Blog Post No. 60
9th September 2018
Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne, 2018
Renata’s Coaching Blog: Why you must ‘safeguard your sleep’!
Does your job entail dealing with people all day long? If so, then your sleep level really makes a difference – and here’s why:
I continue to research and write my book – the working title of which is now:
Sleep Well, Live a Happier Life!
Understanding and improving your sleep – A summary of research findings and sleep solutions
Why do I think you should safeguard your sleep, in a culture which is increasingly sleep deprived?
Essentially, if you do not get enough high quality sleep, your physical and mental health will suffer; as will your quality of life, level of happiness, and relationships at home and at work.
In this blog, I want to explain the connection between sleep quality and quantity, on the one hand, and your level of emotional intelligence, on the other.
And I also want to explore the importance of emotional intelligence to your career success and self preservation.
Sleep and interpersonal intelligence
Deep, restful, and nourishing sleep is crucial for everyone who is working with people all day long.
You need to be able to face the working day with energy and stamina, and to have enough vitality to fuel your ability to read and understand the non-verbal and verbal messages you get from other people; and to be able to manage your interactions with those people constructively.
This kind of social/emotionally intelligent ability to read nonverbal communication is an extremely valuable set of skills in the workplace: whether dealing with customers/clients or colleagues
This vitally important skill set includes:
– understanding how the other person is feeling;
– having the ability to spot the beginnings of conflict situations;
– being able to restore calm; and:
– having the ability to negotiate with, and successfully handle, other people, so that they feel respected, listened to, and understood.
Front line people skills
These skills are integral to the work of police officers, health care professionals, teachers, social workers, negotiators, sales people and many other professions who are on ‘the front line’ of dealing with the public.
Emotionally intelligent people-reading is also very important in our personal relationships: with family members; people who provide services to us; and relationships with work colleagues.
However, emotionally intelligent reading of the nonverbal signals given off by other people, and diplomatically responding to them, is not a fixed set of skills, that you learn once and for all, and can then deliver or utilise, whenever you like, under any kind of personal circumstance. In fact, you need a great deal of energy and stamina to perform these tasks effectively.
The key elements fuelling this energy and stamina include what you eat, and how well rested you are.
The inside story
But we are not just interested in the feelings of other people, when we talk about being emotionally intelligent. We are also concerned with what’s happening inside you as you deal with people in the workplace? It’s very important for your health and well-being to be able to recognise and acknowledge your own emotions and feelings as well, and be able to accept them as they take place.
Then you need the skill of being able to constructively manage your feelings so that they are dealt with in a therapeutic and constructive way.
This range of skills, I have just described, make up the skills of emotional intelligence, and here is a definition from Drs. Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves:
“Emotional intelligence is your ability to recognise and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behaviour and relationships”.
There is growing research to support the belief that the most effective people in work and home relationships are those who are more emotionally intelligent. And there is also evidence accumulating that those individuals who lack emotional intelligence, tend to get themselves into trouble in work, at home, and even in legal actions!
The case of ‘who gets sued’
One way to examine the value of emotional intelligence at work is to look at the likelihood of being sued from incompetence or malpractice if you are high or low on emotional intelligence.
Here’s an example of what happens when people don’t develop their emotional intelligence:
It comes from research conducted by Levinson, a medical researcher, into medical professionals (specifically surgeons,) and malpractice claims by their patients. When malpractice lawsuits are investigated, it has emerged that
– there are doctors who are error-prone, and who do not have legal claims or complaints made against them by their patients,
– but there are also highly competent doctors whose behaviour prompts patients to sue them frequently.
What is the difference between them?
Patients, according to Gladwell (2005), don’t sue for inadequate treatment they have received. Instead, they sue because they have received inferior treatment, “…and something else happens to them”. (page 40)
The additional factor is the personal treatment the patients receive in their communications with their health professionals; which includes the health professionals non-verbal manner with clients.
The research by Levinson
As part of her research investigations, Levinson recorded hundreds of conversations between one group of surgeons and their patients. One sub-group of the surgeons had never been sued, and the other group had experienced having legal action taken against them at least twice.
She spotted these differences between the two groups when she examined the recorded conversations: the non-sued group spent more time (approximately three minutes longer) with each patient. They took care to outline what would happen while the patient was being examined, and they made it clear that there was space for any questions. They listened fully and attentively to the client, and engaged in humour and light-heartedness with them.
So the essential difference discovered between these two groups was how the patients were spoken to.
Then Nalini Ambady, a psychological researcher, did some more sophisticated research on the recordings of patient/doctor conversations, and focusseed in on the emotional tone of the conversations alone.
The outcome, which totally surprised the judges and Ambady herself, was that using these categories enabled a pattern to quickly become apparent: it was possible to predict which of the surgeons were the ones being sued, and which surgeons were not. The results were clear: a surgeon with a dominating voice was most likely to be in the sued group. And a more attentive, solicitous voice would mean that the doctor was in the non-sued group.
This outcome revealed the importance of tone of voice:
“The most corrosive tone of voice that a doctor can assume is a dominant tone”. (Page 43)
What has sleep got to do with maintain and developing emotional intelligence?
Experiments have shown that, without sufficient sleep, our ability to regulate (manage and control) our emotions is reduced. Lack of sleep affects our frontal lobes which are vital for managing our emotional reactions and keeping our feelings under control.
