Arianna Huffington's Advice to Sales Professionals: Get Some Sleep

Media mogul Arianna Huffington discussed the correlation between sleep and business success in a keynote at's Sales Machine conference.

Arianna Huffington

Media mogul Arianna Huffington closed out the first day of and Sales Hacker's Sales Machine NYC 16 conference with a simple, if flabbergasting, message to sales professionals: Get more sleep.

Huffington, a renowned overachieving author, columnist and founder of the Huffington Post, knows salespeople usually are the hardest-driving, relentless and possibly most sleep-deprived employees in an organization. They are constantly working, often managing global teams. But humans have reached a state, Huffington said, "where we need to realize that we have been living under this illusion that in order to succeed we have to burn out."

The message is one she's been evangelizing in her book, "The Sleep Revolution," which was the result of a painful wake-up call: She passed out face first at her desk from exhaustion, breaking a cheekbone.

"When I came to in a pool of my own blood … I had to ask myself: 'Is this what success looks like?''" she told the audience and interviewer Sara Varni, senior vice president of marketing for Sales Cloud at Salesforce.

"When we sacrifice sleep, when we sacrifice unplugging, we are not more productive," Huffington insisted, noting that although people are working harder than ever, companies lose on average 11 days of productivity per employee due to sleep deprivation.

A 2011 Harvard Medical School study estimated that U.S. companies lost $63.2 billion that year in lost productivity due to "presenteeism," or people who show up at work but operate at abysmally inefficient levels.

Huffington also noted that studies have shown chronically tired people have reaction times and effectiveness levels that are on par with drunk people, making them not only a danger to a company's bottom line but a serious threat behind the wheel.

A drunken employee wouldn't be tolerated, but overtired ones who brag about working all night not only are 'tolerated, "they're celebrated," said Huffington. A worse problem, she added, is overtired leadership.

In February, a Harvard Business Review article highlighted McKinsey research on the correlation between sleep and leadership skills.

"The frontal part of the neocortex, the prefrontal cortex, directs what psychologists call executive functioning, including all the higher-order cognitive processes, such as problem-solving, reasoning, organizing, inhibition, planning and executing plans," the article explained. While other areas of the brain can perform well enough on too little sleep, the prefrontal cortex cannot.

"Basic visual and motor skills deteriorate when people are deprived of sleep, but not nearly to the same extent as higher-order mental skills," the article noted.

For this reason, organizations are taking steps to encourage employees to get more sleep.

The CEO of Aetna has asked employees to opt into a Fitbit program that tracks sleeping time. If they get at least 7 hours of sleep for 20 consecutive nights, they get $25 a night, or up to $500 a year.