When Jeff Bezos admitted that he sleeps a full eight hours a night, it was almost an act of blasphemy.
In our success-driven business culture — where productivity is valued highly and workers are taking less and less vacation time each year — how can it be that the world’s richest man isn’t burning the midnight oil? For Bezos, his reasoning is actually very simple: quality rest allows him to make far better business decisions.
My colleague Light Watkins, author of Bliss More: How to Succeed in Meditation Without Really Trying, agrees. As an instructor who’s been teaching business executives for over ten years, he’s witnessed the importance of sleep firsthand with his clients, who would often come to him with insomnia and sleep issues. His solution for them isn’t better time management or productivity systems — it’s meditation.
“I see it all the time. People who have very busy lives, and who’ve suffered from insomnia for years, start meditating,” said Watkins. “Then they’ll send me an email within the first week saying that they’re now sleeping like a baby.”
Watkins notes that some clients even reported their sleep improving within days of starting to meditate. And it wasn’t just the amount of rest they were getting — it was the quality of rest, too. So is it time to invest in a meditation cushion and head to the nearest ashram? Well, not so fast, said Watkins.
He believes meditation can be much simpler than that — and easier to incorporate into a daily routine. “A basic meditation practice, where the practitioner sits comfortably with back support for 15 to 20 minutes in the morning and evening, has been scientifically shown to rest the nervous system deeper than deep sleep, minute for minute,” said Watkins.
His advice to clients stems from the work of Dr. Herbert Benson, who entrepreneurs and executives can relate to because of his struggle to change the status quo. He was among the first researchers to measure a phenomenon called the “relaxation response” — a term that’s now synonymous with the practice of meditation. At the time, Dr. Benson’s peers doubted the effects meditation could have on the body on mind — a connection we now take for granted.
One of the most powerful effects, Watkins said, is on cognitive performance. Under the influence of stress, people have been proven to make bad decisions. Under the influence of rest, the opposite is true. We are capable of making faster, more accurate decisions. Further, study after study has verified that meditation and mindfulness can actually change the brain.
So how does a busy executive or entrepreneur afford time in their day to incorporate a daily meditation practice? Think of it this way: 15 minutes each morning and evening is the equivalent of replacing just two passive email-checking or Internet-browsing sessions per day with an active activity that leaves you feeling rested, recharged, regulated, and ready to tackle even the toughest decisions.
But maybe, taking a cue from a very well-rested Jeff Bezos himself, the bigger question is: Can you afford not to?