Can Napping Make You a Better Leader?

Power Nap Feature

Do highly successful people sleep more or less than everyone else? There is no real answer to that question. Many leaders do just fine on a few hours of sleep while others always seem to be trying to catch up on their shut-eye.

Indra Nooyi, the CEO of Pepsi, claims she never sleeps more than four hours a night. She is one of many in leadership positions that live on less sleep than most people need. These individuals are the exception to a very critical rule, sleep matters.

Why Sleep Matters?

Sleep does matter for most of us, but why? The Mayo Clinic calls sleep the foundation of healthy habits because it sets the pace for most other things in your day.

What happens when you sleep?

  • Woman SleepingSleep improves brain plasticity, or it’s ability to process things we learn – to eliminate brain fog.
  • Sleep helps with mood management. There is a reason people are cranky when they don’t get enough of it.
  • Sleep improves metabolism and aids immune system function.
  • Sleep aids in the consolidation and storage of memories.
  • Sleep allows for the processing of different experiences.
  • Sleep is when the body replenishes brain fuel and removes waste material.

If you think about it, sleep is the only time your brain has to rejuvenate. When you are awake, it’s busy doing other things like interpreting images and sound.

Even though sleep is vital to daily function and overall health, most people don’t get enough of it. Information from the National Health Interview Survey shows that a large number of adults in this country get no more than six hours a night and many get less.

Why Most Leaders Do Need Sleep

A 2016 study published in the Journal of Sleep Research took a close look at how sleep deprivation affects military leaders. The goal was to see how a lack of sleep impacts leadership ability. The results indicate that even partial sleep deprivation has a significant negative impact on leadership behavior.

Additional studies show that sleep-deprived leaders are:

  • Impatient
  • Irritable
  • Antagonistic

They develop poor working relationships and a negative dynamic that doesn’t change. After all, what makes a leader a leader:

  • Motivation
  • Focus
  • Passion
  • Respect
  • Power of persuasion
  • Clarity
  • Engagement

Lack of sleep effectively diminishes these abilities. A tired boss doesn’t always come up with practical solutions and frequently misses things, for example.

Why Do Some People Need Less Sleep?

There are many factors in play when it comes to sleep requirements. The body has two built-in sleep controls:

  • Circadian rhythms
  • Sleep drive

Like most systems, they work differently for everyone. The body craves sleep just like it craves food and sex. Some people just have better control over that craving. They may also have their biological clocks used to sleep at different times. Indra Nooyi, for instance, worked the night shift for many years.

Some executives may get more sleep then you realize, too. You’ve all heard of the power nap, right?

The Power of the Power Nap

Woman Taking Power NapSome leaders find between work and family, eight hours of sleep is not an option. You might be surprised how helpful a few minutes of shut-eye can be on a bad day. Daytime napping is a standard recommendation for those with sleep deprivation. It takes just 15 to 20 minutes to get a reset, so with that short power nap comes more energy, alertness and better motor function.

Studies show that time counts when it comes to the power nap and twenty minutes is the sweet spot. Sleep professionals call that a stage two nap and it boosts your memory and improves creativity.

Of course, longer naps are good if you can get them. A rest that lasts between 30 to 60 minutes improves decision-making and learning. Over the 60 minute mark helps create new connections in the brain for even better problem-solving skills.

Research indicates that power naps benefit your health, too. They reduce stress and lower your risk of developing cardiac problems.

Making Power Naps Work for You

The key to most things sleep-related is consistency. If napping is for you, then do it on a schedule. Maybe save the last 20 minutes of your lunch break for a quick nap. Set the alarm before you lie down to make sure you don’t oversleep. Anything over 30 minutes could potentially leave you feeling groggy.

Set up a nap environment, as well. Turn off the lights or wear an eye mask, cover up with a blanket and ask not to be disturbed.

What If You Get Your Eight Hours and Still Feel Tired

Snoozing Alarm ClockFor one thing, it’s time to make an appointment with your primary care physician. Feeling tired after a good night’s sleep can be a symptom of a medical problem like sleep apnea.

Next, consider the way you sleep.

  • Do you go to bed the same time every night and get up at the same time each morning?
  • Do you have a nighttime ritual before going to bed? For example, reading for 30 minutes or taking a hot bath.
  • Is your room dark enough for sleep? How about quiet enough?

Examine some of your lifestyle choices, as well.

  • Are you exercising regularly? Exercise improves sleep quality.
  • Do you eat a big meal before bed? Stomach upset is a sleep killer.

Finally, maybe the problem isn’t you but the person sleeping next to you. A restless partner can interrupt your sleep cycle, so, even if you don’t wake up, your sleep is still affected. Separate bedrooms are not out of the question.

If you are one of those people able to sleep four to six hours a night and still wake up feeling great, well, mazel tov. Not everyone needs eight hours. If you get eight hours but wake up tired, maybe you need nine instead. Eight hours is just an average; some people need more, some need less.

If you are looking to move up in the world or be a better leader, go ahead and evaluate your sleep to see how it might be affecting those leadership qualities. It’s possible that something as small as a good old-fashion power nap will give you an edge that moves you forward in your career.


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