5 Reasons to Prioritize Sleep

I recently finished Matthew Walker’s book, Why We Sleep. It’s changed my view of sleep and I have a new focus on making it a priority in my life. If fact, since finishing the book over two months ago, I can only think of one night when I stayed up past 9:30 PM. I have always been a lark (someone who rises early) and 9 PM was my standing bedtime for decades although I made exceptions for parties, movies, travel and events.  Since finishing the book and realizing the importance of sleep in my life and wishing I had read the book before raising my children into adulthood, I have staked out sleep as priority one.

Here are 5 reasons to prioritize sleep:

Cognitive Performance

Before reading Walker’s book, I figured that 7 hours of sleep on most nights was pretty good.  I thought I was a slumbering bad ass. Apparently, 7 hours isn’t enough. As written by Walker, “After ten days of just seven hours of sleep, the brain is as dysfunctional as it would be after going without sleep for twenty-four hours. Three full nights of recovery sleep (i.e., more nights than a weekend) are insufficient to restore performance back to normal levels after a week of short sleeping. Finally, the human mind cannot accurately sense how sleep-deprived it is when sleep-deprived.” So even if you are consistently sleeping 7 hours a night, you are diminishing your cognitive ability. This gives me pause. I wonder just how much I could have accomplished in my life if I had been getting 8 hours of sleep on a consistent basis.

Immune System

I think of the times I’ve tried to recover from surgery or the flu, sleep has been the single best ingredient for repairing my body. As Walker posits, “Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer.” As I write this, we’ve been 18 months into a pandemic. I have been working almost exclusively remotely and have had a much greater sleep opportunity because of the lack of commuting and travel. I haven’t been sick. Not even a cold in that time frame. Yes, I’m vaccinated and am rarely in a crowd, but perhaps it’s my focus on sleep that’s been a boost to my immunity.


This is the single most shocking statistic from the book. Alcohol consumption and sleep deprivation had the same impact on driving skills. Drinking and lack of sleep together? It’s abysmal. Walker wrote, “It is disquieting to learn that vehicular accidents caused by drowsy driving exceed those caused by alcohol and drugs combined.” Since reading the book, I have made it a priority to not drive after dusk if I can help it. I’m concerned about my driving and everyone else on the road.  Lack of sleep is unilateral in its affects. No one is exempt from its affects.


A good night’s sleep has a powerful impact on your ability to learn and retain information. Walker espoused, “If you don’t sleep the very first night after learning, you lose the chance to consolidate those memories, even if you get lots of “catch-up” sleep thereafter. In terms of memory, then, sleep is not like the bank. You cannot accumulate a debt and hope to pay it off at a later point in time. Sleep for memory consolidation is an all-or-nothing event.” Sleep has a way of hardwiring the information you learn into your memory bank.  If you lose that opportunity by pulling an all-nighter;  the opportunity is lost forever. 

Emotional Regulation

I’ve been sober for over four years now. Alcohol has an enormous effect on quality of sleep and restorative REM sleep.  I know my sleep quality is better over the last four years and I believe it’s had an impact on my ability to regulate my emotions. I’m not saying I never get angry or upset, but I do feel much more able to roll with the punches. As written by Walker, “More specifically, the coolheaded ability to regulate our emotions each day—a key to what we call emotional IQ—depends on getting sufficient REM sleep night after night. (If your mind immediately jumped to particular colleagues, friends, and public figures who lack these traits, you may well wonder about how much sleep, especially late-morning REM-rich sleep, they are getting.)” I’m fortunate. Between getting sober and working from home, I’ve been able to make sleep a priority and the impact has paid off.

While reading the book, I realized that I needed to give myself a 9-hour sleep “opportunity”. As my iWatch sleep app “AutoSleep” captures, I’m not sleeping the whole time in bed. I’ve worked hard in setting boundaries for my sleep opportunity each night and my average sleep length has increased to 8 hours and 2 minutes. It’s had an impact. I feel healthy, rested, agile and happier. I must give a shout out to my boyfriend, Roy, and my dog, Baci, as I have been pretty hard core about maintaining my 9-hour sleep opportunity.  What would it take for you to get more sleep?

