21 October 2018

Lawrence in the studio - can you make your own luck - business lessons, sleep and motivationAre you at the top of your game? Performing at the very best level you can? If not, why?

Whether you’re a sportsperson, a businessperson or someone striving to achieve a goal, we all need to work out how to perform at that optimum level for as long as possible. It’s a subject I am hooked on, always looking for the nuances that may give me an edge.

So, did you get enough sleep last night?

To put it simply, sleep is the number one performance enhancer. It doesn’t matter what kit or tools you have. Nor does your environment matter. None of these things impact you as much as if you have enough sleep.

Interestingly, I read a post about this in relation to football. In the article, the writer describes an exchange between a bed salesman and Sir Alex Ferguson which questioned whether Sir Alex had considered the impact of sleep on his squad. In the 90s following a letter to the Manchester United chief, Nick Littlehales was soon kitting out the first team’s houses and sending a Transit van full of suitable duvets and pillows to a hotel in France to help the England team sleep better during the 1998 World Cup.

He became somewhat of a sleep consultant, working with the British Cycling team too. I’d heard of the story of then British Cycling team touring with rolled up mattresses to improve the team’s sleeping conditions, but I had no idea it was inspired by  Sir Alex Ferguson.

Secret of success

Ferguson’s United team were one of the most successful teams in footballing history, was that because of sleep? The article goes on to describe research conducted by Cherie Mah, a specialist in sleep and performance in the NBA, NFL and MLB. The research  suggests sleep plays an extraordinary role in our potential for success:

“Mah had conducted a groundbreaking study on a team of college basketball players at Stanford University. It revealed that those who had upped their sleep by an average of 110 minutes, so they slept for 8-10 hours per night, boosted their shot accuracy by nine per cent and improved their time on a 282-foot sprint drill by 0.7 seconds. It was an improvement in performance comparable with the effects of doping – except it was legal.”

This may not seem like a huge difference, but imagine over a sustained period of time, over a large squad of teammates, the difference would be enormous.

The research is extraordinary and it doesn’t just apply to sports stars. When was the last time you really felt like you were thriving? More than likely you were well rested and well fed.

I know from playing chess that when I am deprived of sleep, there is little point me playing! The difference in my success rate on the chess board when I am tired is huge. It’s certainly a wake-up call. If I have plenty of rest I feel unbeatable.

Badge of honour

Our brains all have a certain amount of compute power but we don’t run at that level at all times of the day. We peak and dip here and there. I know that when I am tired, those peaks and dips are all the more evident. Decision-making becomes harder, focussing is more difficult and my already short attention span becomes almost non-existent!

Children in Need pyjama day at UKFast

Some of the UKFast team on one of our charity pyjama days!

So why do we still wear a lack of sleep like a badge of honour?

I remember when I was younger, I would be so focussed on trying to cram so much into my day that I would limit my sleep intentionally. It felt like a waste of time to me.

I grew up with a mother who still sleeps very little, hearing leaders like Margaret Thatcher saying that she only has four hours’ sleep a night. It seemed to me that that was the way to really make the most of my time. How wrong I was.

Changing perceptions

In recent years I have completely shifted my opinions on sleep. It is absolutely essential to being a healthy, productive person. Lack of sleep is so closely linked with Alzheimers and brain conditions too.

Yet, the modern world simply isn’t conducive to a good night’s sleep. We’re attached to phones that emit blue light, we’re busier than ever and more anxious than ever.

That’s one of the reasons we have sleep pods at UKFast. There is absolutely no point expecting someone who has had a poor night’s sleep to be able to work a productive eight-hour shift. It’s impossible.

Equally, if someone turns up late to work, it is counter-productive to force them to make the time up in their lunch break. We need rest to reboot. It’s that simple. It’s just as important as exercise. Business leaders and managers need to recognise that people can manage their own time and productivity much better than being forced to ‘make time up’ or sit at a desk for hours at a time.

Sleep isn’t a luxury, it’s an absolute necessity. I personally take it so seriously nowadays that Gail bought me special glasses that allow me to watch TV before bed, without my eyes being hit with stimulating blue light. I also learned that our bodies need to drop a couple of degrees to switch off, so it’s good idea to leave a door or window open and try and keep the room at 18 degrees or below. This is a tricky one when your partner may wish to have a warm snug bedroom, but if you struggle with sleep I’d definitely recommend it.

The easiest way to test the theory for yourself is why don’t you try and go to bed an hour earlier and see if it makes a difference to your day tomorrow.

Right I am off for a nap!

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