Do Small Business Owners Need More Sleep Than Corporate Executives?

small business owners sleep less

Managing a business is no small feat. Marketing, logistics, customer services, human resources — it all starts and ends with you. Time is money, and there never seems to be enough time in the day to manage everything. That’s why small business owners sleep less than they should.

The issue is widespread on every level of the corporate food chain. According to researchers at CareerBuilder, 58 percent of workers say they don’t get enough sleep at night. Move up the ladder, and sleep deprivation worms its way into company culture. Over 40 percent of business owners and C-level executives reckon they’re shunning sleep at least four nights per week.

It goes without saying, these encroaching work addictions are having an impact on business success. Yet, what might not be so obvious are the ways in which sleep deprivation disproportionately affects smaller businesses.

Who Needs Sleep?

A good night’s sleep inevitably dictates tomorrow’s productivity. When you’re the heart and soul of a small business, one lost day may ultimately prove a deathblow from which you’ll never recover.

Sleep deprivation drastically cripples a business owner’s ability to focus attention selectively. According to research conducted by the University of New South Wales, after 17 hours of wakefulness, an individual’s work performance is equivalent to that of a person whose blood alcohol level has hit 0.05 percent. Move up to 20 hours of being awake, and you’ve hit the equivalent of a 0.1 percent blood alcohol level. That would be enough to get you convicted for drunk driving.

The message here is clear: forgo sleep, and the crucial decisions that dictate your company’s future are effectively decided in a drunken stupor. Once you’ve made a poor strategic decision, a lack of sleep will hit your business even harder.

Sleep is absolutely critical in restoring the cognitive functions workers need to solve problems effectively. Insight, pattern recognition and innovation are all hit hard by sleep deprivation. As a result, company leaders who’ve had a good night’s sleep are more than twice as likely to discover a hidden shortcut in finishing a particularly difficult task.

Finally, missing out on sleep will decimate successful working relationships. When a manager or business owner is groggy and irritable, they aren’t statistically as likely to seek out new perspectives or ask colleagues for their input on strategic choices. That lack of inclusiveness and insight will inevitably foster a counterproductive atmosphere dominated by groupthink and reactionary management.

Bearing all of this in mind, it’s pretty clear that a good night’s sleep is absolutely critical to the success of your business. Unfortunately, it’s more important than ever if you’re managing a small business or a scrappy, young start-up.

Why Small Business Owners Sleep Less

Over the past couple of years, corporate executives have been forgoing sleep at an alarming rate. Yet even so, their foolish decision to work late into the night will never be as inherently detrimental to their company’s success as a lack of sleep will be for a small business owner or first-time entrepreneur. By and large, that’s because there’s strength in numbers.

In 1999, the average new business kicked things off with 7.7 employees. According to the Kauffman Foundation, that figure has dropped to an average of 4.7 employees. In many ways, overseeing a smaller team can make for a more manageable and dynamic work environment — but it also means a lot more responsibility.

When Marissa Mayer joined scrappy start-up Google in 1999 as the company’s first female engineer, she was infamously known to put in over 130 hours per week. At the start-up level, weeks like that can seem difficult to avoid. After all, small business owners and their tiny teams must oversee a plethora of seemingly menial tasks that corporate executives are free to pass off to teams of 30 or 40 white collar worker bees.

As a result, many sleep deprived corporate executives are able to go home at 5 p.m. on the dot — comforted in knowing that mid-level employees will be able to burn the midnight oil, instead. Some big time executives may even benefit from the odd midday nap — which researchers say can drastically improve one’s creative abilities. Small business owners don’t have that kind of time. There’s simply too much to get done during the day for a luxurious nap, and nobody else to pass the work on to.

For that reason, small business owners sleep far less than their corporate counterparts. Given the ambitious workloads that start-up founders and would-be entrepreneurs try and take on, sleep deprivation is inevitable. Yet by doing a bit more planning and increasing productivity throughout the day, it’s possible for small business owners to regain lost sleep and improve their overall company success between the hours of nine and five.

Give It A Rest

Just as corporate executives are less likely to harm their company’s bottom line by losing sleep, they are also more likely to be able to address sleep deprivation as a widespread issue. Many large corporations now churn out regular training programs designed to improve daytime productivity, while other companies have written strict bylaws against working past a certain time of night.

A major HR campaign probably won’t seem worthwhile when you’re only presiding over five or six employees — so the fight to regain sleep must start with you.

First, it’s worth sitting down with your team and bringing this topic to the table. Let them know that sleep deprivation is a major issue that can be catastrophic for your company’s success. It may seem important to hit stringent print deadlines or file briefs by a certain time — but nothing can be prioritized over the mental and physical health of you and your colleagues. Clerical errors, behavioral outbursts and poor decisions are all far more likely to be made after the sun goes down. Let your employees know that there’s a fine line between working late as a show of dedication and simply putting the company at risk.

After that talk, you’ve got to lead by example — and increasing your productivity throughout the day will enable you to get home on time without leaving work undone.

One of the best ways to increase your productivity throughout the day is, counterintuitively, to take breaks. According to researchers at Hiroshima University, enjoying regular breaks throughout the day will actually refresh your mind and renew your focus in order to increase work productivity. Taking 30 minutes in the middle of the day for a long walk or a quick gym visit is particularly invigorating, and will also help you to have a longer and more natural sleep later in the evening. That said, even a short coffee break is better than nothing.

Finally, you will always perform far better in the office if you’re doing all you can to get a better night’s rest at home. After all, getting out of the office early won’t improve a sleeping pattern if you’re spending the night tossing and turning. Small business owners sleep better if they stay away from caffeine late in the day, maintain a low intake of alcohol and avoid eating big meals close to bedtime. Nicotine has also been directly linked to sleeping problems — and anyone looking to improve their sleeping habits would do well to avoid smoking altogether.

At the end of the day, sleep deprivation affects everyone. It doesn’t matter whether you’re working a shop floor, telecommuting from Hong Kong or are a corporate executive that lives and breathes work. You need to get your rest. This rings particularly true for small business owners. They’re usually doing enough work to keep five or six people busy, and consequently choose to forgo sleep on a regular basis.

It’s got to stop. Sleep deprivation is bad for managers, bad for small business owners and bad for companies in general. Yet by opening up a line of dialogue, improving daytime productivity and taking steps to ensure you’re getting a deep sleep at home, it’s possible to lead a small business to success and still get eight hours of rest each night.

Sleep Photo via Shutterstock

Nash Riggins Nash Riggins is a Staff Writer for Small Business Trends and an American journalist based in central Scotland. Nash covers industry studies, emerging trends and general business developments. His writing background includes The Huffington Post, World Finance and GuruFocus. His website is

2 Reactions
  1. There are too many things to do during the day and of course lack of time for all of them. I think that this is not really a problem, we should learn to pay attention to the most crucial tasks and of course use time management. We can do everything we need and even more by using right resources.

  2. Thanks for the article, Nash. I think website executive editors need the most sleep of all — but rarely get it. 🙂