The Engagement Wizard

I think so many businesses, in today’s economy, figure employees “should be happy they have a job.” The truth is that, according to Inc. magazine, 70% of your employees are job hunting. They might smile and nod and laugh at your jokes, and at night they are on CareerBuilder and asking for recommendations on LinkedIn.  Their resumes are up to date and they are ready to jump ship at the first sign of a decent paying job. They aren’t just looking for more money; they want a place that encourages engagement.  As Dan Pink espouses in his book Drive, “autonomy, mastery and purpose” are the ingredients for the Engagement Wizard. Engagement Wizard

The Engagement Wizard is the secret to holding onto those employees who are phoning it in while they search for greener, autonomous pastures. It is far better to employ some engagement tactics to hold onto your veteran employees than to search out a perceived better fit. I realize that some folks are too far gone to turn around and they are the poison in the kool-aid.  Employing a few tactics to create engagement for those who are salvageable, is well worth the effort when you figure that turnover can cost you anywhere from 50 to 200 % of the positions salary (and the replacements likely to cost you 10 to 20% more that the incumbent anyway).

So what are the techniques of the Engagement Wizard? Here are a few:

1. Thumb.  Quit keeping your employees tightly under your thumb.  It’s time to loosen the reigns.  As Dan Pink said at a recent conference, no one ever said “my favorite boss was the guy who breathed down my neck”.  People leave bosses.  If you are dictating an employee’s every movement and deed and watching the clock to make sure they are constantly at the grind stone, your employee will not be engaged. Loosen up your thumbs.

2. Don’t prescribe.  You should not view yourself as the doctor who is prescribing all the answers.  As Liz Wiseman said in her book “Multipliers”, you want to shift from being the Tyrant who has all the answers to the Liberator who is listening.  Listen; don’t talk.  This encourages the autonomy that Dan Pink prescribes.  If your employee is thinking for themselves, they are happier.  If you don’t believe me, tell your partner how to make the bed.  See how that goes over; and if they ever make the bed again.  Don’t prescribe.

3. Learning.  One of the downfalls in the recent economy is the slashing of training budgets.  We keep the Sales and Marketing budget status quo, and cut the non-essential training and development budget.  This, especially for Millennials, is a bad idea.  Employees, who have a “Growth Mindset” as espoused by Carol Dweck, are constantly looking to learn new skills.  “The Investor” as written by Liz Wiseman is the leader who is investing in resources for their team.  Encourage learning so that your employees are gaining “Mastery”.

4. Monkeys.  Delegate the monkey (as in task, project or duty) and check up on their care and feeding.  Leaders need to delegate and give ownership to their team.  This is another trait of Wiseman’s “The Investor”.  You can’t develop Pink’s “Mastery” without letting go of the monkeys.  This doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible for checking in on the monkeys, however you shouldn’t be the one filling the water dish.  Delegate the monkeys.

5. Big Picture.  Does your team know the big picture?  Jon Gordon at a recent conference suggested handing out 3 X 5 cards to all your employees and asking what the purpose of the company was.  What would your team answer?  We all need to know the purpose of the organization for which we work.  It is much easier to align with an organization and be engaged when we know what the purpose it.  If you answer, “To make money”, your team is not engaged.  Make sure they know the Big Picture.

6. Non-Commissioned Work.  One of the best examples of how effective autonomy is to creating better outcomes was a study that Pink refers to in his book “Drive”.  They found that in a blind evaluation (they didn’t know which art work was commissioned versus non-commissioned) paintings that were commissioned (i.e. I want it to match my couch, I want flamingos and it needs to be 6 feet wide) were of less quality and creativeness as opposed to non-commissioned work.  So make sure your team has some time to just create instead of keeping them “in the box.”  It’s not practical to have all non-commissioned work all the time, however some time left to one’s own devices is critical to engagement.

Once you’ve found your magic wand, get out of the way.  You will be amazed at what folks can do if they are given the freedom to find their own path.   Find your Engagement Wizard and start waving the magic wand.