Working while sleepy? You might as well do vodka shots at your desk...

Missing one night of sleep is cognitively the same as having a 0.1 blood alcohol level – too high to legally drive. We all need to get some rest

There are certain kinds of people I will never understand. I don’t get people who jump out of airplanes for fun. I don’t understand people who enjoy the comedic stylings of Will Ferrell. The people I really don’t get, however, are the ones who disdain sleep.

A recent study found that one-third of Americans get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep. One sleep psychologist said we are so sleep-deprived that on any given day we’re functioning like we’ve been doing vodka shots at our desks. Missing one night of sleep is cognitively the same as having a 0.1 blood alcohol level – too high to legally drive.

Over in startup country and other places where people let things other than common sense run their decision-making, there is a belief that if you really want to be successful, you can find something more productive to do with your time than sleep.

Mike Grandinetti, a former Silicon Valley worker, told NPR about time he spent at one startup where “the boss routinely demanded all-nighters and walked around with a baseball bat to enforce a sense of urgency”.

The mentality is commonplace, wrote Medium essayist Leslie Bradshaw, who described getting by on four hours or less of sleep per night as a “superhuman power” that she once wore “like a badge of honor” in her days working for a small but fast-moving Beltway firm.

Yet as NPR and dozens of other sources tell us, going without sleep doesn’t make you a hard-charging go-getter in your field. It makes you anerror-prone grouch who can’t think straight or focus properly. The “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” attitude prevalent among many young tech and business workers may be largely to blame for the fact that 90% of startups fail.

Napping, it turns out, isgood for you. It improves productivity and aids learning. Workers who arewell rested are more productive, make fewer errors and take fewer sick days. But its not just that. I’m sure we’ve all experienced the way sleep helps us solve problems. Often when I have a problem I can’t think my way out of, a good night’s sleep provides me with the answer. I wake up knowing what to do as if I’ve known it all along.

And then there is that magic, gray state between awake and asleep where thoughts begin to change into improbable shapes and designs. So many times I have snapped awake out of this state with a perfect new idea or a solution to a longstanding problem because suddenly I was able to make connections that I couldn’t make awake.

It’s as if my linear, wide-awake self is only capable of looking at a problem from so many angles. Once the walls of consciousness start to fall away, my mind can see its way to new, more expansive horizons.

Shouldn’t this be the kind of thinking that we encourage in our innovators and business leaders? Rather than seeing sleep as a completely passive act for lazy sybarites, it might be that a full night’s sleep is one of the most powerful ways to gain an edge. An exhausted mind can barely drag itself from cognitive point A to point B, let alone think in innovative and “disruptive” ways.

It’s an interesting question. I suggest we sleep on it.

Source: The Guardian April 2016

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