What Happens When the Brain is Too Tired to Perform?

3 min read
13 October 2021

When we sleep, our brains are essentially flushed with cerebral spinal fluids, which may help clear out toxins that accumulate in the brain.1 Tired leaders may feel as if they are effective, but in reality, tiredness results in more mistakes and a decreased work pace.

Our leadership abilities are directly tied to a well-rested brain, and we must promote healthy sleeping habits for ourselves and those we work with. When we are tired, we just don’t do as well. We tend to be short with others and harder on ourselves.

However, we cannot deny our biology, as much as we may want to. We have to sleep. Unfortunately, many of us around the world are not.

Some sobering statistics include:

  • Australia: 4 in 10 adults aren’t getting enough sleep.2
  • Mexico: 29% of adult workers admit getting less than 7 hours of sleep on work nights.3
  • United States: 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep, according to the CDC.4
  • Spain: Spaniards get around an hour less of sleep each night, compared to other Europeans.5
  • Argentina: A study found that 22% of people in Argentina were ‘too drowsy’ during the day, with 15% getting less than 6 hours of sleep each night.6

For many people, though, there is no respite from the daily grind. Our obligations don’t go away when we need more sleep. If anything, we feel the pressures around us even more acutely when we are tired. What if life didn’t have to be this way? What if we could take the time needed to rest properly, take the time to nourish our bodies and souls, and still have time to do a great job at work?

There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.

Homer, The Odyssey

Finding Balance Is A Necessity, Not A Luxury

We expect ourselves to do more while taking care of ourselves less. We expect better performance from a stressed, overtired brain. The reality is, we are dancing on a house of cards. At any moment, one more thing could topple this fragile existence. When we have balance, we aren’t perched precariously on a house of cards ready to fall over. Instead, our foundation is firm and supportive and ready to propel us forward.

Are you able to look in the mirror and honestly say out loud:

  •  That you are well-rested?
  • Do you see the faint (or not so faint) dark circles under your eyes?
  • Do your eyes themselves look tired?
  • What about your spirit and soul underneath your physical shell?

When your brain is too tired to perform, you are too tired to enjoy existence. And what is life if we don’t have moments of happiness?

The brutal, hard answer is that for some, balance will find them by taking a toll on their physical and mental health. Working more than 55 hours a week increases your risk of a stroke by over 30%.7 For many, finding balance comes too late, after damage has already been done to their bodies.

Taking Your Life Back

Most people (even the extremely wealthy) have obligations they cannot ignore. However, there are many things we feel obligated to do that we shouldn’t. Working extra because it is expected without compensation isn’t altruistic, it means you are being taken advantage of.

Stop for a moment and assess the things in your life. If it’s toxic and requires you to work past the point of exhaustion, perhaps some tough decisions need to be made.

Question Time

Are you feeling fatigued?


  1. Nedergaard M. Neuroscience. Garbage truck of the brain. Science 2013; 340: 1529–1530.
  2. Healthdirect Australia. Healthy Sleep Habits, https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/healthy-sleep-habits (accessed 26 September 2020).
  3. Smith S. Feeling Tired? Americans Sleep Less than Most, https://www.ehstoday.com/health/article/21915866/feeling-tired-americans-sleep-less-than-most (2013, accessed 28 September 2020).
  4. 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep, https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html (2019, accessed 26 September 2020).
  5. Socolovsky J. Sleep Deprivation in the Home of the Siesta. NPR, 12 October 2005, https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4955790 (12 October 2005, accessed 26 September 2020).
  6. Vassigh A. Buenos Aires Wakes Up To The Importance Of New Age Siestas, https://worldcrunch.com/culture-society/buenos-aires-wakes-up-to-the-importance-of-new-age-siestas (accessed 26 September 2020).
  7. Boseley S. Working longer hours increases stroke risk, major study finds. The Guardian, 20 August 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/aug/20/working-longer-hours-increases-stroke-risk (20 August 2015, accessed 26 September 2020).

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