In the span of my talent career I must have conducted literally hundreds and hundreds of job interviews for emerging businesses and startup teams. Consistently, I find myself stopping short of asking a very pressing but invasive question at the end of each of these interviews. It is not about sexual orientation or your career loyalties. It is not even about your age or your plans to start a family. The personal question that I have been too afraid to ask is “How well do you sleep at night?”
Sleep is a bit of a hot button topic right now. The startup industry glorifies long hours and all-nighters. It is often the anchor for founder narratives and media pieces. Our self-fascination with how busy we are has seeped into our unconscious hours. When you walk around most industry events, you will hear conversations peppered with how many emails you have waiting for you on your inbox or someone casually mentioning how overtired they are, accompanied by the frightfully low number of hours of sleep he or she might have gotten the night before.
The fascinating thing about sleep is that we seem to worship it and dismiss it at the same time. The one of the best lessons I took from the somehow controversial Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg was to prioritise sleep, especially as you get older.
Your sleeping patterns are a window to the rest of your behaviour. How well do you sleep? Does your stress keep you up? Is it so hard to disconnect from work that it seeps into your sleeping patterns? Are you maybe not in the best of health and your body is trying to tell you something? Is this going to cost us a lot on sick leave and replacements? Are you coming in cranky every morning and disrupting the team’s mood?
Fatigue is contagious
Search for “yawning puppies” on YouTube and you’ll find hours upon hours of pure joy as you watch the adorable chain reaction of drowsy critters. This phenomenon is not as cute at work. We feed off each other’s energy and we owe our teams to be at our most productive while we are all sharing the same space. One bad apple can ruin the bunch!
One of the things to keep in mind is that even though we all have the same need for sufficient rest, those needs are met in different ways. Some people like to nap mid-afternoon for 20 minutes, other’s like to get a head start in the morning and knock out early in the evening. I am a night owl: I am a late starter and at my most productive in the afternoons and evenings. That doesn’t mean I sleep less hours. I just sleep different hours. Allowing for some flexibility around individual needs can go along way for staff retention, team happiness and a smarter workforce.
I had a coworker a few years back who would greet everyone who strolled into the office after 9am with a pointed “Good MORNING…” She would immediately follow it up with a not-so-passive aggressive remark about how “some of us” had been at the office before 7am. Somehow, that was meant to be both a sign that she was more committed and valuable than us “slackers” and, most surprisingly, an attempt at humorous banter. This might seem harmless but using things like sleep as tools for shaming, even if it is meant as a joke, can make dents at morale. Keep an eye our for sleep shaming, especially in the early hours of the day.
Rest is not a weakness
Sleep deprivation is not a badge of honour. It’s not a virility symbol. It’s not a signifier of your busy and important your are. It’s just silly and, most importantly, none of anyone’s business.
Sleep makes you smarter
You make better decisions when you are well rested. It’s science. According to the Maslow pyramid of needs, our bodies are programmed to take care of hunger and exhaustion first. Even at an unconscious level, if your brain is fighting tiredness and fatigue, you are making it leap through an extra hurdle while also attempting to run a business. Stop stacking the deck against your brain.
You’re being insufferable
If I have to listen to one more conversation about how many hours of sleep you got, my brain is going to have a heart attack. It’s the professional equivalent of scrolling through your iPhone to show me a hundred pictures of your newborn. Or worse yet, telling about the “weird dream” you had the other night. No one cares!
The startup world is (in)famous for its organised chaos. It is difficult enough for us to keep up with the work without having to worry about living up to the “sleeping requirements” of our peers or even the media. Sleep is personal, necessary and a bastion of peace after a long, stress-filled day building a business from scratch. If we all stop seeing it as a sign of weakness and start looking at it for what it is, a tool for growth, we will go further as teams and as an industry.
Our ecosystem was built on dreams, so why shouldn’t we start sleeping our way to the top?