The co-founder and CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, lauded the powers of a good night’s sleep, recently tweeting a pic from his Pillow Automatic Sleep Tracker app that showed the benefits he reaped from getting 8.5 hours: A resting heart rate of 50 bpm and a heart rate variability of 123 ms. “Those numbers mean that Dorsey’s parasympathetic nervous system — the part of the body that keeps us resting, calm, focused, grounded — is in charge, as opposed to the fight-or-flight system, a stressed state of being, which is where we live when we don’t sleep,” Suzanne Steinbaum, D.O., a cardiologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and spokesperson for the American Heart Association, explains. Dr. Steinbaum calls sleep “a critical piece of overall wellness and essential for cardiovascular and heart health.”
Despite ample evidence that sleep improves our lives physically and mentally, an enduring myth persists in our culture that highly accomplished people eschew sleep to scale the highest heights of success. Famous sleep-dodgers include Elon Musk, who told the New York Times he’s been running himself ragged working 120 hours a week and de-prioritizing downtime and sleep, prompting Thrive’s Arianna Huffington to write him an open letter encouraging him to take the benefits of sleep to heart — for the sake of his well-being and his company, Tesla.
“When you think about living each day to the fullest, which is really what life is supposed to be about, sleeping well helps you think better, your moods are better, your ability to have a perspective on life is better, and you’re happier,” Dr. Steinbaum says. The sleep deprived, on the other hand, “make bad decisions” she notes, including in their professional lives.
The founders and CEOs of Amazon (Jeff Bezos), cybersecurity startup Quadium (Tim Junio), LinkedIn (Reid Hoffman), and co-founder of software company Buffer (Leo Widrich) agree with her and Dorsey. In their own words, here’s why they sing the gospel of shuteye.
Jeff Bezos: “Eight hours makes a big difference for me.”
“Eight hours of sleep makes a big difference for me, and I try hard to make that a priority. For me, that’s the needed amount to feel energized and excited… Mostly, as any of us go through our lives, we don’t need to maximize the number of decisions we make per day. Making a small number of key decisions well is more important than making a large number of decisions. If you shortchange your sleep, you might get a couple of extra ‘productive’ hours, but that productivity might be an illusion. When you’re talking about decisions and interactions, quality is usually more important than quantity.”
Tim Junio: “I don’t believe in the glorification of all-nighters.”
“Sleep the right amount your body needs, and plan your schedule around it. This advice borders on cliche, but I continue to see patterns where people know it’s true but fail to take it seriously. I cannot emphasize strongly enough how consistently sleeping well will make you a higher performer and happier person over a long time horizon; good sleep filters down into being better and enjoying more in all aspects of life. Not sleeping enough causes tremendous bad consequences, starting with inferior decision-making and, at the opposite extreme, weakening your immune system and potentially causing long-term damage to your brain. I don’t believe in the glorification of all-nighters as a sign of being a hard worker. If you don’t believe me, take it from Jeff Bezos! For me, the right amount of sleep is seven-to-eight hours per night.”
Reid Hoffman: “Foregoing sleep… is a path paved with peril.”
“If you’re a founder… constant pressure is the soundtrack to your life. Your long hours and all-consuming focus will play a huge role in making your company successful. But they’ll also change you. And, if you’re not careful, consume you. It isn’t entrepreneurship itself that’s the dangerous ingredient in this heady cocktail. The real peril lies in believing the myth of the infallible founder. The pervasive tale that you can — and that you must — work inhumanly long hours. Put yourself under enormous stress. Forego sleep, meals, relationships and life’s other pleasures. And that doing so is a fundamental part of the founder’s journey. Taking too many gulps of this particularly popular flavor of Kool-Aid is a path paved with peril.”
Leo Widrich: “If we are sleep deprived, our brain can’t refocus.”
“Whether we are sleep deprived or not, we lose focus at times. And that is precisely where the sleep deprived person lands in a trap. If we start to lose focus but have received the right amount of sleep, our brain can compensate for that and increase attention. If we are sleep deprived, our brain can’t refocus… The person bragging that they only slept four hours and still do great work, well, they are actually right… The only issue is that, they have no brainpower to steer them back to focus once they lose attention. Even worse so, sleep-deprived people don’t notice their decrease in performance.”
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