bed

The bed is back in business

The bed is on the agenda. Opinion leaders are encouraging you and your organisation to pay attention to your bed behaviour, your ‘sleep hygiene’.

It was certainly a topic of conversation with a group of senior leaders on a retreat recently. Leading lives busy with travelling and sleeping in hotel rooms, they were not so impressed with having to share a bunk in a mountain hut. If there was a mini case study in the correlation between happiness and sleep quality, there you had it.

We all have a bed, regardless of our status, culture, religion and lifestyle. What form it takes and how we feel about it varies from moment to moment, year to year, from our birth to our death. Give or take, we spend about a third of our lives in it, so it makes sense it should be important to us. It plays a multiple of roles and its implications are significant. Giving attention to our bed from a leadership perspective, the following can be relevant: In busy lives, the bed sometimes offers the only stillness, escape, retreat, rest and privacy in one’s day. As Napoleon is quoted as declaring “the bed has become a place of luxury to me! I would not exchange it for all the thrones in the world”.

Our bed is often our daily milestone, a point of reference for our day. Steve Jobs poignantly said “being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful, that's what matters to me”.

It forms part of our mantras for how we want to live. Who hasn’t heard of Benjamin Franklin’s “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man, healthy, wealthy and wise” or its equivalent?

Actor George Burns wryly said “don’t stay in bed, unless you can make money in it” and that was before the advent of smartphones and laptops. Maybe this is why our office space now extends to our bed.  

Leaders like Arianna Huffington, founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, talk openly about the role that a good night’s sleep plays in discovering our inner leader.

And we know that it is in our beds, in our sleep, that our dreams are most likely to come to us. In Wild Courage, Elle Harrison explicitly encourages us to start noticing our dreams as a fundamental way to develop our intuition, which is so integral to our creativity, innovation and decision making capabilities as a leader.

Mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn writes about the sacredness of sleep, for being able to sleep is a sign of harmony in one’s life.  You will know yourself, that the most common and early symptom of stress is sleeplessness.

On the mindfulness meditation theme, the popularity of ‘Beditation’, a body scan meditation to assist relaxation and sleep is now advocated by the UK National Health Service.

The success of Professor Tom Rath’s book Eat Move Sleep may indicate how little we regard these basic steps for good health.  Appealing to individuals, groups and organisations he advocates focusing on small choices which lead to big changes. A top sleep tip is “structure your work schedule for better sleep. Help your boss and colleagues understand why good sleep is in everyone’s interest”. One leader on our programme, after his ‘solo’ time, came to his guiding principle of an 888 structure – no work before 8am, leave work by 8pm and get 8 hours sleep.

Lack of sleep is “fast becoming an issue the corporate world cannot ignore”, with research indicating a majority of managers across the board are getting less sleep than the recommended minimum. This is showing to have a real impact on manager’s health, social and emotional lives, and is having a negative impact on their performance in managing complex tasks and displaying effective behaviours.

And that is why Ashridge Professor Vicki Culpin who explores how sleep patterns impinge on our business and personal lives, offers the following recommendations:

  • Put sleep on the agenda.Talk about it at all levels of the organisation and share information about the different ways sleep loss can affect people
  • Develop a travel policy for employees and ensure it includes provision for sleep as well as recovery days for national or international travel
  • Recommend breaks before major meetings where key strategic decisions are being made
  • Encourage good work-life balance and healthy lifestyles in employees
  • Act as a role model in terms of sleep management
  • When arranging development for employees, make provisions for sleep prior to the start of the programme
  • When employees appear to be struggling with physical, social, emotional or work issues, be mindful of potential symptoms of sleep loss
  • Find and share examples of how successful employees at all levels of the organisation have addressed and overcome the impact of sleep loss
  • Create flexible ways of working that enable employees to operate at their peak
  • Treat each individual differently, as each employee will respond to sleep loss differently, and may or may not seek assistance. Do not assume age, seniority or other factors impact all people the same way.

Have you put sleep back on YOUR agenda? We’d love to hear from you in the comment box below.

Penelope Mavor is a Consultant at Impact Italia.