We’re often in awe of the highly successful people who say they only get a few hours of sleep a night, from Martha Stewart and Donald Trump, who clock around four hours, to Marissa Mayer and President Barack Obama, who get closer to six.
We might conclude that somewhere within their sleep deprivation lies the key to success.
a new report in Harvard Business Review by McKinsey researchers suggests that these people are successful in spite of their sleep habits.
According to the report, sleep deprivation negatively affects four key leadership behaviours and, consequently, can hurt a business’s financial performance:
1. Being focused on results
The individual performance on a range of tasks of people who are awake for 17 to 19 hours, for example, is equivalent to that of a person with a blood alcohol level of 0.05%, the legal drinking limit in many countries.
Beyond 20 hours of being awake, the same person’s performance is comparable to someone with a blood alcohol level of 0.1%, which meets the legal definition of drunk in the US, the report says.
To be results oriented, the report suggests, you need to be able to focus, avoid distractions, and see the bigger picture, something that would be very difficult to do if you were essentially drunk on the job.
2. Solving problems effectively
The McKinsey report points to other studies, which find that eight hours of sleep leads to new insights, afternoon naps help creative problem solving, and REM sleep is directly linked to creative thinking, all of which are key in effectively solving problems.
3. Seeking out different perspectives
Sleep affects all three stages of the learning process: before learning, it helps your brain encode new information; afterlearning, it helps your brain consolidate information and form new connections; and before remembering, it helps to retrieve information from memory, researchers say.
“These processes are critical to the ability to seek, encode, and consolidate different perspectives,” the researchers write.
According to the researchers, sleep has also been shown to improve decision making in situations that involve weighing different options and avoiding tunnel vision.
4. Supporting others
The report points to more research that suggests sleep deprivation negatively affects your emotional state.
When you lack sleep, your brain is more likely to misinterpret facial or vocal cues and overreact to emotional events. You’re more likely to express your feelings in a more negative manner and tone of voice. You’re less likely to fully trust someone else. And when you’re the boss, your employees are less likely to feel engaged with their work.
It’s hard to support others emotionally when you’re struggling with your own emotions.
All four of these behaviours add up to high-quality executive teams, and as a result, are a strong predictor of a robust bottom line, the McKinsey researchers say. When they are compromised, leaders and their companies suffer.