Your Lack of Sleep is Hurting Your Business…And Could Be Killing You

Gene Marks

There was once a time — when I was younger — when I bragged about how little sleep I needed: “I can go on just three or four hours of sleep,” I remember telling people, thinking that it was a sign of strength. I’ve since learned that not getting enough sleep isn’t a sign of strength — it’s more of a weakness. It hurts our businesses and it could kill us.

Kill us?

Yes, that’s according to professor Matthew Walker, who is the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley. His book, called Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams has just been released. Lack of sleep has been linked to many diseases — from cancer to Alzheimer’s — as well as obesity, diabetes, and poor mental health.

“Once you know that after just one night of only four or five hours’ sleep, your natural killer cells — the ones that attack the cancer cells that appear in your body every day — drop by 70%, or that a lack of sleep is linked to cancer of the bowel, prostate and breast, or even just that the World Health Organisation has classed any form of night-time shift work as a probable carcinogen, how could you do anything else?” Walker said in an interview with the Guardian.

It’s a huge problem that affects us personally. And it also affects our businesses.

Not getting enough sleep diminishes our mental abilities. It clouds our decision-making. It makes us irritable. It causes us to do things that we may not have done if we were thinking with a clearer head. As business owners, our employees, customers, suppliers, partners, and their families are relying on us to make the best decisions we can so that our companies can continue not only to survive, but also to grow and provide a livelihood for all.

RELATED: Stressed? Not Sleeping? Here’s What Science Says About Sleep and How Much You Need to Be a Productive Small Business Owner

Purposely not taking care of ourselves is violating the fiduciary responsibility that we all assume when we choose to lead.

Of course, there are many people who suffer from insomnia and this is a condition that is challenging to treat. But there are others, like me, who often choose to stay up later to watch the end of the game or a movie, do more work, have another drink, or read a little more. This just pushes our bodies too far.

Happily, I changed my habits a few years ago:

  • I stopped having that last glass of wine late in the night.
  • I drank that last cup of coffee at lunch, not dinner.
  • I made it a point to get the lights out around 10 p.m.

Sure, sometimes I don’t fall asleep right away. But relaxing and deep breathing in a quiet, darkened room without any stimulants is meditative. I admit that not all nights are the same and sometimes my travel schedule interrupts this routine. But I try to close my eyes and catch some sleep on longer flights or even — and this is true — put my head down for a 30-minute catnap at my desk. I don’t think these practices replace the value of a good night’s rest. But they help. Walker suggests going even further, like alarming oneself 30 minutes before going to bed in order to begin to “wind down.”

Our jobs as business owners require us to be healthy and mentally alert. The smartest business owners I know are balanced. They are not workaholics. They understand the benefits of moderation. They work hard, but then they know when to stop. They play hard, but then they know when to rest. They take care of their bodies and their minds because they know they are not only harming themselves, but potentially the others around them if they don’t.

So listen to me: Go to bed. Trust me, the world will continue to turn and you’ll be more able to deal with tomorrow’s problems after a good eight hours’ rest.

How much sleep do you need each night to run your business successfully the next day?

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14 Responses to "Your Lack of Sleep is Hurting Your Business…And Could Be Killing You"
    • CHARLOTTE GARRISON | August 7, 2019 at 1:51 pm

      good article

      • Chloe Silverman | August 7, 2019 at 2:54 pm

        Thank you for the comment, Charlotte!

    • Felicia | August 7, 2019 at 10:30 am

      What happens when you’re short handed because you can’t afford to hire the people you need because everybody else has their hand out….

    • John Enright | August 6, 2019 at 11:55 pm

      I really enjoy and appreciate the newsletter. Very informative and timely articles.
      So refreshing and relevant, My previous carrier did their best to keep you in the dark on all matters, more so with regards to your account. The online access is so necessary. Thanks so much.

      • Chloe Silverman | August 7, 2019 at 9:50 am

        Thank you for this feedback, John! We are so glad you enjoy the newsletter!

    • Kelvin T. Haynie | November 20, 2018 at 7:54 am

      @Ray Miller. Your reply is on point in my case. The lack of restful sleep is the results of procrastinating and poor planning and vice-versa. It has also had some effects to the body’s health system as well. I did a sleep study per my doctor and after that 1 night of 8 hours of sleep I felt so rejuvenated the next day. It was the best sleep I’ve had in about 20 years or better. I am also willing to do another sleep study just to get another good night’s rest.

    • Molly P | July 17, 2018 at 1:43 pm

      Dear Jovianne,
      It’s been 8 months since your post. I sincerely hope you are feeling better and resting.

    • Jovianne Osuch | November 29, 2017 at 12:14 pm

      I am suffering from a esophageal condition that keeps me coughing and throwing up about every 2 hours throughout the night. This has been going on since May and there are many weeks where I literally get only 10 hours of sleep A WEEK. Needless to say this has affected me everywhere. Now I am faced with having used up all my sick time and still having the problem so it makes it difficult to even make up the hours. My energy level is at an all time low and fight throughout the day to keep my head above water. YES, I have been to my Doctor and have had many tests….but the wheels of medicine turn slowly. I guess my only purpose in responding is that I can testify to the far reaching complications associated with little or no sleep. I hope my doctors come up with a solution soon….probably will require surgery, but due to the slow navigation of medicine, I am anticipating another couple of months of this….

    • Cheryl McWilliams | November 29, 2017 at 4:40 pm

      Thanks for the reminder!

    • Gracie Longoria | November 29, 2017 at 4:11 pm

      Thank you so much for the reminder about how important sleep really is. I will work harder to make sleep a PRIORITY. Wow! Scary to read the adverse effects of NOT getting enough sleep.

    • JPasint | November 14, 2017 at 10:14 pm

      What if we are Macs?!

    • Crystal Rodriguez | October 31, 2017 at 10:02 pm

      Love this reminder! I imagine our bodies like a computer – in order to avoid crashes & slowing down we need to shut down every night so we can feel refreshed in the morning.Thank you for such a great article.

    • Raymond Sabourin | October 31, 2017 at 6:05 pm

      Good information as always I look forward in learning from your Small Biz Ahead e-mails.

      Great Job/ Thanks

    • Ray Miller | October 31, 2017 at 1:21 pm

      The lack of sleep in most instances results from procrastination and poor planning. In short, we can control this behavior which is negatively impacting our mental acuity and long term health outcomes.

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