Media mogul Arianna Huffington closed out the first day of Salesforce.com 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.
Arianna Huffington’s Advice to Sales Professionals: Get Some Sleep
“They’re saying, ‘It’s not just good for you, it improves our bottom line,'” said Huffington.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos makes a point of getting eight hours of sleep a night, she said, paraphrasing Bezos to explain, “If I make fewer decisions because of more sleep time, but they’re 5 percent better, it’s financially worth it to Amazon.”
Encouraged, Huffington believes a shift is underway.
“We’re at a moment [with sleep] where were at in the ’50s and ’60s with smoking,” she said. “The data was in, but it was still being glamourized. … But there’s a big culture shift happening. … Finally, the culture is catching up with the science.”
Stop. Right now. Without looking, how much battery life is left on your smartphone?
Huffington made the point that most people can answer that question, but are oblivious to their own physical state.
“The day I collapsed, if you had asked me, ‘Arianna, how are you?’ I would have said, ‘”Fine.’ … I didn’t realize my battery was at 0 percent,” she said, making the point that “we all take better care of our smartphones than we do our bodies.”
She called exercise and nutrition a two-legged stool in need of a third natural leg—sleep.
“I want to give everyone here permission to sleep in instead of hitting the treadmill!” she told the audience.
How do we change our approach to sleep? Take microsteps, she advised. Begin by putting ‘your electronics to bed and then taking as much care to calm yourself before bedtime as most would a child—use a routine.
“We need a ‘Goodnight Moon’ for adults—’Goodnight smartphone, goodnight terrible boss, goodnight client who didn’t call back,'” Huffington said, discussing the need to accept the day for what it was and mentally put a close to it.
“Montaigne, the French philosopher, said there were many terrible things in my life, but many of them never happened,” she added, illustrating the negative paths we tend to go down, laying awake at 3 a.m., reviewing the details of our week and fearing the worst.
Her own transformation has included a 30-minute pre-bedtime ritual (a microstep would be to start with a 10-minute ritual) that includes a bath with Epsom salts, dedicated sleeping clothes (changing her old habit of falling asleep in her gym clothes) and reading a physical book unrelated to work. But her most critical step of all: buying an alarm clock so the smartphone can sleep in a different room.
While people can and do function without proper sleep, she reiterated, creativity is absolutely slaughtered by it. Smartphones are a portal to distractions that kill creativity.
“It’s why we have our best ideas in the shower!” she insisted. “I’m terrified that Apple will produce a waterproof iPhone. And that’ll be the end of good ideas in the shower.”