Sleep is one of those daily parts of life that we all know is important — and yet, on the list of priorities, it’s often last. Every person requires a different minimum to function the next day, but generally speaking, females can get by on even less sleep than men can. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation found that women aged 30 to 60 receive an average of six hours and 41 minutes during the workweek, when the recommendation is seven to nine. Women are also more likely to have trouble drifting off to dreamland — and staying there — as chronic stress interrupts our natural cycles. Paired with female-only experiences, like premenstrual symptoms (including insomnia) and the annoying task of finding a comfortable position at seven months pregnant — it’s no wonder women feel, well, exhausted. So the next time you see a successful leader? Instead of asking her how she does, get more specific. Ask her how she does it — and with little sleep.
Here, eight women leaders get candid about their daily routines and how much (or little) rest they actually get every night:
“My aim is always to take care of myself.”
Who: Sara Panton, the co-founder and CEO of Vitruvi
How much sleep she gets: Six hours.
Daily schedule: “My day starts at 6 a.m. and ends at 12 a.m. I try to frontload my day as much as possible with things that are a priority with me. A big piece of that is movement. I do a Pilates class at three days a week in the morning, and yoga at night.”
How sleep impacts her life and work: “Sleep is incredibly important to me to ensure that I’m bringing my most efficient and present self to my work and responsibilities — Including the energy I’m responsible for bringing my team. I believe when our fundamental needs are taken care of we operate and experience life in a more thoughtful way. My aim is always to take care of myself so that I can think about others needs, to be patient and compassionate and to be able to think clearly and strategically. While I don’t get a lot of sleep I am lucky that I get very quality un-interrupted sleep which is incredibly restful which helps set the tone of my days.”
“Sleep directly affects my professional life.”
Who: Allison Evans, co-Founder of Branch Basics
How much sleep she gets: 7 hours
Daily schedule: “By the time my husband and I put our kids down, clean the kitchen, catch up and work a bit, it’s usually 10:30 p.m. by the time I fall asleep. And since I have a 1 and a 3-year-old, we’re usually up by 5:30 a.m. so we can get a few minutes of awake time before the girls wake up around 6 a.m.”
How sleep impacts her life and work: “Sleep is so important, and it directly affects my professional life. I am in a stage of life where I’m getting less than I would like/need, because I have littles and just recently stopped nursing at night. When running on fumes, my body and mind simply don’t function as well and my zest and excitement for life and work are waning. But when I prioritize sleep, I’m clear-headed and ready to tackle my day and assignments.”
“I envy friends who can regularly nap.”
Who: Evelyn Rusli, co-founder and president of Yumi
How much sleep she gets: 6.5 hours.
Daily schedule: “I wish I was better at the art of sleeping. My husband gets a solid nine hours almost every night, my body automatically rises at about 6 to 6:30 a.m. I’m usually in bed by midnight. I’ll try to have a warm cup of tea, or hot water with apple cider vinegar, before bed, which helps trigger my body to unwind and prep for sleep. When I wake up, I’m still working on not reaching for my phone as soon as I wake up (I fail on most days). My best days include working out in the morning with Angela, my work wife, and often with a couple other colleagues.”
How sleep impacts her life and work: “Sleep is integral. I envy friends who can regularly nap. Still, I’m at 100 percent when I’m on my regular sleep schedule, if I fall below four hours for too many days I immediately notice a drag on my energy levels and mood.”
“On the days when I can get 10 hours, I’m unstoppable. But that rarely happens.”
Who: Gwen Jimmere, CEO and founder of Naturalicious
How much sleep she gets: 5 to 6 hours
Daily schedule: “I start at 7 a.m. because my son has to be at school by 8:48 a.m. and my office opens at 10 a.m. So I get up at 7 to give me enough time to shower, make breakfast, get him up and prepare him for an awesome day. Then I’m off to the office. Because I go to bed so late, my body’s internal clock will not physically allow me to get up earlier. I’ve tried. Even if I set the clock for earlier, I don’t even hear it. Now, if I go to bed earlier, at 10:30 p.m. — when I prefer — then I’m easily able to get up at 5 a.m.!
How sleep impacts life and work: “I’m a mom, a partner, and I own a company with a staff of 13 people. I’m pulled in hundreds of directions a day and my attention is often diverted throughout with other responsibilities, requests and questions. I’ve noticed that I am far more productive and efficient when I get a full eight hours of sleep. On the days when I can get 10 hours, I’m unstoppable. That’s why I’m working to be much more intentional with my time and unplug by 10 p.m. each night.”
