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Episode 56: Interview with Jeff Kahn, Co-Founder & CEO at Rise Science

As the Co-Founder and CEO at Rise Science, Jeff Kahn discusses the challenge of being emotionally present as a leader, the power of gratitude, and the two levers of sleep that are essential to high-performing leaders.

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Claire Lew: Hi everyone. I’m Claire Lew. And I’m the CEO of Know Your Team, software that helps you become a better manager with tools to help you run better one-on-one meetings, get feedback, and get status updates. And it is my absolute pleasure to have on The Heartbeat today, Jeff Kahn, who is the CEO and founder of Rise Science. This absolutely incredible company that could not be more relevant today. What they do is they have a app called Rise, which essentially helps you make behavior modifications all-around sleep. So you actually don’t have to wear a single thing, which I found brilliant.

So they take all the data that you already have on your phone, or if you use a Fitbit or analyze it, and they help you focus on exactly what you need to be changing, to be more healthy, and productive, and just be feeling better. And could not be more, honestly, what’s sort of geeking out about being able to talk to someone who spent their life’s work thinking about sleep. Jeff, it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about in terms of leadership as well. And yeah, pumped to ask you this one question about leadership.

Jeff Kahn: Yes. Hit me. I’m ready for it.

Claire Lew: You ready?

Jeff Kahn: Also, just I’m ready. But before you ask me the question, I just want to say it is beyond humbling to hear you say that. And also beyond humbling, you have some amazing people on the show and everyone I talked to, even at the company, they’re like, “Jeff, you’re talking with Claire today? Everything she puts out is so good. So high quality.” That’s something that I go to. Like literally, when I need help figuring out what’s in a one-on-one, I go to you. So seriously, thank you for providing that resource. And I don’t say that lightly. It’s really an important resource for the community, so thank you.

Claire Lew: Well, I’m glad we’re recording this, Jeff, so that everyone could hear that. That’s very nice on my ego.

Jeff Kahn: That’s unprompted.

Claire Lew: I’ll take it, recorded everyone-

Jeff Kahn: I’m trying to do it separately without Claire-

Claire Lew: No, this is great. I’ll be playing it on loudspeaker in my apartment later today. No, that’s truly kind.

Jeff Kahn: On repeat.

Claire Lew: Right? Exactly. Let’s do the question then. So here’s the question that I’ve been asking leaders literally for almost the past three years. And the question is, what is one thing or several things that you wish you would’ve learned earlier as a leader?

Jeff Kahn: I mean, I am new to leadership, and let me point that out. I’d say that the short thing, that immediate … I specifically didn’t want to prepare for this question, and just let it come naturally, and see where my mind went. And it immediately goes to the importance of just really being in tune with, I think, what’s most important as a leader, which is your sort of emotional presence with what you’re doing. And I just think that that’s so important to be like, whether it’s a one-on-one that you’re about to have with an employee, or an all-hands you’re about to give, getting on a sale that happens to be ….

I’ve found, early in my career was doing a lot of work, and now it’s working with a lot of people enabling them to do really great work. And that’s just the thing that I’ve realized I needed.

And so, for me, I have to realize that I’ve actually got to take time out of my day to go on runs. Obviously, to prioritize my sleep, to eat well, to not work. That is essential. Otherwise, I just find that it’s so hard to be present and just to take every day and say, “Wow, this is an amazing opportunity to get to do something that I love. And to have that energy around is something I wish I learned earlier, and I hope that I can just apply even more. And it’s simple, but I still forget it today. And I’ve now been doing this for a while. So, we’re a small team, we’re 11, but being emotionally present is essential.

Claire Lew: Well, I was about to say, it’s almost like when actually maybe the fewer people that you have on a team, the more important it is to show up with that emotional presence. Just as perhaps the more intense something is, it can be so counterintuitive. Perhaps it’s even more salient to be leaning back and taking time off. I mean, here’s a funny or not a ha-ha funny thing, Jeff, but just like a hmm. Sort of a puzzling thing I’ve been thinking a lot about lately around emotional presence is, why do we forget that that’s important for you? Did you ever for … So, was there ever a time where you knew it was important, and then you forgot, and you came back to it? Or was it a thing where one day it hit you, and you’re like, “Whoa, that’s what I’ve been missing from being able to perform well as a leader.”

