Robert Frost, in his poem, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening , wrote the famous lines, which have been oft quoted by almost everyone while standing at crossroads during a point in life:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep
Sleep has always been equated with rest, relaxation, retirement, and in extreme cases, termed as a waste of time. Erratic sleep hours have turned into a way of life, ever since the advent of IT sector and mobile phones. Job timings aren’t 9-5 anymore, with work being brought home as well, thanks to technology and communication.
So, what does ‘sleep for success’ imply in this hyper connected world?
There is enormous focus on performance, with deadlines frequently looming ahead — a constant feature in an executive’s life. Travel, often across time zones, and Google calendar filled with meetings and events, are now an integral part of work life.
Many executives start their day with early morning breakfast meetings and end it with late night dinner sessions. The concept of tele-commuting and having long-distance bosses has forced many executives to work round-the-clock and meet the demands of their bosses or customers, who operate from different time zones.
Rapidly advancing technology has resulted in unprecedented productivity gains — instantaneous and cost effective communication is available to anyone who has an access to a smartphone. We can surf hundreds of channels in every conceivable genre, on our television; the various avatars of social media have ensured that we stay tuned in to our friends’ and families’ lives.
Globalisation and well-integrated economies have created new industries, generated millions of new jobs across the world and enormous wealth for stakeholders. Life is a mixed blessing, indeed!
But one of the main downsides of this intrusive technology is the shrinking ‘me’ time, and with it, diminishing sleep, in terms of number of hours as well as quality.
Importance of good quality sleep
Restful sleep is absolutely critical for a good quality of life. Sleep, along with nutritious food and exercise, forms the holy trinity of a well-balanced life. Ignore this, and be prepared to endure the harmful impact of sleep deficiency, that is well-documented by the medical field.
Nonetheless, it is the most neglected. All-nighters are common before exams in many B-Schools.
However, medical research proves burning the midnight oil is not wise as good sleep is very important for a sound memory. It converts short-term memories into long-term ones, a process that is called memory consolidation.
Over a period of time, sleep deprived people can face a huge challenge in remembering events. They can experience disorientation, struggle to focus, recollect and, in many cases, even articulate.
While late night studying rules a student’s life, red-eye flights set the pace of a jet-setting executive’s life. I have seen many professionals who are so tired that they nod off right in the middle of important meetings!
Senior leaders in corporate world have enormous responsibilities, as they make crucial decisions that will have long-standing impact on their companies, employees and society at large. It is therefore, important that they remain alert and fully engaged when they participate in important meetings and make those vital decisions.
Develop a sleep hygiene and regime
In the last few years, there has been a lot of awareness around fitness and healthy eating. There is a strong drive amongst corporates to instil healthy lifestyle habits in their employees.
Adults need six to eight hours of undisturbed, restful sleep. They are lucky if they have an opportunity to enjoy a siesta, or an afternoon nap.
Siesta is prevalent in many cultures across the world. In fact, the longevity of people in the Mediterranean countries has been attributed to siesta along with healthy food. Many Arabic countries too shut down work in the afternoons during hot summers to allow people take a customary nap.
When the greats nap
Legendary inventor and founder of General Electric, Thomas Alva Edison was famous for his catnaps. During some of his nap sessions, he did more than recharge his internal batteries. He used his imagination to work on creative problems. Working naps required sitting upright in a chair, since it made it harder for him to fully sleep, and possible to stay lightly conscious during these sessions.
To further assure that he would not lapse into deep slumber, he would hold a steel ball-bearing in each hand. On the floor, placed directly below his closed hand, would be a metal saucer. Should he fall completely asleep, his hands would relax, dropping each ball-bearing onto the metal saucer, making a noise loud enough to wake Edison into alertness.
Closer home, I recall reading an article about our President Pranab Mukherjee on what gives him seemingly inexhaustible energy at the age of 80. He starts his day at 6 am and rarely goes to bed before 1 am. A short power nap in the ante room of his office rejuvenates his energy for the rest of the day.
In order to maintain a balance between my work and life, I have developed few habits. I try and avoid early morning flights as much as possible. I travel the previous evening to my destination and get a good night’s sleep. This ensures that I am alert and productive the next day and well-prepared for my meetings with my colleagues and customers. The second thing I avoid is carrying any mobile device to bed. My mobile phone stays in my study room.
My friends and colleagues have often asked me about the risk of being inaccessible for urgent matters. Due to this habit, I have personally faced challenges in two occasions in the last 10 years. However, I am not advocating this as a general rule.
Individuals need to make their own assessments, keeping in context the nature of their profession and personal circumstances. A senior law enforcement officer or a trauma care medical personnel can ill-afford to remain cut-off. However, they need to find a mechanism to address their sleep deficit.
In conclusion, it is important to cultivate good sleeping habits. A well-rested individual will be a balanced person and approach various facets of life in a well-thought out, intelligent manner.
One cannot but agree whole heartedly with Thomas Dekker, who said: Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.