If you want to be an effective leader, go to sleep

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When Arianna Huffington came to on the floor in a puddle of her own blood, she asked herself, "Is this what success looks like?"

Ms. Huffington, author, co-founder, chair, president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, had been overwhelmingly sleep deprived. One day she collapsed from exhaustion and broke her cheek bone.  

"By the conventional definition of success, I was," she said at the Becker's ASC 22nd Annual Meeting – The Business and Operations of ASCs in Chicago, "but by any sane definition, I was not." Ms. Huffington went on to describe meetings where she would sit, trying to focus through her fatigue, and by the end not be able to recall anything that had been discussed.

After her collapse, Ms. Huffington realized her lack of sleep posed a serious threat to her health, and even her career. Since then, she has reevaluated her priorities, raising sleep to the top. Ms. Huffington said she now commits to getting eight hours of sleep every night.

"In the corporate environment, you see people regularly congratulating one another for working 24/7," said Ms. Huffington. However, accomplishments at work will fall flat if one has poor personal wellbeing and health. "Defining success in just terms of money and power is like sitting on a two-legged stool. Sooner or later you will fall off," she said.

Leaders are especially susceptible to feeling pressured to prolong their waking hours to do more work because there is always work to be done. Out of a survey of 180 business leaders, 43 percent said they do not get enough sleep at least four nights a week, according to the Harvard Business Review. And although a lack of sleep is likely due to a heightened commitment to work, "such sleep deficiencies can undermine important forms of leadership behavior and eventually hurt financial performance," the article states.

The last part of the human brain to evolve was the neocortex, which is responsible for functions such as sensory perception, motor commands and language, according to the Harvard Business Review. The front part of the neocortex, the prefrontal cortex, controls executive functioning, which includes higher-order cognitive processes — problem solving, reasoning, organizing, inhibition, planning and executing plans, according to the report. Leaders rely heavily on these functions. And while other regions of the brain can operate just fine with limited sleep, neuroscientists say the prefrontal cortex cannot. 

Several main leadership functions are proven to be negatively impacted by inadequate sleep, according to the report. These include focusing, avoiding distractions and being able to comprehend the bigger picture of the company; insight, pattern recognition and creativity needed for problem solving; learning and memory; and understanding others' emotions and situations.

In honor of The National Sleep Foundation's Sleep Awareness Week, which is from March 6 to March 13, here are six tips to improve your quality of sleep, according to HealthFinder.gov.

1. Exercise earlier in the day, not close to bedtime.

2. Avoid caffeine (especially coffee, tea and soda) late in the day.

3. Limit naps during the day to 20 minutes or less.

4. Drink alcohol in moderation, meaning no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

5. Avoid eating a big meal close to bedtime.

6. Don't smoke. Nicotine in cigarettes contributes to sleeping problems.

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