Jeff Kahn: Yeah. So, about a year ago, almost to the day, my daughter was born, and I started going to therapy, not because I felt like I needed to … Not like I felt like I had a problem, and I need to go to therapy to fix it. It was like I have employees and their families that are depending on me. I now have a new daughter. I now have a wife that really needs me. There’s a lot of change that’s going on. And I want to make sure that I am able to be present and to be the best version of myself that I can be. Now, that’s why I went in. After about three months of sitting down in the chair and my therapist saying, “How are you doing?” And it took me a while to realize I was like, “I’m actually not doing that well. I’m not doing well. I’m anxious, I’m more stressed than I am. I’m way more afraid of failure.”

And so, that process of really checking in and trying to answer the question, how are you really doing? And it’s how we open up all of our one-on-ones where it’s a chance for myself and my direct report to just talk about how are we actually doing as people. And I’ve just realized that in this, that it was a moment where I didn’t even know that I wasn’t present and not doing well. I thought I was fine. And it just took this process of realization for me that like, “No, I actually wasn’t doing that good.” And I’ve just found that to be so freeing for me, to be able to show up and say, “You know what? Not, everything’s going to be perfect. Some days I’m going to be red.” And I just still find that really hard.

Jeff Kahn: I don’t know. I grew up in a family where if things aren’t great if you’re not feeling good that you needed that fix it. There’s a problem you can just go; and get it done and improve it. And I’ve been really trying to work on like, “Maybe things aren’t good all the time. And that’s actually okay.” And being able to show that with your employees. And that’s just a change that’s happened and a time when I realized, but it took three months, literally of therapy to realize I actually wasn’t doing well and that I wasn’t emotionally present. And I didn’t know how I was feeling, so.

Claire Lew: Jeff, I can’t even begin to just express how grateful I am to you for sharing that because it is the, I think, perfect example or manifestation of something. I think almost every leader that I have talked to has experienced it. And yet, has not always been able to articulate or be as forthright about, which is that; we all as leaders have this natural tendency to want everything to be okay, to have the answers, to solve for everything. That’s why we’re in the position in the first place. And our world rewards us for that. We get the external affirmation we get. I mean, monetary rewards, whatever it is, we are rewarded for saying we’re winning. It’s all okay. I’ve got it. I’m solving it. And so, what it infers is that the inverse is not. That feeling unrest or the form it takes for me. I mean, it’s absolute anxiety and or restlessness and almost sort of circular doubt of, “Am I doing enough? Are we doing enough? If that’s enough?”

Jeff Kahn: What do you feel? What’s the emotional energy that you feel around the anxiety? How do you experience it? What does it feel like when you’re having that day where it’s like, “Oh, am I doing this right? Am I really doing the right thing?” What does that feel like to you?

Claire Lew: Absolutely. I think for me, it’s a heaviness of my own self-judgment. So it’s a very harsh, critical voice. And not from anybody else, not from customers, not from any of our partners, et cetera. Not from anyone in the team; it’s this other voice of Claire, who I think might be of, poking around and just being really hard on myself. And I think that voice is maybe different for a lot of people or that feeling comes up for a lot of people. But I know for me, my biggest demon that I always have to wrestle with when it comes to being emotionally present is understanding, “Ooh, I have a tendency for being very self-critical.” And you’re more than anyone would ever, ever beyond me. Or that I would ever be to anybody else. How about for yourself?

Jeff Kahn: Yeah, no. I would say that’s it. Failure looms larger than it should. It feels like if something doesn’t go right, that it … I think heaviness is actually something that I feel. It almost feels like it’s just harder to move throughout your day. Everything feels like it carries much more weight than it actually does, that it has sort of longer-term. It might have longer-term implications than it actually does. And yeah, I think that, I mean, the self-criticalness as a leader happens for also just something that I see in myself. And I mean, the question of like, “How did we get here? Is an interesting one, but you always need to … The point that is it okay for things not to be okay? And how do you show up at work and do that in the right way?” I mean, obviously, is it okay to just say, “I’m feeling terrible today. I’m not feeling confident about the business. I don’t know what’s going on.” Should you show up and say that? Or how do you think about that when you’re not having … Maybe a day that you’re just not feeling anything, you’re not feeling good about what you’re doing, and it happens to everyone.

Claire Lew: Absolutely. You’re not feeling yourself. Exactly. Yeah. No, it absolutely happens for everyone. And I think, I mean, there are definitely a few things that I’ve tried to internalize. And when I talk with other leaders that have worked really well for them … And one of them Jeff, and I don’t know if this is something you do, but one of them for me has been just reminding myself that everything changes. So, the way I feel right now is going to change. It might be in 10 minutes, it might be in 10 hours and might be in 10 weeks, but it will change. So, it’s not the sort of … Everything changes. So, the business either is going to get better, or it’s going to get worse, but it’s definitely not going to stay exactly where it is. It will change.