“I’m trying to prioritize getting better sleep.”
Who: Tracy Blackwell, head of creative in Fingerpaint.
How much sleep she gets: Around 7 hours.
Daily schedule: “I’m definitely a night owl, so it’s not uncommon for me to catch up on emails or reading late at night. At the same time, I hate mornings, so I would rather have a meeting at midnight than 7 a.m. I am usually up until at least midnight, and my day gets going by 7 a.m.”
How sleep impacts work and life: “I used to track my sleep, calculating a bit neurotically how much sleep I would get depending on when I fell asleep. Then I had kids, and I never slept — in part because they didn’t sleep well. But I would come home from work and be present for my daughters and get back to work after they were asleep. This was exhausting at times, but I think a lot of working moms just power through life. When I can get a good night’s sleep, I can focus better and am definitely more efficient, but even with my kids in college now, sleep is elusive. I’m trying to prioritize getting better sleep this year by doing little things like taking a true break to better transition to sleep.”
“Every minute is precious.”
Who: Leslie Morgan, founding partner and general manager at The Candidly.
How much sleep she gets: 6 to 7 hours, interrupted.
Daily schedule: “My day starts when my 3-year-old daughter wakes up around 7 a.m. I prep her breakfast, her lunch and get her to school. Work starts with rolling calls in the car after drop off, and then from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., it’s time to do the bulk of the work. I typically pick my daughter up at 5:30 p.m., prep dinner, have a quick activity, bathe her, read her stories, and she gets to bed around 8:30 p.m. From 8:30 p.m. to 10:30pm, it’s additional work if need be, catching up on emails, reading up on content for the site and prep for the following day. I shower before bed so I can devote the morning to time with my daughter.”
How sleep impacts her life and work: “I have never functioned on less than about 7 hours of sleep a night so every minute is precious. I am far more proactive when I am well rested, but having a child means sleep ebbs and flows sometimes. My day is really planned out with some pockets left open for additional needs of the team. Sometimes that gets derailed and that is ok, but sleep can really impact my performance if I am not getting enough.”
“I have not one, not two — but three eye masks.”
Who: Lindsay McCormick, founder and CEO of Bite Toothpaste Bits.
How much sleep she gets: 6 to 7 hours.
Daily schedule: “I start my day around 8 a.m., so I have time to go on a run, meditate and prep before the day really starts. I go to bed around midnight or 1 a.m., and I try to put my laptop and phone away around 10 to 10:30 p.m., so the last few hours of my day are spent reading a book, writing out ideas or future plans or thinking of creative, long term ideas. Sometimes, I don’t have that luxury and will work late into the night but I try to keep those last few hours tech free to decompress when I can.”
How sleep impacts her life and work: “Good sleep is vital to my daily productivity. Although I don’t need a lot of sleep, I need high quality sleep, so I really go out of my way to ensure that. I have not one, not two, but three eye masks so I never have to worry about misplacing one and being without. I don’t work on my laptop in bed and although we have a TV in the bedroom, it’s only used when one of us is sick or have a Netflix lazy weekend. Sleep finds its way into every aspect of my life because the right amount of good sleep helps me stay focused and energized over the course of the day. I’ve also found it’s also important for stress management. When I don’t get a solid night’s sleep, the day-to-day stress of running a business feels heavy instead of motivating which one of the reasons I take my sleep so seriously.”
“It’s a grind but it’s one I find personally rewarding.”
Who: Christina Stembel, founder and CEO, Farmgirl Flowers
How much sleep she gets: Between 3 and 5 hours.
Daily schedule: “My day usually starts around 6 a.m. or 6:30 a.m.. And, for lack of a better way to say it, it ends when it’s done. Some days are easier to get to bed earlier than others but, for the most part, I’m done when I finish what I needed to do that day. Sometimes that’s 10 p.m., but more often than not it’s the early hours of the next day 1 a.m., 2 a.m. or 3 a.m.”
How sleep impacts her life and work: “I won’t lie: it’s a grind but it’s one I find personally rewarding. I get asked all the time about work/life balance, and I get that. For a lot of people, it’s not about living to work. But for me, growing my company into the biggest business that I possibly can is something I want enough to make some pretty serious sacrifices to make happen. Sleep feels like an easy one to make. By the end of the week, I can feel the physical effects of multiple nights in a row of less rest. That’s how my weekly Friday night/Saturday morning sleep ins began: to help make up for the rest of the week. If I’m carrying any problems into the weekend, I find a good night’s rest on Friday can help to give me some clarity and, if not clarity, then patience to deal with any problems at hand.”