I have been speaking about emotional intelligence at various PMI Chapter events around the U.S. and focusing on the importance of avoiding emotional intelligence failures. My presentation is called Smart People, Dumb Mistakes; Project Managers must be Emotionally Intelligent and it has been very well received. Project managers are aware of the need for emotional intelligence and are interested in learning more about it.
One of the main points of the presentation is that emotional intelligence includes taking action in advance to avoid losing control of our emotions and doing something dumb. We talk about emotional resilience and our ability to handle people and events without acting in a negative or undesirable way.
One of the ways we can strengthen our emotional resilience is actually very simple: we can get a good nights sleep. In a recent article in LiveScience, Charles Q. Choi talks about recent studies that link sleep deprivation to emotional chaos:
“When we’re sleep deprived, it’s really as if the brain is reverting to more primitive behavior, regressing in terms of the control humans normally have over their emotions, ” researcher Matthew Walker, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley, told LiveScience.
Walker and his colleagues had 26 healthy volunteers either get normal sleep or get sleep deprived, making them stay awake for roughly 35 hours. On the following day, the researchers scanned brain activity in volunteers using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they viewed 100 images. These started off as emotionally neutral, such as photos of spoons or baskets, but they became increasingly negative in tone over time—for instance, pictures of attacking sharks or vipers.
“While we predicted that the emotional centers of the brain would overreact after sleep deprivation, we didn’t predict they’d overreact as much as they did,” Walker said. “They became more than 60 percent more reactive to negative emotional stimuli. That’s a whopping increase—the emotional parts of the brain just seem to run amok.”
Studies have shown that while sleep needs differ, the majority of people do not get enough sleep every night, thereby lowering their emotional resilience and overall emotional intelligence. (For a tip on how much sleep you personally need, pay attention to the amount of sleep you get while on vacation. More tips and information on sleep deprivation can be found here).
Ironically, one of the reasons many of us do not get enough sleep is because we feel overworked, we are striving to accomplish more, or we are trying to be more effective. However, by working more and sacrificing sleep, we are actually worker harder and not smarter. If we were to get the sleep that we need, every night, we might actually find that we have higher emotional resilience, we are more pleasant to be around, and we are more effective in collaborating with others to accomplish our goals. As project managers, we need others to work with us to be effective and this seems like a step in the right direction.
There is another EQ consideration for those of us who are sleep deprived. When we don’t get enough sleep, we lower our immunity and are more likely to get sick. If you already feel like you are overworked and not accomplishing what you want to, getting sick will only put you further behind.
I challenge you to take a moment now to evaluate your own sleep habits:
- How many hours of sleep do you give yourself each week?
- How many hours do you get when you are on vacation? (Hint: If you haven’t taken a vacation in so long that you don’t remember, you probably aren’t getting enough!)
- How many hours of sleep do you need to feel your best and be on top of your game?
- What stops you from going to bed earlier every night? Is it tuning out to TV, working, or Internet surfing? I’d wager that you stay up and distract yourself or numb out from your feelings rather than doing one thing that can contribute to your emotional well being.
I want to encourage you to try to get eight or nine hours of sleep every night for the rest of this year. Please let me know if you feel the difference in your mood, your performance, your emotional resilience, and your relationships with others.