Merge's Blog

Sleep-deprived leaders aren’t very inspiring!

sleep-at-the-deskThis blog is all about what it takes to be an inspirational leader, and sometimes I even blog about how to inspire a certain category of employee (see my Globe & Mail article titled How to inspire the close-to-retirement employee).  Today though, my guest blogger and good friend Dr. David Merrell has a completely different view on the subject of what it takes to be a leader who inspires others – apparently one who gets enough sleep!  Turns out that the research shows that sleep-deprived leaders aren’t very inspiring!  Dr. Merrell is founder of the Merrell Clinic that, among other things, focuses on common sleep disorders.  I am delighted that he is joining us on blog today to talk about something that should (but usually isn’t) discussed a whole lot more!

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Need an extra coffee to stay focused and non-combative in the meeting room?  Retail coffee outlets are struggling for market share and very grateful for your additional latte purchases.  Unfortunately, a caffeine boost is a temporary improvement for a growing and often chronic situation for leaders.  Sleep DeprivationChristopher Barnes, at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, showed Sleep-Deprived Leaders Are Less Inspiring.  They tend to be less charismatic because they are less effective at regulating their displays of positive emotion.  Barnes group also looked at team members who were sleep deprived and showed they were more difficult to inspire.  They demonstrated that insufficient sleep makes for grumpier managers and team workers.

Sleep deprivation is more common than you might realize

Sleep Deprivation or the medical term, sleep insufficiency, is common and may result from a variety of factors, including work demands, social and family responsibilities, medical conditions and sleep disorders.  As sleep debt accumulates, individuals may experience reduced performance, increased risk for accidents and death, detrimental effects on both psychological and physical health.  Many of my own patients have commented that with improved sleep quality and adequate sleep duration, there have been changes.  Their co-workers and family members have noted they are more relaxed, more patient and have improved memory.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reports Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Problem in the US, with 35.3% of adults reporting less than 7 hours of sleep during a typical 24-hr. period.  Adding jet lag, insomnia or sleep apnea and snoring to the mix will impact Sleep Deprivation even greater.  In 2015 The National Sleep Foundation published an Expert Consensus Panel giving sleep guidelines for children through adults.  For those 26-64 years old, 7 to 9 hours per night on a regular basis, is advised to promote optimal health.

For further information, I highly recommend the TED talk by Arianna Huffington: How to succeed? Get more sleep!  In this 4-minute talk she describes her own collapse and injuries that resulted from an outdated, commonly held, business driven work ethic.

Here is a summary

  • Leaders are sleep deprived most of the time & often create sleep depriving conditions for employees
  • Sleep-deprived leaders are less effective & subordinates are grumpier & more difficult to inspire
  • 3% of adults report less than 7 hours of sleep per night
  • 7-9 hrs per night, on a regular basis, is advised to promote optimal health
  • Seek medical care if daytime sleepiness, sleep apnea, insomnia or snoring occur

Dr. Merrell summarizes the key issues very well in this last paragraph above.  What are your thoughts?  Do you agree?  What have you seen in your workplaces that would support what the research shows?  I am particularly interested in the implications of the first bullet point – that sleep-deprived leaders often create sleep-depriving conditions for their employees – true, or not?  Please share your thoughts by commenting below.

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Dr. David Merrell is founder of Merrell Clinic providing treatment, long term management, research and consulting in common sleep disorders; as well as workplace health, wellness and safety.  You can find out more about his practice at or their Facebook page:

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