How insufficient sleep is undermining your team’s performance

Do you run a team at a financial markets firm? It’s likely that your people are underslept. This is compromising their health and performance, and, therefore, your results. In many ways, but most notably by:

  1. Reducing emotional stability
  2. Impairing cognitive function
  3. Driving poor risk decisions

Helping your team prioritise and improve their sleep is one of the most powerful and underappreciated performance enhancers you have at your disposal. A huge competitive advantage.

Especially since most of your team members are chronically underslept. In a recent Deloitte survey (1), only 45% of employees reported getting at least 7 hours of sleep. In the financial markets companies we work with it’s more like 20% (5 to 6 hours a night is commonplace). And, as you probably know, around 8 hours is required for optimal health and performance (2). It’s hard wired into us.

Research shows that sleeping 4-6 hours a night for a week or two has similar deleterious effects on the brain as total sleep deprivation for one or two nights:

Reducing emotional stability
Reactivity of the amygdala (the emotional centre of the brain) is increased in response to uncomfortable emotional stimuli; top-down control of the amygdala by the prefrontal cortex (the thinking/rational part of the brain) is reduced in proportion to the degree of sleep debt; and, perhaps not surprisingly, stress and mood are negatively impacted (3).

Impairing cognitive function
Attention, working memory, and cognitive throughput (mental arithmetic speed and accuracy) are all reduced. This cognitive impairment gets worse every night as sleep debt is accumulated. But, most worryingly, because people adapt to the feeling of sleepiness, they don’t notice the continued decline in cognitive function, and therefore don’t believe there is a problem (4).

Driving poor risk decisions
Financial risk-seeking behaviour is increased (in both naturally risk-seeking and risk-averse individuals), but people aren’t aware that they’re making riskier decisions (5). This appears to be caused by an increase in ‘optimism bias’, with sleep-deprived people behaving as if gains are more valuable and as if losses are less harmful (6).

In short, if your team members are underslept (which many of them will be), their emotional control is likely to be diminished, their cognition blunted, and their risk decisions sub-optimal. Hardly the A-team that you wanted (or thought you had)!

So, there are huge gains to be had by helping your team to get more and better sleep – for them and for your business. Indeed, sleep may be the highest-leverage factor in improving your results.

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