The Power of Sleep

15 August 2018

The Power of Sleep

In the latest blog post from our Heads Together and Row research team, research associate Ole Petter Anfinsen considers the importance of a good night’s rest.

Losing sleep is a considerable health risk.

Executive health, both physiological and psychological, seems to be one of the biggest leadership challenges of the 21st century and ‘isolation, the pain of downsizing and pace of work’ are stresses that senior executives are exposed to in contrast to others which seems to have a direct impact on well-being (Khan, et al., 2003). There are several important factors playing a part in this equation, with sleep being one of them.

Don’t wake the monster who sleeps…

A good night’s sleep is underestimated by many, and set sleeping cycles amongst high level executives are often not present. Lack of sleep has a direct impact on mental health as it has been shown to increase hostility and decrease self-control (Christian & Ellis, 2011). This means that losing sleep could become a considerable health risk. Sleep disturbances have been proven to be a factor disrupting mental stability and influencing suicidal behaviour (Perlis, et al., 2016). But mental health is still a delicate topic and managers are more comfortable discussing physical health than mental disorders, even though more than a quarter of managers have experienced mental health problems (Greenwood, 2016).

There is also a direct correlation between mental and physical health, where a decrease in mental health increases sick leave and decreases effectiveness and efficiency when at work. Mental illnesses can amplify physical symptoms and complications, as for example anxiety can cause blood and breathing problems as well as chronic physical pain. Depression also leads to physical health issues such as heart trouble, a weakened immune system, obesity and diabetes, to only mention a few (Wilkerson, 2009).

So one thing is for sure, getting a good night’s sleep is utterly important. But as if this wasn’t enough, for a senior executive or an athlete (looking at our team members) it also affects another crucial aspect – the accuracy of decision-making and problem-solving (Barnes & Hollenbeck, 2009) which they are heavily dependent on in order to perform and meet the increasing demands.

The Vicious Cycle

How people perform is also influenced by the working conditions, as environmental stress directly impacts workforce capacity, which again affects sleep and loops back to performance. This influences motivation and the ability to meet demands, which again amplifies into physiological reactions such as irritation, headaches and lack of focus. This also has a negative impact on individual resilience and the ability to multitask – meeting increasing demands, and work performance is reduced due to a decrease in well-being (Lamb & Kwok, 2016).

The “8-hour rule”

But luckily there are things one can do. A good rule of thumb is the “8-hour rule” which may help people to establish some good ground rules that will not only help them obtain set sleep cycles, but also a better balance between work and private life, supporting a good work-life balance. It simply means: sleep for 8 hours, work for 8 hours and do something else for 8 hours (Grønn, 2018). For our team members at sea it will be quite different, due to the special circumstances, but they should always aim to get around 8 hours of sleep in order to support good physical and mental health - optimising performance.


Barnes, C. M. & Hollenbeck, J. R.(2009). Sleep deprivation and decision-making teams: burning the midnight oil or playing with fire?. The Academy of Management Review, 34(1), 56-66.

Christian, M. S. & Ellis, A. P.(2011). Examinining the effects of sleep deprivation on workplace, Deviance: a self-regulatory perspective, Arizona: Academy of Management Journal.

Grønn, H. (2018). TV 2. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 2 April 2018].

Greenwood, J. (2016). Quarter of managers have mental health diagnosis.. Coprorate Adviser, 11 3, 1-1.

Khan, K., Kunz, R., Kleijnen, J. & Antes, G. (2003). Five steps to conducting a systematic review. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 96(3), 118-121.

Lamb, S. & Kwok, K. (2016). A longitudinal investigation of work environment stressors on the performance and wellbeing of office workers. Applied Ergonomics, Volume 52, 104-111.

Perlis, M. L. et al. (2016). Theoretical review: Suicide and sleep: Is it a bad thing to be awake when reason sleeps?. Sleep Medicine Reviews , Volume 29, 101-107.

Roche, M., Haar, J. & Luthans, F. (2014). The Role of Mindfulness and Psychological Capital on the Well-Being of Leaders. Journal Of Occupational Health Psychology, 19(4), 476-489.

Wilkerson, B. (2009). Mental Health: The Forgotten Illness. Benefits & Compensation Digest, 46(1), 1-24.