Functional Medicine Associates on Sleep Deprivation

Ok, I know it sounds a little left field but in the near future this will be normal practise in corporate wellness programmes.

So, before your HR directors have a beat street breakdown, let me indulge you with my experiences of working with executives, elaborate on the science of sleep and lead you in a new age culture where we could save organisations more than a few quid.

Twenty years teaches you lots about executives, their organisations and their workers. With board level executives there is the continued absence (of even the most well intended) to act on this most precious of commodities for achieving ultimate executive performance Sleep! Why is this? I believe that executives think sleeping is somewhat unproductive time and with days that are so full (but needn’t be, folks) they deserve to stay up later than their genes would ever thank them for. Talking of genes, actually these “Jeans” the quickest way to “muffin top” your Levis is lack of sleep.

Research is showing exactly this and the data is damming. A study, from the aptly named Sleep Journal, in 2009, showed that if we induce sleep deprivation each night over two weeks, our body will try to make up for this deficit the next day by cleverly getting to us to snack, kidding our brains that we need a sugar fix to compensate, about 200 calories more to be exact. This study defined sleep deprivation as 5.5hrs sleep a night. Sound familiar?

Here’s the kicker from the study: If you do the maths over the year it equates to almost 21lbs of potential increased weight. I’m convinced this is why most executives struggle with losing weight even with calorie restricted diets, lots of exercise and all the medical testing money can buy. The CEOs with their personal trainers and nutritionists get increasingly foxed about the lack of weight loss and health improvement, becoming more drastic with their measures, ultimately leading to illness and reduced productivity. It’s no one’s fault of course but in future it is best to remember there is no comparison to the king of restoration, weight loss and anti- ageing that is sleep.

We are great at understanding how a business runs but not so great in understanding the running of our bodies. To avoid getting frustrated with the lack of results, I create a business narrative in explaining the human body. This narrative allows me to translate the science of what is going on and has helped almost all executives I have worked with.

For example: Imagine your body as a business in difficult times. Even with significant investment into your health, that only allows you to balance your books and if you are doing really well maybe lose a few pounds and keep blood pressure under control. Given the climate (a consistent lack of sleep) you may actually be doing rather well, your stock may even be rising. Get this narrative across to your executives and you change a negative and frustrating situation into a positive one. That still leads many executives to question how do I push on from here? You won’t!! not until you change the climate outside and the biggest bang for your buck to change is to sleep more.

Sleep more and we also reduce other associated risk factors to health, Type 2 diabetes, depression, cognitive decline…ah let’s stop there… as I will be up losing sleep typing the long list out.

What about sleep deprivation and executive performance? The ability to think, be sharp, focussed and creative? Forget all of these. Numerous research papers show none of these neurological functions can work anywhere near as good as when your brain has had a good night’s sleep. There is even science to show that you are more likely to look like s*** to others and as a consequence lose new business and even be perceived as less attractive to others. No point earning all that cash and not having anyone to share it with!
Most of us do not sleep more because the current culture does not allow it. This antiquated view, that I can sleep when I’m dead, or I’ll be happy when I have made it, does not hold up either in my experience or in the science. Times are changing. Management journals are increasingly showing that organisations who are committed to the development of wellness over time do far better on the stock market than those who do not. It would be foolish then not to invest into wellness strategies and the development of wellness culture (that’s for another time).

Here are four ways to get the sleep message out to organisations:
  • Make the decision-makers aware that over time they are making an investment into their people which makes them money.
  • The Board need to buy into wellness culture change, otherwise, it’s just a tick box procedure that develops no traction. The Board needs to give permission to its employees and encourage from the top.
  • Most are not aware of the science and so teaching employees about sleep and giving them “Sleep Hygiene” strategy is a must. It takes very little investment for huge returns.
  • Practise getting the message out. Messages about sleep should be continually repeated. Repetition of message works, it helps to build a culture of health by repeating what’s good for us. Practise may not make perfect but it will make it more permanent.

Just one hour more sleep per night will make you a healthier person but also a more efficient employee or CEO. It’s not rocket science. The rocket science is being able to translate this message to an individual who is engrained into a business culture which still sees more as better (even though they get less done and are less creative). Fortunately, new science is allowing us to objectively disprove old belief systems of working.

As one under-performing CEO of a global company once said to me about his work/life, “it’s like living in the twilight zone” to which my answer was “what do you expect on 4hrs sleep a night”.

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