otherwise, which means our society which is set up for early morning starts for school and work, benefits morning people while it has a negative impact on night owls, with mental health issues and sleep problems being high amongst this group.

Are you a night owl? Do you struggle with the routine that your work requires you to meet, would you rather start later as you perform better in the afternoon and evening? You are not alone.

P&G, Google and Nike and some others have proactively put in measures so that wellbeing policies include sleep education, and Google have changed the traditional work pattern so that people can start later, supporting night owls. The CEO of insurance company Aetna, has introduced bonuses for employees getting more sleep, based on sleep tracker data.

And yet wellbeing in the workplace too often doesn’t include any mention of sleep - rather the opposite is practiced, where leaders are praised for performing on little sleep. Now research shows that a sleep deprived leader and half his/ her team also sleep deprived is not a profitable, productive, innovative let alone happy place to work.

No matter who you are, how much willpower you have, how awesome you are! Your body needs 8 hours of sleep every night. Leadership requires presence and you can’t be present if you’re half asleep.

This requires such a shift in mindset, I don’t think any of us have been educated around sleep or the importance of it in every aspect of life. So I would encourage you not to dismiss this, look at your current sleep habits, read the book, talk about it with those around you, seriously re-think the sleeping pills. And if you have children, this book raises interesting questions about school and how difficult it can be for children as their sleep needs change and we do little to acknowledge this.

I’d love to know what you think. Have you read this book, what did you find inspiring or surprising? Has your employer introduced anything to do with sleep training/education or incentives?

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sally powellComment