To be an Effective Leader you need a good night’s sleep

By: Catherine Daw | Published: DECEMBER 2017

I knew it! Getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep consistently every night makes you more effective and productive. Just like my mom always said.

As an executive I am often torn between work demands, deadlines, deals and the 24/7 urgency that has invaded our lives. When I was sticking with my own ingrained sense about the importance of sleep I realized how much better I was during the next day. It’s wonderful when I wake naturally each morning and get the best out of each and every day – both from a work and personal perspective. If only I had worked harder to maintain this discipline in the past.

All this made me curious to find at least three data points regarding sleep and its relation to leadership.

The first one I found comes in the form of neuroscience and how sleep washes our brain nightly of toxins and waste. It certainly gives the term ‘brainwashing’ a whole new definition. Unlike the continuous cleansing of toxins in other parts of our body, brain cleaning only happens when we sleep, flushing out the build up from the day. Removing the ‘gunk’ out before you start your day is essential to a fresh mind that’s ready to go. Cool!

The second data point is that sleep impacts the brain’s prefrontal cortex. Hey, wait a minute –  that’s where most of our executive functioning occurs. Without a good dose of sleep these functions, such as problem solving, reasoning, organizing and executing, get blurred and don’t fire on all cylinders.

How does this impact effective and productive leadership? In an article from HBR, 89% of leader effectiveness comes from four kinds of behaviours which are all tied to the value of sleep. They are:


  1. Solve problems effectively – sleep enhances our ability to apply processes such as creative thinking, insights, and pattern recognition
  2. Seeking different perspectives – the adage of ‘sleeping on it’ is powerful; to ponder what others have to say and its effect on decision making
  3. Operate with a strong results orientation – lack of sleep impacts focus
  4. Be supportive – sleep improves our ability to not overreact or misinterpret what others are doing and to act in a more understanding way


And the last data point came to me via twitter from the Canadian Dairy Farmers.  Yup, you read that right – their campaign on sleep was an ‘udder’ delight. They got involved in a sleep study examining the impact of sleep on our health.

There were two standout results that struck me from a leadership angle. 1 in 4 employees call in sick to catch up on sleep and over a year the average employee loses 11 days of productivity due to insomnia. On average we are getting 1.5 hours less sleep than our grandparents – that converts to 32% less alertness during the day! Just think how much more we could be achieving – talk about a global competitive advantage.

What can you do to get more sleep? Like eating right and exercising, you should prioritize getting a good night’s sleep. Another good tip from the Canadian Sleep Review 2016 is to establish a consistent bed time and rise time.

For me, the best tip is the one I have decided to undertake as part of my nightly routine – “try counting cows…counting sheep is so passé”. Sweet Dreams!