A Good Night’s Sleep…


Nigel Farrage appeared to face the cameras, smiling triumphantly and clearly refreshed by 43 minutes’ sleep.

Good old, Nigel, eh? Whatever your views on UKIP and the by-elections, you have to be impressed. Only 43 minutes’ sleep and ready to go again. Makes Mrs Thatcher – who famously got by on four hours a night – look positively weak.

Going without sleep appears to be something of a virility symbol for politicians: the last General Election gave us the ‘supercharged’ David Cameron versus the images of Gordon Brown firing off e-mails at two in the morning. The same is true in the US. Barack Obama and Bill Clinton lead the list of politicians lining up to re-write Gordon Gekko’s famous line: ‘sleep is for wimps.

Winston Churchill, on the other hand, famously enjoyed a nap in the afternoon – any politician who admitted to that today would a) be simply unelectable and b) immediately sponsored by the cartoonists’ union. (JFK apparently also liked his afternoon nap – although in that case I think inverted commas might be called for…)

So much for politics. What about the world of business? A quick Google search will throw up a gazillion business leaders getting by on four hours a night – or claiming to. Want to work your way up the corporate ladder? Then get the coffee in: you’d best get used to throwing a few all-nighters.

At this point I’d better make my feelings known. And my feelings are simple: going without sleep is stupid. In the long run it damages your health and your business.

Most of the people who read this blog will be parents. Do you remember that feeling? Baby awake all night. Feeding not the blissful experience the text books promised. Husband and wife exchanging the occasional cross word…

And yet come the next morning there you were at work. Supposedly ready to be at your best. Far from being at my best I remember walking into my office one morning and wanting nothing more than to sweep everything off my desk, lie down on it and go to sleep for three weeks.

No, in the long run a lack of sleep leads to bad judgement, bad decisions and the occasional self-inflicted torpedo below the water line. How many hours of sleep did Gordon Brown have before he met Gillian Duffy?

There’s another reason I don’t support the macho image of the no-sleep businessman. It simply creates a culture where the answer to every problem is to throw more hours at it: where the apparent chief determinant of success is the sheer weight of work you hurl at a problem. As it says so simply in Rework, working more hours doesn’t mean that you care more or that you’ll get more done – it simply means working more hours.

And one day that will catch up with you…

If TAB is there for anything, it’s there to improve your work/life balance and to give you access to the expertise of your peers. The answer isn’t more hours: it’s more brains.

Neither is the answer to sit at your desk demonstrating the law of diminishing returns – getting progressively less done with every hour that passes. Turn the light off, lock the door and go home to your family. Keep your work/life balance balanced. Go to sleep and tackle the problem afresh in the morning – quite possibly with the help of six or seven of your TAB colleagues.

And with that I’m going to watch the news with my wife, and then I’m going to bed. And to answer your question, six or seven hours through the week. But do I ever make up for it at the weekend…

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One comment

  1. Simon Hudson · November 28, 2014

    There is loads of research on the importance of sleep, much of it in the last year or two. And I place great store by evidence (as opposed to made up stuff,. like ‘alternative’ medicine)

    Bottom line, 6-7 hours sleep if a minimum for effective working, naps can be very beneficial, decisions are important or life threatening – you’d better do your damndest to get it right…

    Running a business is tiring enough without missing out on sleep as well.

    Some evidence:
    [audio src="http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/fivelive/drkarl/drkarl_20140607-0600a.mp3" /]

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141118182458.htm

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep

    http://www.ushealthworks.com/blog/index.php/2014/11/science-logic-napping/

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