Sleep, or the lack of it, is a favourite topic for entrepreneurs and business leaders. With so much to accomplish daily, it’s inevitable executives sacrifice a few hours’ snooze to keep things moving – or is it?
While some CEOs famously declare less sleep is an efficient life well-led, four experts caution against letting the pandemic take over how much rest to get.
Dr Kenny Pang, Asia Sleep Centre
The ear, nose and throat specialist, who also founded the Asean Sleep Surgical Society and has written multiple books on sleep, says the pandemic has badly affected executives’ rest.
“Many have taken their sleep for granted because they do not need to wake earlier to get ready for the office,” he says. “They sleep later, work late and have very poor sleep quality.”
People also work at home from “strange places” – not at desks, but at dining tables and from the bed, causing strain on the neck, back, and shoulders, he adds. To mitigate this, he recommends exercise, such as a walk.
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The doctor is crystal clear that with sleep, quality trumps quantity.
“Some of my patients can sleep for 10 hours, but they are still sleepy and tired,” he says. “Sleep is not just rest. It is an essential time for the body to perform routine maintenance. Dream sleep is essential to feeling refreshed in the morning.”
What about myths of CEOs and founders who famously run on little sleep and get lots done?
“Everybody is different,” Pang admits. “Unfortunately, there is no way to ‘train’ yourself to sleep less. Restricting yourself to only 4 to 5 hours of sleep for several weeks results in slow performance, impaired judgement, irritability and poorer mood.”
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He also warns against the myth that older adults need less sleep.
“Older people need the same amount of sleep as everyone else: 7 to 9 hours per night,” he says. “Unfortunately, because of this myth, many do not seek help for sleep problems.”
Dr Conor Heneghan, Fitbit
The lead sleep research scientist at Fitbit is firm in his recommendation: no tackling difficult work at night, including emails.
“Our sleep has been impacted by uncertainties and changes brought on by the pandemic, which have added stressors to our lives that didn’t exist before,” he says.
As executives work late from home, one common habit is staying exposed to bright lights till very close to bedtime.
“The best thing you can do, regardless of your stress levels or to-do list, is to go to bed when it’s time for bed. This way, you maintain an established sleep schedule and feel ready to take on the day the next morning,” says Heneghan.
Quality rest hinges heavily on observing a fixed bedtime, he adds. “Especially for execs working long hours, keeping your circadian clock dialled in is extremely important for upholding quality sleep.”
This means resisting the temptation to hit the snooze button.
“Many people set multiple alarms in the morning because they still feel tired when they wake up, and think that snoozing their alarm will give them extra minutes of sleep back,” he explains. “But this inconsistency can be disruptive to the sleep cycle. It’s important to remember that you won’t gain much back from snoozing for a few minutes.”
No exceptions, even on the weekends. “Avoid sleeping in, or try not to make too large of a difference in wake up time,” the doctor adds. “Social jet lag, brought on by the shift in sleep experienced on weekends versus workdays, can impact your rest.”
Gidania Wong, SOVA
Wong, the founder of luxury sleep brand SOVA, is an advocate of the power nap.
“It takes between 15 and 30 minutes to fully energise my mind and body on days when energy is lower, or even in between meetings,” she says. “You’d be surprised what a 30 minute nap can do to perk your body up.”
She says leaders and entrepreneurs – often, excellent multi-taskers – should view sleep as another of their tasks to secure daily. This helps to ensure they lock in quality sleep.
“For high achievers, rest may be difficult as it is often characterised as being unproductive and doing nothing,” she says. “This ignites fear and anxiety for people who like to be busy. So reframe the situation to one where sleep is critical for you to achieve your work goals.”
Wong adds that rising early is celebrated in Asian culture, and sleeping more equates to laziness.
“We should stop wearing the lack of sleep as a badge of honour or a measure of how effective and productive we are,” she says. “You’re less likely to make errors or fall sick if you’re well-rested.”
Justin Leong, ResMed
The president of medical device manufacturer Resmed’s Asia and Latin America arms says that to him, sleep equals success.
“If you aren’t getting enough deep sleep, you are not giving yourself the chance to perform at your best,” he declares, citing an in-house survey that found work anxieties were the top source of poor sleep in Singapore amid Covid-19.
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“Whether you’re an entrepreneur, leader, or CEO, sleep must be managed carefully around work and other commitments. With remote work, we can work from anywhere at any time, but the same can’t be said for our sleep.”
Leong wants to bust the myth that 4-6 hours is sufficient once the body gets used to it. “It’s not healthy. Lack of deep sleep can cause significant fatigue,” he says. Restorative sleep helps the body recover from daily activities, including stressful meetings.
He adds that those who have trouble falling asleep or wake up tired should reevaluate their schedules: “We need to be more aware of how sleep can affect our health, regardless of net worth.”