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Sleep Your Way to the Top? How Proper Rest Fuels Business Success

It’s the night before your big presentation, or important meeting, or dream job interview. You want to do everything you can to ensure tomorrow goes off spectacularly, and are debating your next move. Do you rehearse your intro again, flesh out your key points some more, or do a bit more research so that you have answers to unexpected questions?

No, none of the above. You go to sleep.

In a world where the Google search “how to sleep less” returns 370 million results and people like Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and Yahoo! CEO Melissa Mayer boast about only needing 4 hours of sleep a night, this can feel counterintuitive. But turns out that all those “sleep hackers” aren’t operating at full capacity, and hidden costs to sleep deprivation ensure that it isn’t the secret to professional success, either in the short term or the long term.

Proper sleep is so crucial to business success, in fact, that Warren Buffett’s first piece of advice to Salomon Brothers investment bank when he arrived to help them negotiate a crisis was to go home and get some rest. Sheryl Sandberg, Jeff Bezos, Arianna Huffington, and Bill Gates share Buffett’s emphasis on proper shut-eye, all prioritizing seven or more hours a night.

What these executive luminaries have tapped into is the proven science of how sleep affects performance at the office. By following their forty winks protocol, here are the advantages you’ll have over your sleep-deficient coworkers:

Clearer judgment and smarter decisions

Looking at how sleep deprivation influences decision-making, it’s actually pretty scary to hear about people in powerful positions who get by on barely any sleep. According to one study from Harvard Medical School and the University of California at Berkeley, sleep deprivation causes the emotional centers of the brain to “dramatically overreact” to negative experiences. Without sleep, the brain is unable to put emotional experiences into context and produce an appropriate response. This stems from the fact that being overtired shuts down the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for planning and decision-making), leaving more primitive regions in the driver’s seat.

Another study determined that sleep deprivation actually causes short-term euphoria, which can lead to poor judgment and addictive behavior. Upsurges in the happy-hormone dopamine could lead sleep-deprived executives to feel overly optimistic and make decisions not based in reality, which can spell disaster for businesses. On the other hand, after a good night’s sleep, the frontal lobes are turned on and connected to the part of the brain responsible for dopamine rewards, meaning that we make decisions from a place of reason and intelligence.

Improved memory and increased attention

When it comes to getting things done, those who plan to squeeze more productivity out of each day by sleeping less are undermining their efforts. According to Eric Olson, co-director of sleep medicine at the Mayo Clinic, people who sleep fewer than seven to eight hours a night have reduced focus, dexterity, and attention to detail. A meta-analysis of sleep and cognitive performance says this is because sleep deprivation impairs working memory, resulting in slowed reaction speed and an inability to sustain attention. That’s right, Fuzzy Tired Brain is a scientific phenomenon.

So even though those four-hours-a-night sleepers may spend more time working, their efficiency during those hours is significantly diluted. Working for fewer hours on a good night’s sleep is a much better bet for maximizing the payoff from your pursuits.

Boosted creativity and greater flexibility

You know how crazy your dreams are? That’s because sleep allows you to tap into a creative, unfiltered part of your brain that your awake self can’t access.

Turns out, lack of sleep impacts your creativity during waking hours as well. Researchers have found that divergent thinking—aka creativity—is significantly impaired by sleep deprivation, even after just one night. This means that showing up to your brainstorming session after an all-nighter isn’t the brightest choice. If you’re looking to come up with the next great idea to revolutionize your industry or start a company, getting some shut-eye may be the best thing you can do.

Putting the issue to bed

On a day-to-day basis, there’s no question that proper rest improves your ability to thrive at work and advance your career. Add to that the fact that sleep deprivation likely contributes to brain tissue loss and subsequent neurological damage, and it’s pretty clear that cutting corners on sleep doesn’t do you any favors today or down the line.

Efficiency aficionados, take note: If you’re looking to optimize every minute of your sleeping time the way that you do with your waking hours, it’s important to pay attention to where you sleep. Having the proper sleep system including bedding, pillow and mattress is essential when it comes to getting the most out of the time you spend in bed.