World Sleep Day (March 18) is an annual event designed to raise awareness around the impact of sleep disorders and the importance of regular, quality sleep.

In Asia, a 2014 study published by digitised sleep-tracking wristband producer Jawbone showed that three cities — Singapore, Tokyo and Seoul — were among the world’s most sleep-deprived cities. Those who experience some kind of insomnia, like waking up in the middle of the night or having trouble falling asleep, may cost employers about 7.8 work days' worth of productivity a year.

Even though our sleeping habits might seem far removed from our workplaces (unless you work for one of the companies investing in sleep pods and nap rooms), the quality of our sleep significantly impacts our performance at work

Lack of sleep is also often associated with poor concentration and memory, impaired innovation and creativity, irritability and is a major source of stress. In short, tired people are unhappy, unproductive and potentially unsafe.

While many feel a lot better after a good night's sleep, they often don't realise just how much goes on during deep asleep. During deep sleep our bodies do a lot of repair work, and one of the most relevant tasks our bodies undertake is the storing of memories.

According to a BBC report, "deep sleep sounds restful, but during it our brains are actually working hard. One of the main things the brain is doing is moving memories from short-term storage into long-term storage, allowing us more short-term memory space for the next day. If you don't get adequate deep sleep then these memories will be lost."

Because sleep is so crucial for tasks such as complex thinking, communication, stress management and interpersonal skills the need for regular, quality sleep is absolutely critical for perhaps everyone, including leaders. As organisations become increasingly more complex, and rapidly so, the need for leaders to have all their faculties firing on full is often paramount.

Disrupted sleep patterns

Unfortunately, our hyper-connected world is making it harder than ever to completely switch off and many of our modern conveniences are messing with our sleeping patterns.

Consider the fact that, up until a few hundred years ago, our sleeping patterns were almost entirely determined by the rising and setting of the sun. The widespread introduction of electric light has long been known to disrupt our body's sleeping rhythms, and we're facing an even bigger problem thanks to the blue light emitted by electronic devices.

Short wavelength blue light — found in the backlight of smartphone screens, for example — is particularly disruptive to our body clocks which is why we're frequently reminded to avoid them close to bed time. Compounded by our use of these gadgets for work purposes long into the night, preventing us from properly 'disconnecting' from the office and it's no wonder so many of us are tired all the time!

So how can we get the sleep we need without moving back into a cave to become hermits and ignoring the boss's emails?

Here are a few suggestions to help you prioritise sleep and improve its quality:

  • Eat right and exercise regularly. There is a reason you've heard this advice a hundred times before. Avoid heavy, rich foods right before bed and try to include some physical activity every day.
  • Don't drink too much. Alcohol might help you fall asleep, but it leads to poor quality sleep and may make you more likely to awake during the night.
  • Request a flexible working arrangement. These can benefit employees suffering from sleep disorders or chronic insomnias, as they allow workers to 'clock on' when they're at their most rested.
  • Get more natural light during the day. This helps your body better perceive the switch to night time so it produces the right chemicals to encourage sleep.
  • Turn off digital devices an hour before bed time. Resist the urge to check Facebook one more time before bed or to look at emails if you wake up in the middle of the night.
  • Before you go to bed, make a list of any tasks you need to attend to the next day, and a few things you're proud of or grateful for from the day. This clears your mind for tomorrow and also puts you in a positive mindset so you can sleep in peace.

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