As well as tone of voice being a very powerful communicator which, if unregulated, can result in dire interpersonal results, there is also the importance of being able to read the facial expressions of others: When we sleep at night, the parts of our brain which assess non-verbal messages and facial expressions are rested and reinvigorated by rapid eye movement sleep (REM). This means that when our brains are refreshed the following day, we are able to see the subtle changes in micro momentary expressions and our ability to assess accurately the emotional states of the people around us is back to full strength.
Matthew Walker (2017) described an experiment which showed how lack of sleep affected this crucial skill. The experiment was as follows: participants came to his sleep laboratory and had a long, restful night’s sleep. Then the next morning they were shown a lot of pictures of one person’s face. The facial expressions in the pictures varied from very hostile and aggressive, through to less emotional, calm and friendly facial expressions.
There were distinct, yet small changes in the facial expressions of the person shown in the pictures, but the main feature of them was that there was this range of facial expressions from friendliness and warmth through to anger and strong dislike.
As the participants looked at the faces they had their brains scanned by a MRI machine (which uses radio waves and strong magnetic fields to create quite detailed pictures of the brain). The task they were given was to assess each picture in terms of its friendliness or hostility, or in other words, how threatening or welcoming the facial expressions were.
The second stage of the experiment involved the participants performing a similar facial expression assessment activity. This time they were sleep deprived, and significantly, weren’t allowed to have REM sleep.
Half of the participants had the full night’s sleep experience followed by the picture assessment, and then were sleep deprived the following night, and then performed the assessment procedure.
The other half of the group had the sleep deprivation condition first, and then assessed the pictures, followed by a full night’s sleep the following night, and did a visual assessment process afterwards. In each experimental condition, there were different individuals chosen to display the full range of emotional expressions, so the facial expressions had not been seen before in previous pictures.
Participants who had experienced a good night’s sleep with REM (rapid eye movement sleep) in it, had no difficulties in sorting out the different facial expressions from each other, from the range of friendly to menacing facial expressions. They performed this task inside the MRI scanner and their assessments were accurate.
There was a variation in the quality of the REM sleep, which the participants experienced. And those who had the superior quality of REM sleep showed that they were very well equipped to understand the messages from the pictures.
But the participants were then put in the second condition of the experiment: they were deprived of sleep (in particular, REM sleep) and then had to enter a MRI scanner and describe the emotions they could see on the pictures they were given, of the different facial expressions. And this time the participants found it much less easy to differentiate between the varieties of emotions shown on the collection of facial expressions.
Because of their lack of sleep (including REM sleep) they had lost the ability to quickly spot emotional states shown on someone’s face. They saw facial expressions of kindliness and welcome as hostile and menacing. Walker (2017) considers that the removal of REM sleep had affected the ability of the participants to assess others’ moods accurately:
“Reality and perceived reality were no longer the same in the “eyes” of the sleepless brain. By removing REM sleep we had quite literally removed participants’ level-headed ability to read the social world around them” (Page 217)
Why do we need REM (rapid eye movement) sleep?
REM sleep replenishes the brain’s ability to assess the level of seriousness of situations requiring emotional intelligence. It is crucial for those occupations that demand that workers perform their duties at night, to be aware of the importance of getting enough sleep prior to working, so that they get REM sleep. This includes nurses, doctors and staff in the support services, the police and also other shift workers. For example, medical and nursing staff need their emotional intelligence to be at a high level to assess the level of pain that a person was experiencing, or their reactions to a new type of medication.
Here is an example of the effects of lack of sleep:The Daily Express of Tuesday June 26th, 2018, had as the main news item on its front cover: “Exhausted Doctors act like drunks” and described the effects of long hours of work and insufficient sleep:
“Tired and overworked doctors have an adverse effect on patient safety and the NHS must shift how it looks after the mental and physical health of its workforce”, was a comment made at the British Medical Association’s conference in Brighton. And the branches of the BMA in the City of London and Hackney division put forward a motion to the conference to consider:
“After twelve hour shifts doctors have been tested and behave as if they are drunk in terms of concentration and judgement. The doctors tested had no idea that their judgement was impaired.”
Lack of sleep can really affect our ability to assess situations around us accurately, and people who are working on the front line in the policing, security and health and caring services need to be well-rested as they perform their jobs, as the evidence shows. Their behaviour has a very powerful, knock-on effect on their clients and members of the public.
As I stated earlier,this applies to managers at every level: directors, company executives, university and college managers, social and health care managers, emergency service managers, police management, psychiatrists, supervisors, teachers, and parents; and many others. Because of this wear and tear, self-care is very important when managing people, as is the need to take care of the people being managed.
That’s why a decent night’s sleep is essential if you are working with people the following day, and want to be as well-prepared, and as capable as possible.
In adition to the importance of emotional intelligence in work, we must also take seriously the importance effects of sleep deprivation, or sleep insufficiency upon relationships at home. A lot of broken relationships could perhaps have been preserved and improved if the couple had taken sufficient care of their need for at least eight hours of good quality sleep each night!
I hope you’ve found this blog interesting and helpful; and that you watch out for my book, which is coming soon. It’s called “Safeguard your Sleep”, and now you know some of the reasons why it’s very important to do that!
That’s all for now.
ABC Coaching and Counselling Services
 Quotation by Dr Travis Bradberry and Dr Jean Greaves in article entitled: ‘About Emotional Intelligence’ Available at: http://www.talentsmart.com/about/emotional-intelligence.php Accessed 25/06/2018.
 Gladwell, M. (2005) Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking. London: Penguin.