Why do we overvalue people who undervalue sleep?

On my staycation over Christmas and New Year this year I read “Why we sleep” by Matthew Walker. What a fantastic book. A delicious compilation of neuroscientific studies showing why it’s so important that we get our required sleep. I really cannot recommend this book highly enough.

The results in a nutshell

Sure, the exact amount that everyone needs will vary – but not by as much as you think. 7 hours would be on the lower side and 9 hours on the higher side. The studies showed that failure to get your required shut-eye significantly increases your risk of:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Depression

… and the list goes on but these are certainly the ones that get most people’s attention!

In addition, a lack of sleep significantly reduces your productivity on a daily basis almost immediately. 

Think you are one of the lucky ones who can survive on less than 7 hours?

You might be – apparently there is a gene which allows you to survive on a much lower amount of sleep than average. But it’s extremely rare – you have more chance of being hit by lightning than you do of having that gene. So it’s probably safer to assume you need a little more sleep!

And as the book says – people are very quick to remember the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan who famously “survived” on less. You might also remember they both ended up battling Alzheimer’s disease…

So what does this mean for the office?

We really need to stop glorifying the idea of people not getting enough sleep. It’s not a badge of honour – it basically screams “I’m nowhere as productive as I could be!” In fact, it would be great to reward people for getting their required sleep rather than “looking busy” after hours.

In fact the more you know about the productivity side of things, you certainly don’t want to be paying hourly rates to people who burn the midnight oil, unless of course they start work in the afternoon if that suits their biorhythms – in which case no problem!

I’ve had this conversation with the lawyers we use for our NEP work. They are great! We work mostly on fixed fees and they know that we are not paying their hourly rates to do any of our work when they are really tired.

How to get more sleep?

We totally understand that this is easier said than done for many people and especially people with children. So for people with kids it’s how do you maybe enlist some support to help you get a few nights of uninterrupted sleep as a starting point. And we often find that in many cases, it’s not just the kids causing the sleeping issues, there could be some other factors as well that get blamed on the kids, so best to make sure you have good sleep hygiene in every other way possible……..

Do a “mental shutdown” well before bed

Think about all the things you need to do and where you are at with each of them, and get a plan together for when you will address all of these. Then record these either on paper or electronically so that you won’t forget anything. Once you have the plan and know that nothing will slip through the cracks, your brain will be far quicker to switch off.

Ease up on electronic devices 2 hours before bed

Everyone is different but if you feel your sleep is being impacted by electronic devices then ease up on their use close to bedtime.

Get the room temperature right

Go a little bit Goldilocks on this one – not too hot, not too cold.

Careful with the foods you eat and when

Some people can have food allergies and not even realise it. I once had a client with disrupted sleep and we suggested he get checked for food allergies. It turned out he was allergic to certain types of protein that interfered with his sleep – so he now has less protein from red meat and sleeps like a baby.

Eating too close to bedtime can also make it harder to get to sleep as your body is still busy digesting.

Watch your alcohol intake

Alcohol may help you get to sleep but when your brain gets dehydrated in the middle of the night, chances are you will wake up and find it harder to get back to sleep.


Focus on breathing using your diaphragm and count your breaths in and out so that you are focused on something other than any stressful thoughts. This type of breathing also sends a message to the brain that you are safe which is obviously a great message for your brain as you fall asleep.

These are just a few to get you started. If you feel like you still need help with racking up your desired hours of quality sleep time, we have quite a kitbag of ideas so please do get in touch to find out what might work best to suit your needs.


If you’d like to find out more, join the conversation in our next open workshop.