Work/life balancing act: Real key to keeping your edge is a good night’s sleep

Laurie Sallarulo, CEO of the Leadership Broward Foundation, admits she doesn’t sleep much. After a full day’s work, she will eat dinner with her son and get back on her computer to work some more — often until 1:30 am. And then, it’s up early the next morning to start her day again. When exhaustion sets in at the office, Sallarulo turns to coffee for a boost.

And so it goes in America. We’re working, working some more, sleeping less, and drinking coffee — or Red Bull — to keep us awake.

But now, some high-profile business leaders are trying to convince us that in America’s obsession to get more done, we’re sacrificing the one thing that can make us better thinkers and decision makers at work and home: sleep.

Donna Shalala, the high-energy president of the University of Miami, has become an outspoken advocate for a good night’s sleep. In front of business leaders and students, Shalala repeatedly tells her audiences that all big mistakes made in her career happened because she was overtired. She now forces herself to get about eight hours of sleep a night and urges her executive team to do the same.

“I always tell my staff, I hired you for your judgment, not your stamina,” she says.

Shalala’s advice is well timed. We know that sleep is important, but in feeling stretched by competing demands on our time, we’re finding it easier to reach for a cup of Joe than hit the sack earlier. New research from Virgin Pulse Institute, a workplace research and solutions firm owned by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, found 76 percent of employees felt tired most days of the week. Even worse, 40 percent doze off during the day once per month and 15 percent doze off once per week or day.

Yet, while we think we’re sacrificing sleep to get more done, we’re actually making ourselves more vulnerable to slip ups, explains Dr. Jennifer Turgiss, a co-author of the study and director of the Virgin Pulse Institute. “Employees who don’t sleep well have poorer concentration, poorer decision-making abilities, are significantly less able to cope with stressful situations, and are more likely to make unhealthy food choices.”

Like Shalala, Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, also is on a campaign urging business professionals to get more sleep. Her personal wake-up call came in the form of a broken cheekbone and a nasty gash over her eye. She had passed out in front of her computer screen from exhaustion and banged her head on the way down. Pooled in blood, she wondered, “Is this really what success feels like?”

Huffington wants us to stop bragging about our sleep deficits and how busy we are and sleep our way to increased productivity and happiness. The first step toward being on our A game, she says, is getting 30 minutes more sleep a night than you’re getting now.

Huffington also advocates a wind-down process. She has established her own routine that starts with turning off all her devices and placing them outside of the bedroom.

It’s a routine attorney Naomi Berry wants to emulate after hearing Huffington speak in Miami at a program touting her new book: Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom and Wonder. Berry, an attorney at Carlton Fields in Miami and president of the Women’s Chamber of Commerce, says, her new routine will help her avoid checking email late at night.

“When I check it a night I’m still thinking about work and it makes it harder to wind down and get to sleep.”

Dr. Alberto Ramos advises poor sleepers to make the electronic disconnect well in advance of bedtime. Ramos, co-director of the sleep disorders program at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, says bringing work into the bedroom turns it into the same stressful environment as the workplace and can prevent us from entering deep sleep.

Ramos is pioneering studies that link poor sleep with physical outcome such as stroke and dementia. He says a good night’s sleep differs for each of us, but we have achieved it when we still feel fully refreshed for at least 30 minutes after awakening.

For some adults, going to sleep is less of an issue than waking during the night with our mind racing. Sleep workshops offered to employers through Virgin Pulse are requested at twice the rate of other options such as weight loss and nutrition programs.

“People are having very long days and restless nights,” says Turgiss of Virgin Pulse Insitute. “It really hurts them at work because they are much more likely to drop the ball.”

With sleep deprivation a nationwide concern, about 8 million adults turn to prescription sleep pills for help every month, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Turgiss said Virgin’s sleep program teaches employees to use alternatives such as reading, prayer, meditation and journaling to lull them into slumber.

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson advocates a good night’s sleep brought on by daily exercise. He swims, plays tennis, runs and often boasts, “I sleep like a baby.”

For those who voluntarily give up sleep, Miami consultant Rjon Robins offers alternatives. Robins serves as a managing partner for small law firms and encourages the lawyers to better manage their business to be more productive rather than give up sleep or home life. “Stop telling everyone how “busy” you are and replace it with “effective,” he advises. “Happy, well rested lawyers make more money.”

Most of us believe that if we neglect sleep, willpower or caffeine will make us alert at work. But some are starting to recognize the flaw in that logic and its affect on work-life balance. Even Sallarulo has begun giving herself permission some nights to slip into slumber at 9 p.m. instead of her 1:30 a.m. bedtime. “I have to tell myself, whatever it is can wait.”

Columnist Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal, a provider of news and advice on work life issues. Connect with her at or visit .

Read more Cindy Krischer Goodman stories from the Miami Herald

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