Chief of Instagram Kevin Systrom recently told the Financial Times that his required eight hours of sleep was “terrible for an entrepreneur.” Systrom, obviously a smart guy when it comes to business--Facebook just paid a cool $1 billion for his fledgling photo-sharing app company--was actually dead wrong in this assumption. In fact, sleep is critically important, not only to the basic function of the brain, but to the type of thinking skills that can make or break an entrepreneur or businessperson.
Most people have heard that lack of sleep is linked a host of health problems, from weight gain and getting sick more often to sexual dysfunction and early death. No one wants any of these things to befall them, and while we’re staving them off with a good night’s sleep, here are the reasons that getting adequate sleep will also enhance your business prowess.
1. Your Brain Cells May Nap While You’re Awake
Last year a study in Nature reported that when animals are sleep-deprived, groups of neurons randomly decide to take “cat naps,” ostensibly to make up the sleep they’re missing. And these little naps can affect how we do business throughout the day: Author Giulio Tononi, MD, PhD explained that “tired neurons in an awake brain may be responsible for the attention lapses, poor judgment, mistake-proneness and irritability that we experience when we haven't had enough sleep, yet don’t feel particularly sleepy.” There’s nothing worse than when parts of your brain are nodding off during a client meeting, so prevent that from happing with a full night’s sleep.
2. Lack of Sleep Ages Your Brain
A study in Sleep last year found that people who get too little or too much sleep have deficits in their cognitive function and reasoning skills. These deficits were enough to make one’s brain act the equivalent of 4-7 years older. Even worse was that changes in sleep duration (people who switched from sleeping a lot to sleeping a little, and vice versa) were linked to worse problems in brain function. Cognitive sluggishness and premature brain aging are not things we should subject our brains do if we can avoid it.
3. Sleep-Deprived People Make Riskier (Read: Worse) Decisions
Some of the best evidence that business people need their zzz’s is a study last year in the Journal of Neuroscience that found that people make riskier – and not necessarily wiser – financial decisions when they are sleep-deprived. And the areas of the brain that are known to be linked to positive rewards were more active in the sleep-deprived people, indicating that the sleep-deprived were somewhat more deluded about their decision-making abilities than rested people. “Even if someone makes very sound, risky financial decisions after a normal night of sleep, there is no guarantee that this same person will not expose you to untoward risk if sleep deprived," said study author Michael Chee, MD of Duke University.
4. Sleeping On It Lets Your Brain Process The Data
People who sleep on their decisions may make better, more rational ones than those who decide in the moment. The idea is that sleep allows the conscious brain to take a break from the problem at hand (any kind of distraction can work to this effect), so that unconscious processes take over and evaluate the issue. So the old adage “sleep on it” may be right, and relevant whether you are deciding whether to sell a $1 billion company, or make a career change.
5. Sleep Helps Solidify Memories Sleep has long been known to boost learning, by consolidating memories that we accrue throughout the day. The connections between brain cells that underlie our memories are strengthened, and the “useless” ones are pruned back during sleep. So if you’re trying to recall the details of an early morning meeting, you might actually find that getting a full night’s sleep afterwards makes those specifics a little crisper.
Watch out for Sleep Meds
It’s worth pointing out that sleep of the natural kind is usually the best option. Recent research found that sleeping pills, of many varieties, are linked to death – and to certain types of cancer. Benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepines like Ambien (zolpidem), Lunesta (eszopiclone) and Sonata (zaleplon), barbiturates, and sedative antihistamines were among the medications that were associated with premature death (and cancer). Natural remedies like relaxation techniques, meditation, or melatonin are probably the better options.