Sleep: The Habit That All High-Performing Teams Have in Common

Woman sleeping in WHOOP with a face mask on

When’s the last time you heard someone bragging about how much sleep they got the night before? It’s rare, right? 

Getting a solid night’s sleep doesn’t typically get the same praise as working yourself to the bone, but it should. Sleep is the key to unlocking the highest workplace performance at every level of an organization.

WHOOP VP of Performance Science Kristen Holmes collaborated with McKinsey’s Executive Leadership Program in Australia to examine the power that sleep has over our ability to think and reason — as well as our ability to remain patient and empathetic. 

The top-line finding: Poor sleep negatively impacts workplace performance

When it comes to cognitive functioning, a lack of sleep can induce effects that are similar to being drunk. In fact, sleeping 6 hours a night for 10 days leads to impairment equivalent to a person who has been awake for 24 hours — which is actually worse than being drunk. 

A lack of sleep reduces a person’s attention span, as well as their ability to learn and process information. The struggle to stay awake can cause sweeping problems for thinking and memory retention. In fact, a lack of deep REM sleep puts people at risk of creating false memories. Obviously, breakdowns in brain function such as these are less-than-ideal conditions for making business decisions.  

To counter sleep debt, people will often reach for caffeine to gain a superficial energy boost. Caffeine increases energy and reduces sleepiness, but it cannot replace proper sleep. It also won’t help sleep-deprived people perform higher-level tasks any better. Caffeine is virtually ineffective in mitigating the effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive performance.

When it comes to interpersonal interactions at work, sleep is surprisingly even more critical, as it can inhibit the creation and maintenance of psychologically safe work environments. 

“I think the simplest way to describe psychological safety is a sense of permission for candor,” said Dr. Amy Edmondson, Harvard Business School professor and behavioral science researcher. “Not that it’s easy, but that you believe your voice is welcome in whatever context you’re in. Whether that’s a work team or a friend group, you believe it’s absolutely OK to speak up with concerns, dissenting views, ideas, questions, requests for help, and all of the rest of those behaviors that we think of as interpersonally risky. They’re interpersonally risky because people might not think well of you if you engage in them. But in a psychologically safe environment, you know that’s not the case.”

Further McKinsey’s Executive Leadership Program research revealed that leaders who had higher levels of sleep debt had employees who didn’t necessarily feel safe with them. A lack of sleep limits inhibitory control — our ability to control our attention, emotions, and behaviors. That voice of reason that stops us from snapping at someone unnecessarily, that nudge that makes us more patient and tolerant. Without sleep, that control is gone. 

On the flip side, leaders who got more sleep the night before a meeting performed much better. Their teams reported a mean psychological safety score of 4 out of a possible 5 — proof that when individual employees are well rested — including their leaders — the entire organization benefits. 

WHOOP Unite™ is a health and wellness solution that helps organizations build a culture of wellness, improve employee health, and optimize performance.  

For your organization:

  • Coach employees towards improved stress management, higher-quality sleep, and better health through targeting programming. 
  • Compare trends of 24/7 biometrics to proactively identify teams at risk of illness and burnout via the WHOOP Unite analytics platform.
  • Encourage a psychologically safe environment across all levels of the organization so leaders can take action.

For your employees:

  • Track sleep and wake time, including the amount of time spent in each sleep stage. The WHOOP Sleep Coach monitors your circadian rhythm and recommends exactly how much sleep you need based on daily activity.
  • Track nutrition and exercise habits with the WHOOP Journal to better understand which habits impact sleep most. 
  • Track naps with the Sleep Coach to reduce sleep debt and improve alertness. 

Explore how WHOOP Unite can positively impact employee performance at your organization.

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