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The importance of sleep

Sleep is the most important part of being successful in your practice. Your service to your clients in an under-slept state will suffer – not to mention effect you personally.

The importance of sleep
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  • Contributed by Jon Martingale
  • February 20, 2020
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A lack of sleep will negatively impact our brains, our health and almost certainly our businesses far more than we ever assumed.

Bold statement? Probably not bold enough now that we have more refined knowledge of the power of sleep and the starkly negative consequences of missing it.

Let’s start plainly – you need seven-nine hours of sleep per night almost without exception.

Some of you might think, in your ‘sleep machismo’, that you are immune and need less sleep. You are not. Your subjective sense of how well you’re doing under conditions of sleep deprivation is a miserable predictor of, objectively, how you are doing.

7-9 hours are non-negotiable

Only recently through the work of people like Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, have we discovered just how much sleep matters, and how utterly reliable the data derived from decades of international study really is.

“Sleep is the greatest legal performance enhancing drug that most people are probably neglecting,” said Mr Walker.

We have known for decades that good quality and good length sleep improves cognition, reduces stress, improves health, boosts creativity, wards off cancer and aids problem solving.

It is now seen as imperative to get seven hours at the very, very least to remain competent and healthy. With seven-nine hours’ sleep being ideal.

The sleep deprived brain is not pretty

As Mr Walker says, “No aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation.”

The proof is right there from decades of research.

Let’s look at what happens when we try to sleep less than six hours a day, keeping in mind that almost 50 per cent of people studied attempt to do so:

  • Poor attention, concentration, and low creativity;
  • Significant memory issues;
  • 60 per cent increase in probability of injury;
  • Increased stress, confusion and irritability;
  • A major predictor of “all-cause mortality” including cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression and suicide; and
  • Hormone imbalances and weight gain.

The impact on your practice

“Every key facet required for business success will fail when sleep becomes short within an organisation,” said Mr Walker.

So, please don’t fall into the trap of believing sleep is laziness or a waste of time – in fact it is the single most important thing you can do with your time, if you intend to be even close to 100 per cent.

“We have stigmatised sleep with the label of laziness. We want to seem busy, and one way we express that is by proclaiming how little sleep we’re getting. It’s a badge of honour,” said Mr Walker.

You wouldn’t run your practice or talk to clients drunk – but you are likely doing something worse when you sleep less than seven hours a night. If you wouldn’t drink whisky while you solve client issues, then don’t work under slept.

Under sleeping renders you more useless than you realise at keeping your business together. This of course extends to your employees:

“Under-slept employees are not going to drive your business forward with productive innovation. Like a group of people riding stationary exercise bikes, everyone looks like they are pedalling, but the scenery never changes,” said Mr Walker.

Our small business research

We recently highlighted some of these business aspects in our recent research of 1,300 businesses. This is what we found about your client base – the small business community. Keep in mind, this applies to you too – every accounting practice is a business too.

To stay on top of their admin, payroll and compliance requirements, respondents are willing to make several sacrifices at the expense of their health and wellbeing.

Eighty-four per cent of small business leaders said they would make a lifestyle sacrifice because of admin workload or requirements. With 50 per cent specifically saying they would sacrifice their wellbeing, including sleep.

The ‘In the Zone’ research also revealed that the average small business owner gets approximately 4.5 hours sleep per night, far less than the recommended 7-9 hours. Thirteen per cent of respondents even say they do their admin and payroll before 6am.

“Health and wellbeing are a huge cultural conversation, but unfortunately it seems small business owners are not heeding advice, or simply not able to, due to the demands placed on them, which is a real concern,” said CEO and founder of The Remarkable Woman, Shivani Gopal.

Small business leader and managing director at T.E.C.K.nology Indigenous Corporation, Leslie Lowe, explains that the pressures of running a small business can make it difficult to create a work-life balance.

“Running your own business can be incredibly stressful. There have been several times when I found myself prioritising work over health and wellbeing, such as skipping on sleep, when the everyday demands of sustaining a profitable business and admin pressures build up. To stay on top of emails, admin and compliance reporting, I’m often up at 4am to make an early start on the day,” said Mr Lowe.

Make a change

The evidence is clear – many business owners are chronically under slept and we have already seen the severe deficiencies that follow this behaviour.

If you intend to remain a healthy and productive individual, capable of running your life and your business with all cylinders firing – never neglect your sleep. You can’t afford to.

Hot Tip: If you are like Mr Lowe, try scheduling sleep! Set an alarm half an hour before you should be asleep. Try it out.

Jon Martingale, senior product and partner manager – IFA Books+

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