HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW
Senior Executives Get More Sleep Than Everyone Else
by Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter
FEBRUARY 28, 2018
It’s no secret that most of us don’t get enough sleep and suffer for it. If you’re between the ages of 16 and 64, and don’t get seven to nine hours of sleep per night, your logical reasoning, executive function, attention, and mood can be impaired. Worse, severe sleep deprivation can lead to depression, anxiety, and symptoms of paranoia. In the long run, sleep deprivation is a main contributor to the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Surprisingly, one group that doesn’t need to heed these warnings is executives. In our assessment of 35,000 leaders and interviews with 250 more, we found that the more senior a person’s role is, the more sleep they get.
There are two possible explanations for this. Either senior executives, with the help of assistants and hard-working middle managers, do less and take more time for sleep. Or senior executives have had the wisdom and discipline throughout their career to get enough sleep and thereby maintain a high performance level without burning out.
Our conclusion is that the latter is the latter case. “Sleep has always been foundational for my performance,” Cees ’t Hart, president and CEO of Carlsberg Group, shared with us. “And especially to perform in a way that is required by my current job, I need seven hours of sleep, every night. Of course, with intense travel and work commitments,
sometimes this is compromised, and when that happens, it comes with a cost.
When I sleep less, I perform less.”
In contrast, our data found that 68% of nonexecutive leaders get five to seven hours of sleep per night. When there are not enough hours in the day, they steal some from the night. Many leaders stay up late to catch up on email or other tasks.
According to our research, this tendency is widespread, regardless of gender.
This is a problem. For leaders, sleep is not a luxury. Research has found that there is a direct link between getting enough sleep and leading effectively and that sleepdeprived leaders are less inspiring.
It used to be a badge of honor to brag about sleeping few hours, but our research should serve as inspiration for aspiring leaders to make sleep sacrosanct. The key message: If you want to be an effective leader, and rise in the ranks, get enough sleep.
Of course, it’s one thing to make a commitment to go to bed early, and another to actually get seven or more hours of quality sleep. For many leaders, going to bed is only part of the problem. The other part is getting high-quality, restorative sleep.
Fortunately, a good night’s sleep is not a random event; it’s a trainable skill. Here are a few guidelines that will help you.