How to Get Better Sleep and Become a More Effective Leader

How many of us are up all night and burning the candle at both ends?

Whether it is that imminent deadline, a challenge at work, or the number of commitments and responsibilities we have said ‘yes” to, sleep often becomes the least of our concerns.

We toss.

We turn.

We think…and think…and think…

With so much expectation and pressure perceived and experienced, it is no wonder why so many of the executive leaders I work with commit to long hours at the office, impacting their quality of life and, more specifically, their sleep. When we work, work, work and do not leave time and energy in our lives for relaxation, exercise, family friends, or activities that we enjoy, we often don’t sleep well. Yet, sleep is essential to achieving effective leadership, organizational objectives, and connecting with our teams.

Good sleep leads to good decisions, relationships, and the management of our emotions. The equation is that simple, and yet almost half of all Americans report being sleepy most if not all the days of the week. This means we – leaders and our direct reports alike – are not getting the sleep needed to promote good health and high performance, personally and professionally.

In her 2016 New York Times best-selling book, The Sleep Revolution, author and CEO of Thrive Global, Arianna Huffington identified, “We sacrifice sleep in the name of productivity but, ironically, our loss of sleep, despite the extra hours we put in at work, adds up to more than eleven days of lost productivity per year per worker, or about $2,280. This results in a total annual cost of sleep deprivation to the US economy of more than $63 billion, in the form of absenteeism and presenteeism when employees are present at work physically, but not really mentally focused.” Consider how many times in the last 30 days this has applied to you or your direct reports. How might getting a better night’s sleep have benefitted you and your team?

Research shows that we need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. In 7-9 hours, nature gives us the ability to practice self-care, restore our mind and body, and help protect us from ailments such as depression, diabetes, and obesity. Quality sleep brings with it greater self-awareness, focus, and better stress management as well – all of which are key ingredients to effective leadership.

As we celebrate Self-Care Awareness month, consider the ways that you, as a leader, can get more sleep and encourage your team to do so as well, including:

  • Switching to water in place of caffeinated beveragesafter 2 p.m.
  • Shutting off and stepping away from electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed.
  • Grabbing an enjoyable fiction book where you can lose yourself in the story. (Note: As much as I love a great nonfiction book, this is not recommended before bed because, if you are anything like me, all of the things you are learning may spark ideas and insights – as great as they are – that keep you up at night rather than prepare you for sleep.)
  • Making your bed a non-workspace. I get it. That backrest pillow and lap desk can be inviting, and yet quality sleep requires that we save our tranquil space for exactly that: tranquility. That said, if you can keep your bedroom a bedroom, not an office space, even better, but make your bed off limits to work.

Looking for more solutions to prepare your body and mind for sleep? Here are some of my favorite strategies that I use myself and with my clients to move into a calmer space.

Structured Breathing Square

Often used in the military, this technique works to calm our nervous system and consists of taking a deep breath in for a count of 3, holding the breath for a count of 3, breathing out slowly for a count of 3, and pausing for a count of 3. Then, repeat. It’s that easy.

Physically draw a square in the air or on your leg, stopping at each corner of the square with each new step as you move through the process.

Remember this technique before going to bed as well as for the next time you are stuck in traffic or feeling a rise of tension or anxiety.

Body Scan Meditation

We are running all day long, and yet when it is time to pause, we maintain our sprints from one place to another, one thought to the next. Body scan meditations, a form of mindfulness, can help us relax while becoming more aware of what our body is trying to tell us.

Set aside 5 minutes and take a seat or lay down where you feel the most comfortable. Take deep breaths in and out as you move down your body from the top of your head, behind your eyes, through your shoulders, stomach, legs, and toes – mentally touch upon each area and take your time as you do.

Notice any stress, tension, tightness, or pain. Sit in that area of your body for a little longer. This way, you train your body to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. After you have intentionally scanned all parts of your body and explored the sensations experienced, take another deep breath, and slowly open your eyes.

There are several apps you might use to guide you through your body scan meditation, including or this longer one of 30 minutes at

Visualize your Happy Place

Visualizing the place that brings you the most joy has the power of not only bringing you to the beginnings of restful slumber but also a general state of happiness.

Get comfortable and close your eyes as you visualize your happy place.

  • What do you see? Explore the colors, shapes, and sights that bring you so much joy.
  • What do you smell? Is it sweet and aromatic? Does it bring with it memories of something wonderful?
  • What do you hear? Is it a song, the sounds of nature, or something else?
  • What do you feel against your skin? Is it a cozy, warm sensation or a cool breeze?

Come back to your happy place as often and whenever you need to.

Try one or all of these strategies, and then share your experience and reflections with us. As you feel more rested, how might that help you become a better leader? How might it help your team?

Looking for more ways in which you can become a more effective leader? We help leaders of Fortune 500 companies and national organizations better understand the actions they can take that work best for themselves, their teams, and their organizations. Contact us to learn more about our executive coaching opportunities and the Leadership Evolution Program at [email protected]. We will talk soon.