How much sleep should a leader get?

What would you say if I told you the one thing you can do to be a better leader was simply to sleep?

Would you dismiss it as too simplistic? Or would you worry that if you didn’t stay up late every night finishing work and/or rise early every morning to check your emails, you wouldn’t be seen as a committed leader?

Well, you couldn’t be more wrong…

Sleep as a leadership strategy

Sleep is one of the most underrated and under-used leadership strategies available.

Sleep is a powerful lever for high performance. Some would say the most powerful lever. And yet few of us are using it to improve our leadership and performance.

The science of sleep

The neuroscience of sleep sheds light on the impact of sleep on our subconscious, unconscious and conscious brain.

While we’re sleeping, the brain is preparing for the next day. It’s forming new pathways to help us learn and remember information. Memory is enhanced, the day’s events are processed and dreams help us to deal with stress and trauma.

Good quality sleep can ward off dementia, anxiety and depression, and studies show that a good night’s sleep improves learning, helps us pay attention, make decisions, and be creative. 

All essential capacities for high performing leaders.

According to these well known leaders, being well rested is their secret weapon.1

How much sleep is enough?

Whilst it is generally recognised that most adults need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep each night2, inadequate sleep of either duration or quality affects between 33-45% of Australian adults. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has now declared sleep loss an epidemic throughout industrialised nations.3 It is no coincidence that these nations, including Australia, also have a high prevalence of specific physical diseases and mental ill health.4

<<Related post: 3 ways to do more with less as a leader>>

And what happens if we don’t? What’s the impact of sleep deprivation over time? 

Getting enough quality sleep at the right times helps us function well throughout the day. People who are sleep deficient are less productive – they take longer to finish tasks, have a slower reaction time, and make more mistakes. If we’re sleep deficient, we may have trouble making decisionssolving problemscontrolling your emotions and behaviour, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency has also been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behaviour.

After several nights of losing sleep—even a loss of just 1–2 hours per night—our ability to function suffers as if we haven’t slept at all for a day or two. For example, studies show that sleep deficiency harms driving ability as much as, or more than, being drunk. It’s estimated that driver sleepiness is a factor in about 100,000 car accidents each year, resulting in about 1,500 deaths.

Good Sleep Strategies

Sleep is often the first thing that busy people squeeze out of their schedules, however with enough sleep each night, you may find that you’re happier and more productive during the day.

3 tips to improve your sleep and be a better leader:
  1. Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day—even on weekends.
  2. Exercise is great, but not too late in the day. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes on most days but no later than 2–3 hours before your bedtime.
  3. Avoid large meals late at night. A large meal can cause indigestion that interferes with sleep. Drinking too many fluids at night can cause you to awaken frequently to urinate.

Leader behavior is a powerful role model for others and creates the cultural norm for the group.


How can your attitude and mindset towards sleep set you and your team up for sustainable high-performance?

Dr Paige Williams

Dr Paige Williams

International Speaker, Author, Mentor


Determined to help leaders move beyond just the need for resilience, Paige provides practical, evidence-based strategies for leaders to become antifragile, lead themselves and their teams to thrive and succeed in the Decade of Disruption.

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