Great sleepers as kids make great leaders as adults.
Almost everyone you talk to will agree – they don’t get enough sleep. According to the National Institutes of Health, 50 to 70 million Americans are affected by chronic sleep disorders and intermittent sleep problems that can significantly diminish health, alertness and safety. That’s why I am dedicated to what I call the trifecta of optimal health: sleep, nutrition and exercise/meditation.
Many other professionals are also calling attention to this lack-of-sleep epidemic. Arianna Huffington, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post and one of the most influential women in the world, recently said we are in the midst of a sleep deprivation crisis and this has profound consequences on our health, job performance, relationships and happiness. Feeling so strongly about the magnitude of this issue, Ms. Huffington, author of several best-selling books, recently wrote “The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time.”
Sleep Linked to Effective Leadership
A survey by Harvard Business Review of more than 180 business leaders found that four out of 10 (43%) say they do not get enough sleep at least four nights a week, which can undermine leadership ability. In a recent interview, Ms. Huffington also linked proper sleep to effective leadership. When they are burnt out, she noted, business leaders won’t make the best decisions. Unfortunately, these adults may be overtired because they didn’t learn how to be great sleepers as children. By teaching children how to become great sleepers, not only will they be happier, healthier and more productive now, they will have the foundation to become great leaders in the future.
It’s been proven that basic functioning is affected by lack of sleep. While visual and motor skills deteriorate, it is not nearly to the same extent as higher-order mental skills. Neuroscientists know that, although other brain areas can cope relatively well with too little sleep, the prefrontal cortex cannot. This is important because the prefrontal cortex directs all the higher-order cognitive processes, such as problem solving, reasoning, organizing, inhibition, planning, and executing plans.
Consider this: Research shows that after about 17 to 19 hours of wakefulness, individual performance on a range of tasks is equivalent to that of a person with a blood alcohol level of .05%. That’s the legal drinking limit in many countries. After 20 hours of wakefulness, this same person’s performance equals that of someone with a blood alcohol level of 0.1%, which meets the legal definition of drunk in the U.S. We all know dedicated professionals that think nothing of working through the night to finish a project. Sadly, there are many parents driving their children around with too little sleep, thereby endangering their family and the lives of others.
Good Sleep Habits Benefit Everyone
Therefore, getting enough sleep becomes a responsibility – not merely a choice — and parents should instill the importance of sleep in children at a very young age. Adults need to set an example for their children by unplugging from electronics at least an hour before bedtime, and keeping regular sleep schedules that nourish their minds and bodies. There are several other strategies parents can employ to encourage good sleeping habits in their children.
Establish a sleep routine, and stick with it, even on the weekends. Start with having blackout shades in bedrooms, and keep bedrooms cool and comfortable — the best temperature for sleep is between 68 and 72 degrees.
Here are some simple, proven strategies for a sleep routine for children:
- Pull down the window shades.
- Lower the lights.
- Turn on a white noise machine or app.
- Be sure all electronics are turned off and/or removed from your child’s room at least an hour before bedtime.
- Bathe your child to relax him or her.
- If an infant, feed and burp your baby; change their diaper; and swaddle your little one (recommended until they learn to roll over).
- Read your child a book.
- Hugs and kisses, then lights out.
In addition to good nighttime sleep, napping is incredibly important and restorative for young children. Marc Weissbluth, M.D., states: “the two longer naps (the morning and the afternoon nap) have restorative qualities … these naps each have different restorative qualities from one another so each nap is equally as important as the other. The morning nap is mentally restorative and the afternoon nap is physically restorative. Neither nap can make up for the other as well as neither nap can be replaced by night sleep.”
As Ms. Huffington states, it’s time for a “sleep revolution” — time for a social order in which sleep is a priority. Teach children now to be great sleepers and watch for the great leadership ahead.