You are feeling very sleepy: How much sleep do business leaders really need?


We asked business leaders how much kip they get

Seven times Wimbledon champion Roger Federer says he can’t get by on less than 11-12 hours of sleep every night.

Usain Bolt has a similar sleep regime.

At the other end of the scale, the former prime minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, says he only needs 2-4 hours, and Margaret Thatcher famously got by on four hours.

In the 1980s, Thatcher’s restive regime became something of a hallmark of her Iron Lady image, and though not necessarily the cause of such competitiveness, was certainly recognised by City workers in London striving to impress by staying up late, and getting into work early.

Donald Trump, businessman and statesman extraordinaire, claims he gets just three hours a night.

But the macho culture of no sleep has been called into question in recent years, and a growing body of evidence points to the risks of not sleeping enough.

New government guidelines are encouraging Britons to sleep more as doctors have proved links between lack of sleep and problems including obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

A recent study by British scientists found that those who get less than six hours’ sleep a night will see changes to over 700 genes over time, which helps explain why they are more prone to such a variety of health problems.

Meanwhile, a study by Dr. Charles Czeisler, the Baldino Professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, says that lack of sleep is “downright dangerous”, and has said that the fastest way to improve performance in business is to sleep more.

In his studies he found that those who sleep just 5-6 hours a night develop the same level of cognitive impairment as if they’d been awake for a full 24 hours. Reaction times, judgement and problem solving were all negatively affected in a similar manner to alcohol.

But changing the habits of a lifetime is no easy task. And for entrepreneurs and business leaders there are of course, extra time pressures and self-enforced goals.

LondonLovesBusiness.com asked today’s business leaders how much sleep they get and why.

Darren Fell CEO of Crunch

Having recently had my first child I’m currently making do on as much sleep as I can manage, which is usually a few hours a night. It varies hugely from person to person, but it’s important to find out how much you need to be productive. Lots of business owners, especially in the startup phase, try to exist on as little sleep as possible but in reality could be hurting their productivity. An extra hour’s sleep is lost time, sure, but if you’re well rested you’ll easily make up that deficit during the day by working better.

Lee Biggins founder and director of CV-Library

I average about 6-7 hours a night, but it ebbs and flows depending on work commitments. There are occasions where, when required, I only sleeps 2-3 hours a night because important matters need attention. However, if there are a few nights in a row like that, I will take a late morning to catch up – one of the advantages of being a business owner. Ensuring you get enough sleep is essential to ensure you are at your very best, I always try to balance it where possible, but you have to be flexible.

Mr. Sethia owner of Newby Teas

Depending upon the power of mind and the ability of the body, the body decides the number of sleep hours.  If physically one is exhausted, one will sleep long for the energy to revive.  If one is emotionally exhausted, then inertia will become predominant, but if mentally one is tired, then the subconscious will play and you will go into a deep sleep.  

It is the thought processes that direct the brain and the body, the time required for the body to rest/rejuvenate.

Sometimes I sleep five hours because of necessities, but sometimes I also sleep nine hours.  For an active mind, seven to eight hours sleep would be an ideal situation to keep the body momentum in harmony with the mind.

Oliver Pugh CEO and founder of EarlyBird snacks

How much sleep I get really depends on what is going on with EarlyBird at the time. When we raised our first investment round I barely slept at all. We had an investor pull out, and having my life’s savings and three people’s jobs on the line really affected my sleeping patterns. I can function on around four hours sleep now. Six is ideal, but any more than that actually makes me feel more tired – starting EarlyBird from scratch has trained my body to survive on far less sleep than I used to but I actually feel sharper and more productive for it. We’re about to start another investment round later this month, so I have a feeling I’ll be down to four hours a night again soon! 

Antony Green managing director Connect

The time on the clock read 04:11 when I awoke this morning – not because the alarm had gone off or the dog was barking, just because that’s when my brain woke up. Running a business is endlessly stimulating and full of possibility. A good night’s sleep is great, but the prospect of what a new day will bring is greater!

Sean Kinmont founding partner Creative, 23red

Sleep is good. I don’t trust people who say they get along on four hours, they’re hiding something!

Luckily, I don’t have a problem sleeping, I regularly average seven hours every night. It’s getting time to relax before sleep that’s the challenge: for business leaders I believe it’s important to ensure you unwind properly in the evening and assimilate the day, otherwise it will be a struggle to perform at your best in the morning.

Andrew Hawkins, managing director Doner

My Misfit activity monitor tells me that I had only six hours’ sleep last night – of which four hours were light sleep, and only two hours restful. Which explains why I feel a little jaded today.

Whilst I am determined not to become a slave to this technology, it has reinforced my belief that I can get away with six to seven hours sleep as long as four of those hours are restful – but that I am at my best and ready to lead the agency on eight hours. So I try and err on the side of more when I can. I just need Misfit to update their software to create a 26 hour day.

Jane Mitchell, weight loss and nutrition expert, author and founder of Jane Plan

I have very little sleep and feel fine. I actually get far less sleep now than in the years before starting my business. I probably get around six hours sleep a night. I think part of the reason that people in business or high powered positions manage to function on less sleep is because you start to live on the adrenaline of the business. Your body just adapts to getting less.

Jane Asscher, CEO and founding partner at 23red

The stress levels and the invasive nature of technology associated with my job can often get in the way of a good night’s sleep. So I have to create the right environment to forget the day and let my mind wander. I often have my best ideas when my mind wanders as I go to sleep and wake up.

There is no magic figure for what is ‘good’. It is very individual and it’s down to the quality of sleep. For me it’s eight hours a night and I know when I have had the right amount because I wake naturally before my Today Programme alarm. If I have to wait for John Humphreys to jolt me awake then I know I have not had enough.

Geoff Newman, founder, Recruitment Geni

You can’t sleep if you want to be a high performer. It’s not about quantity but the quality of sleep that’s what makes the difference.

I switch off once I’m home and try not to think about work. By 6am I’m on my turbo trainer then plan my day. I work long hours so my customers’ can sleep easy.

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