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Sleep: The Secret Leadership Weapon No One Wants to Talk About

If there was a secret weapon in leadership, would you use it?

Most of us would say ‘absolutely’—as long as it’s ethical.

So here’s a leadership weapon almost no leader will talk about. In fact, in some circles, it’s embarrassing to talk about.

Sleep.

More specifically, getting enough of it.

In more than a few high octane leadership circles, barely sleeping is seen as a badge of honor (I can run on four hours a night!).

But what if your lack of sleep wasn’t a badge of honor at all?

What if your lack of sleep is undermining your leadership? Making you worse, not better?

And what if it’s not just taking a toll on you at work, but also at home … making you a worse parent, spouse and even friend?

So … What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?

The Center for Disease Control recently called insufficient sleep a public health epidemic, arguing it causes industrial accidents, motor vehicle accidents and even medical errors.

1. Lack of sleep can literally kill you.

And the implications are a little more serious than nodding off in a meeting after lunch. According to medical research, chronic lack of sleep can cause weight gain, age your skin, harm your sex drive, impair memory, and contribute to illnesses as serious as diabetes, heart attacks, strokes and even premature death.

It’s a little shocking, but it’s not actually an exaggeration to say that a chronic lack of sleep can kill you.

2. Lack of sleep often leads to burnout.

I know for me, chronic lack of sleep was one of the key factors that led to my burnout a number of years back.

Like many leaders, in the name of caring for others, I had stopped caring for myself and my family. I thought I was super human and I only needed four to five hours of sleep a night.

I’m not the only leader who burned out. Perry Noble and I chronicle our stories of burnout in quite a bit of detail here, and the post also contains a lot of resources that Perry and I have put together to help leaders who are burning out.

3. At a minimum, it will make you hard to live with.

Even if you’re not dead, sick or burning out, lack of sleep can turn you into you a bit of a jerk.

Unrested, you’ll snap at the kids more, fight with your spouse more, and even at work, you won’t be fun to hang around.

Or at least all of the above is true for me.

Here’s what I find.

I am at my most kind when I’m the most rested. When I’m tired, I’m just not nearly as nice to be around.

If you can’t identify with that statement, it’s probably because you haven’t been well rested in, well, years.

You’ll be amazed what happens if you ever get enough sleep to finally not be tired any more. Seriously.

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Speaker and podcaster Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in Canada. With over 6 million downloads, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast features today's top leaders and cultural influencers. His most recent book is “Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.” Carey and his wife, Toni, reside near Barrie, Ontario and have two children.