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Brain circuits

This activity could give you the strategic edge you’ve been seeking

Published 15 July 2022 in Brain circuits • 3 min read

If we told you there was a magic elixir that would help you improve your fitness, think clearer, make better strategic decisions, lose weight, and level out your moods, would you want to try it? How much time would you be willing to dedicate to obtaining this incredible concoction? Would it be worth eight hours to you?

Well, here’s the good news: it exists – but it does require an investment of time, although we would argue enjoyable time well spent. If you haven’t figured it out already, this magic cure-all is sleep – and people still underestimate its importance to their health, wellbeing, and work.

There’s a lot of misinformation about sleep. Test yourself to see where you stand on understanding how sleep effects your waking hours, particularly at work. Answer true or false to the following statements describing your attitude towards sleep:

  1. Sure, sleep is great, but there is so much I want to achieve I find myself more in the ‘you can sleep when you’re dead’ school of thought.
  2. You can train yourself to need fewer hours of sleep, and its clear that people who are able to put in more hours at the office are pretty good at it.
  3. It’s not ideal, but I have found that I can function okay on five hours of sleep a night if I need to do so.
  4. I know I need more sleep, but I’m able to get through a day of work if I have to on less than optimal hours.
  5. I know I should sleep more – but ultimately, I’m only hurting myself if I have to slog through the day sleep-deprived.

Calculate how many of these statements you marked as true. If you fully understand how sleep affects your waking hours, you should have answered ‘false’ to all the statements. If you didn’t, match the ones you marked ‘true’ with the numbers below and find out what might be problematic about your thinking.


  1. You may find yourself dead sooner than you thought and enjoying a lower quality of life in the interim. This is a popular maxim among business people, but decades of sleep research has shown that insufficient sleep is associated with a host of dangerous mental and physical health problems.
  2. It’s tempting to choose an extra hour in the office over one in bed, but research within the context of work has shown that, despite the widespread belief that you can “catch-up” on sleep at a later date and get more done today, less sleep does not equal more productivity.
  3. Research has shown that after one to two weeks of sleeping five hours a night, you are as impaired as you would be if you had gone 36 straight hours without sleep.
  4. This might be true occasionally if your job doesn’t require any strategic decisions, but as leaders we make these types of choices every day. If you have not had sufficient rest, you won’t have the same access to short and long-term memories, which means you will have access to fewer strategic options.
  5. This isn’t true in a work context. Research has shown that sleep-deprived people are more likely to chase high levels of risk, without sufficient levels of reward to justify it. This means as an executive you may be more likely to make inappropriate decisions.

There are many steps you can take to help yourself and your team make better decisions. For more information, read A good night’s sleep will help you make better strategic decisions by Albrecht Enders, Christopher Barnes, Matthew Walker



Albrecht Enders

Professor of Innovation and Strategy at IMD

Albrecht Enders is Professor of Strategy and Innovation at IMD and co-director of the Business Leadership Training program. His major research, teaching, and consulting interests are in the areas of managing discontinuous change and top-team strategy development processes. Before joining IMD, Professor Enders spent three years as a consultant with The Boston Consulting Group in Cologne where he worked on projects in the areas of financial services, energy, and industrial goods.


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