As a business leader, you may ask, “Can I invest less and make more?” It is a perfectly legitimate question. Van Dongen and others studied the participants after four, six, and eight hours of sleep for fourteen days and found a significant dose-dependent decline in their neurocognitive performance. Similar findings have been reported by Belenky and others in 2003 and Dinges and others in 1997. In short, you certainly can achieve more by sleeping less, but at a significant health, cognitive, and behavioral cost. Thus, by sleeping less, you can read more, but you will remember less. You can check more e-mails, but your responses may not reflect your true leadership skills. You can interact with more people, but you might be less perceptive. You can work on more problems, but your solutions might be less creative. You can make more decisions, but they may not be correct ones. In short, if you are sleeping less, you might be a liability as opposed to an asset.
“Sleep is for the weak, Mr. President,” Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense to President John F. Kennedy during Cuban Missile Crisis
And my overworked colleagues too, unaware of above research continue to argue against sufficient sleep. Here is a list of arguments made by skeptics of sufficient sleep and my responses.
- I only need five hours of sleep. Short sleeper gene, a rare mutation, is present only 3% of the population (Ying-Hui Fu, University of California, San Francisco.) Majority of leaders get less than 6 hours of sleep certainly at the time of major opportunity or catastrophe.
- I can fight SD with strong motivation. Motivation improves attention but not creativity, flexibility, mood, perception, and information management.
- I have achieved a lot by sleeping less. You could achieve even more by working on your alertness intelligence.
- I don’t perceive the deficit in my performance. Sleep deprivation adversely affects frontomedial cortex which is essential for successful self-evaluation. This makes us unaware of our deficit.
- I am highly productive. You have increased your output as a worker/manager, at the expense of executive output.
- Stakes are so high that sleep has to be on back burner. This is exactly the reason you should be giving sleep a top priority. Also there are alertness maximization techniques (discussed in Section II and III) which can help you.
- I don’t want to spend 1/3 of my life sleeping away. Investment in sleep will enrich your life both at home and at work qualitatively.
- I will sleep when I am dead. Studies unfortunately have shown increased mortality associated with insufficient sleep. You have to sleep 8 hours every night if you want a successful career that can span 5-6 decades.
Know Your Sleep Number
The need for sleep varies considerably between individuals. The average sleep length is between seven and eight and half hours per day. For you, it could be seven hours. For your spouse, it could be eight and a half hours. As a general rule, whatever sleep length you need to feel maximally alert all day the next day for sixteen hours is the amount of sleep your brain needs to be functioning at peak potential.
My wife needs seven hours of sleep, but I need eight. Your chief financial officer (CFO) may need seven and a half hours of sleep while you may need eight and a half to function at your peak potential. Do not try to imitate when it comes to sleep duration. Your brain is unique, and you need to give as much or as little sleep as it needs to perform at peak all day long.
“Yatin, I’m a Short Sleeper”
Based on the study done by Dr. Ying-Hui Fu and at his team at University of California, San Francisco, the short sleeper gene, a rare mutation, is present only in 3 percent of the population. And the majority of our leaders get less than six hours of sleep, certainly during stressful periods in their professional or personal lives. Dr. Ying-Hui Fu commented that these people sleep less, but we do not know if they need less sleep. We do not yet know if short sleepers have increased long-term morbidity and mortality. Researchers have also found that these short sleepers fall asleep quicker on Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT). In this test, subjects are asked to take five daytime naps, two hours apart. On average, a person who is not excessively sleepy will fall asleep in fifteen minutes. These short sleepers fell asleep in less than ten minutes, a few even in less than five minutes, indicating their abnormal daytime sleepiness. It has also been observed that these short sleepers take unplanned naps in or in between meetings, while traveling, and even public gatherings.
Maximize Alertness, Maximize Leadership
 Pepsi’s CEO Indra Nooyi prides herself in sleeping only four hours every night. I would love to prove that she is excessively sleepy by doing MSLT in my sleep lab.
 President Clinton was caught napping at the inauguration of the Clinton Public Library in his home state. On another occasion, too, at an event honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Convent Avenue Baptist Church in Harlem, the former president was caught nodding off.