Your Sleep is Your Secret Weapon. All-Nighters Don’t Scale.

Captain Joseph Hazelwood was the centerpiece of the Exxon Valdez spill. He was allegedly drunk and incapable of operating the oil tanker competently. But evidence later revealed Hazelwood wasn’t even at the helm at the time the ship struck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound. In fact, he was asleep in his bunk and had left third mate Gregory Cousins at the helm. Cousins, along with most of the crew, was deeply sleep deprived. Recent layoffs and overtime scheduling had left the crew exhausted.

Testimony before the National Transportation Safety Board revealed First Mate Cousins had been awake for “at least 18 hours” prior to the impact on Bligh Reef.

chernobyl-nuclear-radiation-110420-02Many experts believe Chernobyl to be the worst nuclear accident in history. 81 miles north of Kiev in the Ukraine, Chernobyl exploded on April 26, 1986 after workers spent the day attempting routine maintenance procedures to adhere to safety guidelines. Two explosions in quick succession blew the nuclear plant apart killing two workers instantly. Over the following hours more died due to acute radiation sickness. While the official count is 28 deaths due to the incident, experts believe thousands were impacted. The site and surrounding area will uninhabitable by humans for 20,000 years. Reports show workers had been at their stations for 13 hours or more prior to the explosion.

Forty-six year old William Rockefeller says he “nodded off” as the train he was piloting entered a 30mph turn at over 80mph, promptly derailed and nearly shot into the Hudson River.

The latest sought-after company perk turns out to be the forty-hour work week.

Having been lost for the last few years in the always-on digital leash economy, many companies are bringing back the old-fashioned forty-hour work week. The latest of company culture changes is a focus on limiting the amount of hours people are expected to work. The Center for Creative Leadership recently did a study recently showing that professionals with Smartphones (like, everyone) are connected to their work up to 18 hours a day, often checking their email during the night.

Ryan Sanders co-founded a staffing company called BambooHR about five years ago. Tired (literally) of the go-go workaholic mentality he saw in the 1990s, his company now enforces a 40-hour work week. That’s right, they have specific policies to enforce 40-hour weeks. If you are still at your desk at 5:30pm Ryan will probably visit you and ask what’s up. But if your work problem persists, you could be fired. One of his software developers nearly lost her job after putting in a few 60 to 70 hour weeks.

And it’s not just small start-ups. Big organizations are following suit, recognizing that sleep and health precedes quality work. Volkswagen has turned off employee email when their work hours end. The gesture was blunt and direct. To avoid employees constantly checking their smartphones, Volkswagen simply turned them off. Goldman Sachs has turned to hiring junior analysts not as temporary contractors any longer, but as full time employees to indicate their faith in a long-term relationship.

The reason is clear: when you are exhausted your work quality detoriorates and your decision-making ability falls off a cliff. There’s a reason why sleep-deprivation is a form of torture. Psychological effects include hallucination, disorientation, recklessness, over-optimism, apathy, lethargy, and even social withdrawal. There is clear empirical data showing that health-care professionals make a higher number of errors when sleep-deprived.

NTSA estimates up to 100,000 traffic accidents occur annually due to fatigue. Turn it off. Shut it down. It’s not as urgent as you might think. And your sleep will be a better performance-booster than poring through spreadsheets until 11pm again. Or as Russ Cohn, CEO and serial entrepreneur likes to say, “All-nighters don’t scale. Just because you’ve done two or ten all-nighters, it doesn’t make it a sustainable strategy for growth.”


outthink_book_coverShawn Hunter is the Founder of Mindscaling and author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
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