So, there’s that reminder, which I think helps to understand. And this is more of a general statement when people experience suffering, right. It’s because they don’t believe anything could change. Or that they fear a state being prolonged for longer than they want it to be. And the fact that something can change was always useful for me. The other thing I think a lot about is just how much is out of our actual control as a leader. We think so much that we can influence the knobs and buttons. And we think so much that we can pull the levers. And the reality is, most of it is actually completely out of our control completely. Completely, even our own team.

Jeff Kahn: I mean, yeah. And I think if you start to … That piece of getting to be at peace with the fact of how little you control really, and how much of the … Maybe the only thing you can control is the effort you put into something. And even then, sometimes, you don’t feel like you put in the effort. And you’re not able to put in the effort that you want to put into for various reasons. So it’s like that point of like, how much can you really control? And this has been a small trick for me that has seemed to work. And I forget where I learned it. But if you’re … I’m sure the amount of help that you’ve been given from other people is tremendous. And I think all of us have been, and I certainly feel that way.

And anytime I go in, whether it’s before a sales meeting or a really important meeting with the team, or an important conversation with one of our employees, and I’m sort of feeling like, “Oh, I’m just not myself.” There’s been one thing for me that’s reversed it almost like a pill every time.

Claire Lew: Oh, boy.

Jeff Kahn: And it’s, I will spend about two to five minutes writing a thank you email to someone that’s helped me. It could be just someone who did something nice for you. It could be someone who taught you something. And for some reason, that flipped to gratitude and I’m sure there’s a ton of science on it has. Just like I walked into the meeting, and I feel like, wow, I’m just grateful to be here. And that, for me, opens me back up. So-

Claire Lew: Absolutely.

Jeff Kahn: That’s useful when you … I have the urge you should do that.

Claire Lew: I am almost positive that will be useful to folks who are listening. And what I think is so beautiful about that, Jeff is, it does two things, right? So, it makes once all the focus of your attention no longer on you. And in my case, it makes it on something bigger, a bigger idea, something beyond ourselves. It’s like we can get beyond ego. We can get beyond all the stuff up here. And then I think the other thing that’s so beautiful about really, refocusing on gratitude is it also brings us to the present. It brings us to like, you said; I can just show up. You don’t … There’s nothing more to be done. And so, I absolutely love that.

Here’s a funny thing that I think happens to a lot of leaders, including myself, Jeff; which is, we are so well-practiced in a lot of these sort of rhythms that sometimes we’ll encounter a situation where it’s very stressful, or it’s really ominous or something, and it could be personal or work or whatever. And maybe we try to do the thank you email, or maybe we try to remember it’s not out of our control. And we know we’re supposed to be getting to that place and feeling a certain way, and it just doesn’t happen. And you’re smiling. So, hopefully, you can relate here. And I always find those moments the most fascinating. When you know the way you should be reacting, and it’s extremely hard to pull yourself out of that. And that’s what I find most challenging as a leader. Is that you have to continually practice this stuff. It gets not like a one-and-done. And it’s not like you find your one hack, and then you’re just good for forever. It’s like a continual wave of moments of building that muscle to rebound.

Jeff Kahn: We do a lot of work with professional sports teams, and one of the things we hear a lot is next place speed. So, how quickly, if something doesn’t go right, you’re playing on the bat… I think it’s the Duke’s basketball coach that’s famous for this. But you have a play, you set it up, it’s supposed to go well, it doesn’t. How quickly can you just get back on the court, get onto the next thing, and start playing again, and not let the one bad play get to you? And so, that’s another thing that I have to constantly remind myself, too, is the next place to be in.

Claire Lew: Absolutely. Well, one thing that I’m curious about is we’re talking right now about tactics and strategies for greeting that situation in the moment. But what I’m really wondering, Jeff, is what can we be doing as leaders to increase our capacity ahead of time, right? Before the situation happens, before we’re weighed, we’re so depleted that we don’t even know that we’re depleted. What are the things that we can be doing to really nourish ourselves? And I’m sort of setting you up here for that-

Jeff Kahn: You’re setting me up-

Claire Lew: Because there’s one thing I will tell you that has personally helped me, but I think you’re the perfect person to sort of have this conversation with and ask that question too.

Jeff Kahn: It’s funny that you bring it up in that way. Because I think it’s a useful framing. So, my daughter was born. Obviously not getting a lot of sleep in the first three months. Lots we can talk to on about that. But I was going into a meeting with someone I hadn’t met before, and I had a significant amount … I was very sleep deprived. I had a significant amount of sleep debt going into that meeting. And I sat down, and I just like the moment you said, I tried the gratitude trick. It didn’t work. Try to remind myself it’s going to change. It didn’t work, but I just felt like I felt out of place, couldn’t really find my words, didn’t feel like I was present and able to just be really there, and nothing worked.

