Magazine article Management Today

The New Sleeping Sickness

Magazine article Management Today

The New Sleeping Sickness

Article excerpt

A good night's kip is going out of style as the iPad's lure keeps us up into the small hours. But beware - there's more going on when you hit the hay than meets the eye. Andrew Saunders finds out why snoozing isn't for losers.

Sleep. Are you getting enough? Like sex and money, for more and more people these days the answer to that question seems to be 'no'. Who has time for shut-eye in the 'always on' 21st century? Snooze and you might miss something great on Twitter. To paraphrase 1980s rocker Jon Bon Jovi, you can sleep all you like when you're dead.

At work, the message comes down from on high. Alpha-male CEOs (even if they are female) vie to outdo one another in the 'How early do you get up?' stakes.

The benchmark answer to that question used to be 6am, with 5.30 reserved for the super-keen, but then outgoing Burberry boss Angela Ahrendts opened a new front in the war against sleep, claiming in a recent interview to be up and doing her emails by 4.30 every morning.

Whether you believe such claims or not, the subtext of these gung-ho public pronouncements is perfectly clear - sleep is for slackers. Times are tough, business is global, job security ever more fragile. If you want to get on - or simply be kept on - you, too, have got to be 'available' round the clock.

That message appears to be getting through. In a recent international study by the US National Sleep Foundation, 18% of Brits reported sleeping fewer than six hours a night during the working week, roughly twice as many people as in most other countries. Only America and Japan were worse off, at 21% and 19% respectively.

No surprises, then, that anxieties about sleep - how much, how often, am I up to scratch? - are now right up there with those traditional sources of all-round angst, our love lives and bank balances, at the top of the list of things that, ahem, keep us awake at night.

'My clinical experience is that sleep deprivation is definitely on the rise,' says Dr Michael Sinclair, consultant clinical psychologist at the City Psychology Group in London. 'In the City especially, there is a lot of fear over job security, leading to overwork, anxiety and worry about sleep.' So having spent 12 or 14 hours at work, people then come home and lie in bed unable to drop off, fretting about whether they'll still have a job to be stressed out by in the morning. 'It can become a vicious cycle,' he adds.

And even when such obvious pressures are not apparent, sleep remains a low priority. We know we probably ought to get more rest, but there is always a reason not to go to bed, says Sinclair. 'People resent going to sleep because they feel they are missing out and not getting things done. Sleep has become a nuisance, something that gets in the way of us living our lives.'

That's a sentiment with which entrepreneur Clare Johnson, founder of digital executive search business the Up Group, might concur. 'Because of where I am in my life right now, I don't sleep much at all,' she says. With two kids under the age of three and a fast-growing company to look after, she counts herself lucky to get more than four hours a night. 'I just put sleep to one side. If you are a parent and running your own business, you have to,' she says.

It's a habit that dates back to the early days of the firm. 'When I started the Up Group six years ago, there was just me and my laptop. I was self-funded and had to do everything myself; there was no time for sleep.'

But despite describing what to some would be a living hell, Johnson says she manages fine just the way she is. 'I have the genes for it. I don't worry about sleep, I am happy and fulfilled and I'm not walking around like a zombie. Would I like more? Yes, I would sometimes, but I genuinely don't want eight to 10 hours. I feel worse after too much sleep than I do after not enough.'

Most of us can't function properly on too little kip, however. …

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