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Getting enough sleep is one of the most important aspects of health and is essential in the high-functioning world of executive leadership. We explore strategies to improve the quality of your sleep and boost your overall performance.

As our lives get busier, it is becoming more evident that we cannot disregard the compelling research findings emphasizing the significance of sleep for our safety, mental health and physical wellbeing, including its profound impact on high-level decision-making.

Though scientists are still uncovering the intricacies of sleep, decades of research, often involving sleep disruption studies, have confirmed that quality sleep is essential for maintaining our wellbeing and is crucial for survival.

In corporate leadership’s fast-paced realm, managing myriad responsibilities requires constant attention and decision-making. In the pursuit of success, one crucial factor that is often overlooked is the quality of sleep. Quality is just as important here as quantity.

The ability to make strategic decisions can be significantly influenced by the quantity and quality of your rest. In this article, we will explore the intricate connection between sleep and high-level decision-making and shed light on the importance of prioritizing a good night’s sleep.

Understanding the Link

We know for sure that sleep serves multiple functions. For instance, we understand that sleep plays a vital role in waking cognition, ensuring clear thinking, heightened vigilance and sustained attention. Additionally, sleep consolidates memories and serves as a crucial factor in emotional regulation.

The brain’s ability to process information, evaluate options and make sound judgments is intricately tied to the quality and duration of sleep. When you compromise on sleep, you might unintentionally compromise the very foundation of effective decision-making.

When you compromise on sleep, you might unintentionally compromise the very foundation of effective decision-making.

“People have come to value time so much that sleep is often regarded as an annoying interference, a wasteful state that you enter into when you do not have enough willpower to work harder and longer,” reported American sleep researcher David Dinges, PhD, Professor and Chief of the Division of Sleep and Chronobiology in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

In a study led by Dinges and his team, participants’ moods were monitored in response to different levels of sleep deprivation after facing both ‘high’ and ‘low’ performance demands.

The results? Those who were sleep deprived responded to low stressors in the same way that those who had adequate sleep responded to a high stress situation.

How much sleep is enough?

After extensive research, scientists now possess enough evidence to begin addressing this fundamental question: how much sleep is enough?

Matthew Walker, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and Founder and Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science, suggests that routinely sleeping less than seven to eight hours a night triggers the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) and disrupts hormonal balances.

When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, this in turn stimulates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, a crucial neuroendocrine system in the human body that plays a central role in the body’s stress response. Chronic activation can have negative effects on health, including issues related to mental wellbeing and decision-making.

Five Sleep Strategies

1. Reduce caffeine
Frequently, caffeine is employed to counteract the effects of inadequate sleep. It temporarily inhibits the signal from adenosine, a key sleep chemical in the brain, even as adenosine continues to accumulate. Consuming additional caffeine to prevent further adenosine surges to keep you alert then impacts sleep that evening, as the half-life of caffeine is approximately five-to-six hours.

2. Spend time outdoors
Exposure to sunlight helps to regulate the body’s internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm – your natural rest and awake cycles. The morning sunlight also suppresses melatonin, which is a hormone that regulates sleep, promoting alertness during the day. Ideally then, by the evening, the natural rise of melatonin will be present to promote quality sleep.

3. Adopt a wind down routine
Relax through breathing exercises and mindfulness or try journaling to ‘brain dump’ the day’s thoughts and emotions.

4. Be mindful of your alcohol consumption
Although initially consuming alcohol can send you to sleep, it can actually impact your quality of sleep. Drinking alcohol deprives you of rapid eye movement sleep, the crucial stage of deep slumber necessary for optimal brain restoration. This, in turn, makes critical decision-making challenging on the following day.

5. Avoid blue light at least two hours before bed
This includes all screens and cool ‘blue’ lights (such as LED lighting). Turn the lights on dim to avoid disrupting melatonin production and create a calm environment with low noise.

Sleep is a strategic necessity and not a luxury when it comes to the challenging world of executive leadership. So, when burning the midnight oil, remember that a well-rested mind is your most valuable asset in the pursuit of excellence.

Katlyn Martin

Contributor Collective Member

Katlyn Martin is a qualified naturopath, herbalist and fitness coach, and is the Retreat Manager at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat in Queensland, Australia. She possesses an extensive global 25-year background in the health and fitness industry, with specialist qualifications in rehabilitation and sports medicine. Her focal point lies in exploring the interplay between the environment and the body’s biochemistry. For more information, go to https://www.gwinganna.com/

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