And as I sort of reflected on that time in that meeting, I saw how much sleep deprivation I had. And obviously, I had quantified, and it hit me in that moment. I was like … I felt like I let this person down because I had so much sleep deprivation. And it wasn’t like I had … I was probably more well slept than other people, but it came to a point of clarity for me that it was like, “If I don’t keep my sleep debt below four and a half hours, I’m actually letting, not only myself down, but the people that I’m with down. Because my prefrontal cortex and the medulla aren’t functioning properly.” And it just hit me across the head. And it was like, “Wow, okay. Yeah, this is obviously …” I’ve been studying this for a while, and there’s lots of reasons to care about why you should think about and take care of your sleep very seriously. But this is one where, in a leadership context, it was like you’re meeting with lots of people all day. And if you care about those people, this is probably the first thing that you should be doing.” And it’s something you have control over, for the most part.

Claire Lew: Well, first of all, how brilliant is it that your reaction to what you felt was a shortcoming or something you wish you would have done better is to be able to point to, “Oh, I didn’t sleep enough.” I wonder how many of us have leaders who have faced a similar situation and got, “Oh, it’s because I didn’t prepare enough or I didn’t do it. I forgot to talk to this person, or it’s because someone on my team failed to inform me about something, or because, because, because when …” And here’s what I think has personally been such a capacity builder for being able to handle all sorts of situations is, “Maybe it actually is sleep.”

Jeff Kahn: It’s really simple. But if you just … And this is something that we see happen whenever we work with a new team. We’ll have a number of people that obviously, lots of people have already heard about the science, but there’s a lot of people that are skeptical because there’s something fascinating and sleep science, which happens, which is that the brain tricks you into believing you are less sleepy than you are. So, the way this works is if you get five hours of sleep on the first night, you’ll feel more sleepy the next day. If you do the same thing on the next night, so then you get five hours again, and you’ll feel more sleepy the next day. By that third day, you actually won’t report to feeling any more sleepy. And then, if you just keep getting five hours, your brain adapts to whatever level of sleepiness you’re at.

And by the way, if you are getting five hours, you’ll report to feeling slightly sleepy, you might feel a little bit tired in the afternoon. Maybe your eyes are closing; you want to take a nap. I think all of us have felt that if you do feel that, by the way, that’s like, ” Red alert.” That should be red sirens going off everywhere saying that you could be so much, you’re nowhere near your potential as a human being. And so, I think that’s the exciting part personally, but that to me is really interesting that we’re not aware … Our brain doesn’t let us be aware of how sleep deprived we actually are. And we go into a fight or flight mode where … And I think this is just a helpful way to think about this, which is, the parts of your body that need to function for food safety and shelter aren’t as sensitive to sleep loss as our executive and emotional functions.

So, basically, as soon as you lose a little bit of sleep like pretty much everything emotionally goes out the window, your ability to tell facial expressions, your ability to tell if someone’s being sarcastic, the part of your brain generates speech so that you can come up with the right words, how positive those words are, and how positive people perceive them.

I mean, you’d never think that your sleep affects your positive affect but direct relationship. Obviously, anxiety and stress, and we can go down the list, but the first thing that goes is you get less sleep is actually the higher-order functioning. So, things like creativity and insight and focus and all the things that you’re like as a leader, like I wish I had more of.

And what’s so surprising to me, I got into this about 10 years ago. And it was mostly because I felt crappy waking up in the morning. And as I started studying, obviously, the first thing hit me is like, “Oh my God, this is this incredible lever.” But the second realization was this field started almost a hundred years ago in Chicago. What have we been doing? Why don’t we know that this isn’t a new field? We know more about this than we know almost about than anything else. And so, the amount of science on the topic is staggering. And that’s really what sort of convinced me like, “Okay, this is something I should spend my life doing, is figuring out how the heck do you help people take advantage of this lever that they all have.”

And if we do it, I mean, you just have way more capacity, all of this. Pretty much anything you can measure starts to get better. So, that’s why I feel like we’re just like these applied scientists at Rise, trying to figure out what are all the reasons why people don’t get enough sleep and how do we help them? And that’s the part that’s very intriguing to me, but that the benefits when you get more. It’s like you just feel it so clearly. So anyway.

