Balancing Act: Real key to keeping your edge is a good night’s sleep

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Laurie Sallarulo, CEO of the Leadership Broward Foundation, admits she doesn’t sleep much. After a full day’s work, she will eat dinner with her son and get back on her computer to work some more — often until 1:30 a.m. And then, it’s up early the next morning to start her day again. When exhaustion sets in at the office, she turns to coffee for a boost.

And so it goes in America. We’re working, working some more, sleeping less and drinking coffee — or Red Bull — to keep us awake.

But now some high-profile business leaders are trying to convince us that in America’s obsession to get more done, we’re sacrificing the one thing that can make us better thinkers and decision-makers at work and home: sleep.

Donna Shalala, the high-energy president of the University of Miami, has become an outspoken advocate for a good night’s sleep. In front of business leaders and students, Ms. Shalala repeatedly tells her audiences that all big mistakes made in her career happened because she was overtired. She now forces herself to get about eight hours of sleep a night and urges her executive team to do the same.

“I always tell my staff, ‘I hired you for your judgment, not your stamina,’ ” she said.

Ms. Shalala’s advice is well-timed. We know that sleep is important, but in feeling stretched by competing demands on our time, we’re finding it easier to reach for a cup of Joe than hit the sack earlier.

New research from Virgin Pulse Institute, a workplace research and solutions firm owned by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, found 76 percent of employees felt tired most days of the week. Even worse, 40 percent doze off during the day once per month and 15 percent doze off once per week or day.

Yet, while we think we’re sacrificing sleep to get more done, we’re actually making ourselves more vulnerable to slip-ups, explained Jennifer Turgiss, a co-author of the study and director of the Virgin Pulse Institute. “Employees who don’t sleep well have poorer concentration, poorer decision-making abilities, are significantly less able to cope with stressful situations, and are more likely to make unhealthy food choices.”

Like Ms. Shalala, Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, also is on a campaign urging business professionals to get more sleep. Her personal wake-up call came in the form of a broken cheekbone and a nasty gash over her eye. She had passed out in front of her computer screen from exhaustion and banged her head on the way down. Pooled in blood, she wondered, “Is this really what success feels like?”

Ms. Huffington wants us to stop bragging about our sleep deficits and how busy we are and sleep our way to increased productivity and happiness. The first step toward being on our A game, she says, is getting 30 minutes more sleep a night than you’re getting now.

For some adults, going to sleep is less of an issue than waking during the night with our mind racing.

“People are having very long days and restless nights,” said Dr. Turgiss of Virgin Pulse Institute. “It really hurts them at work because they are much more likely to drop the ball.”

With sleep deprivation a nationwide concern, about 8 million adults turn to prescription sleep pills for help every month, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Turgiss said Virgin’s sleep program teaches employees to use alternatives such as reading, prayer, meditation and journaling to lull them into slumber.

Most of us believe that if we neglect sleep, willpower or caffeine will make us alert at work. But some are starting to recognize the flaw in that logic and its effect on work-life balance. Even Ms. Sallarulo has begun giving herself permission some nights to slip into slumber at 9 p.m. instead of her 1:30 a.m. bedtime. “I have to tell myself, ‘Whatever it is can wait.’ ”

Richard Branson - Donna Shalala - Arianna Huffington

Cindy Krischer Goodman can be reached at


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