Grumpy Sleep-Deprived Talent

October 23, 2007 by Ken Nowack

“I’m not asleep… but that doesn’t mean I’m awake” Author Unknown

We all seem to be working longer and harder with health, sleep, and mood being affected.

Research by Sylvia Ann-Hewlett and Carolyn Luce shows that 62% of high-earning individuals work more than 50 hours per week, 35% work more than 60 hours a week and 10% work more than 80 hours1.  Their findings suggest that more than 70% of professionals reported not getting enough sleep.

Leaders and others know that the sleep-deprived are typically moody, miserable, and just not much fun to be around.  New research from UC Berkeley using MRI technology helps explain why for the first time.

The study is the first to show exactly what areas of the brain are affected by sleep deprivation2. The human emotional brain without sleep — a prefrontal amygdala disconnect. 3.

In the UC Berkeley study of 26 young adults, half of the subjects were kept awake for 35 hours straight and the other half were allowed a normal night’s sleep in that same time period. Then all of the subjects were hooked up to an MRI and shown a number of images while the researchers monitored what happened in their brains as each image was shown.

The sleep-deprived subjects showed significant activity in the amygdala (the section of the brain that puts the body on alert to protect itself and control emotions), and simultaneously, showed slowed activity in the prefrontal cortex (which controls logical reasoning).  On the other hand, subjects who got a full night of sleep showed normal brain activity.

Americans are among the most sleep-deprived people in the world with 40% of Americans getting less than seven hours of sleep a night, according to a 2005 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation.  Additionally, 75% of Americans reported having some sort of sleep disorder one or two nights a week4.

What this means for most people is that a sleepless night or very poor quality of sleep can cause employees to overreact to emotional challenges that they would otherwise be able to tolerate without any trouble. 

So, if you have sleep-deprived talent and leaders who lack emotional intelligence — look out — their amygdala is already compromised….Be well…
[tags]insomnia, sleep, fatigue, depression, sleep disorders, fatigue countermeasures, REM, NREM, circadian rhythms, stress, health, job burnout, kenneth nowack, ken nowack, nowack[/tags]

  1. Hewlett, A. & Luce, C. (2006).  Extreme jobs.  The dangerous allure of the 70-hour workweek.  Harvard Business Review, December 2006, pp. 1-12 []
  2. Yoo, S., Gujar,N., Hu,P., Jolesz, F., & and Walker, M. (2007) []
  3. Current Biology. Vol 17, R877-R878, 23 October 2007) []
  4. http://www.sleepfoundation.org/ []

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of Envisia Learning, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. Ken also serves as the Associate Editor of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available for free for a limited time by signing up for free blog updates (Learn more at our website)

Posted in Relate, Wellness

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  • Jeff Goldman

    Great post Ken. Many of my clients fit into the “work too much, sleep too little.” Coincidentally, their 360 degree feedback results will usually tell me that they are fairly weak in emotional intelligence competencies.

  • Dr. Chris Brown

    I found the HBR article that you cited very interesting back when it was published. I continue to wonder how long it will be before the lack of sleep, and other obvious factors, causes these elite workers to derail.

  • susan

    Hi Ken—just read this entry!

    Did you hear Bill Clinton’s comments on the Daily Show about why he thinks Congress is ineffective? He says, in part, it’s because they don’t get enough sleep. You can probably find it on You Tube. He talked about how differently our representatives work now—always having to be on the road to fundraise as well as be in D.C. to do their jobs. There is too much activity for them, too much pressure to get out and raise $$ compared to the way the congress functioned 20-30 years ago. He says it’s created a bunch of sleep deprived grumpy legislators who can’t agree on anything because they are sleep deprived and cranky. An over statement my part, but he makes a very thought provoking and insightful observation!

  • Mike Perrault

    Hi Ken,
    As you know, I just retired from working at Intel for the past seven years. Your entry touched a nerve with me. I found life at Intel to be sleep deprived.

    Because Intel is a global organization, phone meetings at all hours of the day are not uncommon. While much of the company management is based in the US, the company culture is trying to avoid being US centric. Thus, phone meetings are scheduled at hours convenient to China, Israel, Singapore not just the West Coast of the US.

    Of course, the problem for US workers is that they are expected to be in their cubicles at the start of the work day regardless of night time meetings. This leads to sleep deprivation.

    Excerbating the problem is email. Again, globalization means that emails arrive in one’s inbox at all hours of the day and night. All too frequently, I’ve been online at mid-night responding to emails from overseas and been surprised to receive a response from a US based colleague (a Cc line addressee) who is also up late working on emails – usually after the kids have gone to bed .

    It seems that anyone who is driven to succeed doesn’t want any email to go unread or not responded to within a couple of hours.

    Corporations have not yet learned how to successfully manage the impact of technology on the human condition. It has taken over 100 years to learn how to integrate the automobile into the human situation . . . how long will it take before we do the same with information technology?

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