Can’t Find The Solution? Better Sleep On It.

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How many times have you felt that if you just put a few more hours in, you will get it done.  Of those times, do you remember how many actually worked out that way?  I often find myself getting back in the next morning exhausted with still more to do and even having to fix mistakes from night before.  Those long nights continuously led to more problems than good.  So why do we do it?  The idea of pulling an all-nighter has been around for a long time, but the drive to work these long shift and push harder than ever thought possible appears to be a new trend in business, that might not be for the better. I believe the mentality spawned from the Silicon Valley and tech boom in 2006 or so with these software companies building and expanding faster than any industry had ever done before. Programmers, software Project Managers and Scrum Masters are constantly pulling the 12+ hour days and 90hr work weeks to meet insane deadline in hopes of launching new products weeks before the competition. The stake have never been higher.  While I believe the mentality was born from the software industry, the effects seem to be a pandemic.  More often we making the conscience decision to put in the extra hours to get that proposal done, or meet the submittal deadline, but completely ignore the importance of our sleep cycles.

The problem here, is that many of us don’t realize how our sleep actually affects our decision making.  In a recent article by the Harvard Business Review, researchers found links between how a lack of sleep negatively impacts our focus on results, our problem solving, and even our treatment of others.  Sleep deprivation negatively impacts the performance of our neocortex in the brain which aids in basic motor skills.  According to adults should be getting between 7-9 hours every night, but I feel like that has become the exception, not the rule. Dealing with complicated projects demands an ability to think critically and clear direction, but without a good night sleep, this is nearly impossible to achieve.  The impact of sleep deprivation extends beyond our own cognitive functions, it impacts the way we treat others.  Research by NCBI states that when we function without sufficient sleep, we are more likely to not trust others and even overreact to emotional events.  Successful Project Managers are always working with their own teams as well as stakeholders, and they need to be able trust their team as well as effectively work with all the people involved, without the emotional behaviors.  Furthermore, testing showed that people who stayed up late to solve a complicated problem were half as likely to find a solution as those who slept on it.  Think about that the next time you dwell over a problem for hours on end.  Sometimes it may be better to just sleep on it and come back with a clear mind.

I have done the business trip working all day and ignoring my projects until late at night in the hotel room, headphone on and my laptop open until 1am.  These trips are extremely stressful because I find that not only am I working 16 hour days minimum, I’m not being effective at anything.  During the day I am hazy and slow to think when encountered by others, and at night I spend hours on tasks that should be done in half the time otherwise.  What make it worse, I always seem to put off the tough decisions until I get back in the office in a few days, which means I am greeted with 3 days of emails and a project that is now 3 days behind and needs action now….

Years and years of research from multiple sources across multiple countries have reached the same conclusion, sleep is critical for everyone and should be prioritized, not neglected. Everyone has their own threshold of required sleep, but all of us should be striving to reach that number every night, not just on the weekends playing catchup. Sleep deprivation makes us suffer individually, but also our projects suffer. The next time you think it would be better to pull the all-nighter, sleep on it and in the morning bring that A game which made you a great PM in the first place.



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