Claire Lew: Absolutely. I mean, I can personally vouch for that. And one of the things that… And I had told you this before we hopped on this call what I actually love about your app is just that it makes actionable recommendations around what exact habits you should change. I think a lot of times when we think about sleep, and for folks who maybe they read Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep book, or maybe they track sleep on it on a Fitbit or something. But it’s just like, “Oh, I should just be trying to get to bed earlier. And I should try …”

And I think for many of us as leaders; we know that if we want any kind of real sustained behavior change, it has to be a little bit more precise than that. So I’m curious, Jeff, for all the managers and leaders who are listening to this and going, “Okay, I’m bought in. I know that sleep is important.” But is there, instead of trying to digest all the research that’s out there, or listen to all sorts of podcasts, if you had maybe one, two, maybe three things that tops. That you felt like, “Okay, this is what you should critically focus on as a manager so you can help your creativity make better decisions, et cetera.” What might those things be?

Jeff Kahn: It’s a great question. And there’s just so much out there on this topic.

Claire Lew: Exactly.

Jeff Kahn: And so, unfortunately, there’s a lot of confusion around the topic. I think fortunately for us, scientists have been very hard at work, trying to figure out this question. How do you actually get the benefits of better sleep that we all know about? What is it? Is it like, do I need to focus on REM sleep? Is it deep sleep, get more sleep? How about quality versus duration? What if I wake up at different times, or if I have a special alarm? What about sleep at … So, the beauty is in the early ’80s, and there’s sort of what I would call sort of the laws of physics for sleep that the scientific term is called the two-factor model of sleep and wake regulation.

And the proposal in this theory was that there are only two levers that matter when it comes to how performant you’ll be. So, all the benefits that we just talked about, and all the benefits that people have heard about in Matt Walker’s book, and all of that comes down to two things, and those two variables are as follows: So, the first is called sleep debt. And you heard me mention that earlier. The way it works is that everyone has a specific amount of sleep they need eight hours and 10 minutes is the average in the population, but there’s a 35 minutes standard deviation. So, you might have people on your team that needs seven and a half hours, totally normal. Some people on your team that need nine hours, totally normal. It’s a mostly genetic factor like your height.

Now, when you don’t get that amount, you build up debt, and how you perform today, your emotional capacity, how linked your amygdala, prefrontal cortex are. So, you can regulate your emotion, be happy, not be anxious, and stress out all the things that we’ve talked about, be creative, have working memory. All of that comes from having a low sleep debt number. So, that’s really the first thing. And we actually have a paper, it’s the … Even though sleep science have been around for a while there have been some new ways to capture sleep data longitudinally.

And so we have … We were at papers and peer review right now, looking at that data point, sleep debt, predicting NFL game day performance, NBA game-day performance, sales team revenue performance. That is the number that predicts. And if you try and look at last night’s sleep to predict performance, you won’t find a strong relationship. If you look at sleep quality, you won’t find a stronger relationship.

Jeff Kahn: So, as much as you’ll hear that, it’s something else. It’s really, what is your sleep debt? Now, there’s a lot of things that can get in the way of sleep debt, like your mind racing at night. You’re waking up a ton in middle of the night, and there’s lots of ways of solving that. But in terms of how to think about it, you should think, where’s my sleep debt at? And so you’re really looking at your last 14 days with each recent day affecting you more than the 14 days back. So, that’s law number one. And if you take anything away. It’s like, what your sleep debt should be something that you know all the time and should really be almost a main KPI in your life. So, that’s the thing that’s first lever

Claire Lew: Perfect.

Jeff Kahn: The second lever is known as the circadian rhythm. So, a lot of people probably heard this before, or maybe they’ve heard biological rhythm. The way that it works is, you have a clock in your head, and this clock there’s actually a part in the brain responsible for essentially signaling to all of your cells when to be producing energy and when not to be. So, that’s cells in the brain cells and the muscle cells everywhere. And so, as a result of that signaling, you have basically two performance peaks in your day. And then, you also have two times that are optimal for resting. And so, you’ve got a morning peak, you’ve got a late afternoon peak pretty typically. But then, you also have something that’s called dim light melatonin onset.

It’s a lot of words. But basically, what that means is, most people have heard of melatonin or have even taken it. It turns out the brain produces that naturally. And there’s a time that everyone has every night that your brain is releasing a surge of that melatonin if you’re under dim lights. And so, knowing when that is so that you can actually take advantage of that, you’ll find it’s easier to fall asleep, stay asleep. So that circadian rhythm then allows you to say, “Okay, if I’m a manager and I’m helping my team optimize their day, should I have a bunch of one-on-ones and team meetings right in the morning peak when people are most creative, most efficient?” Definitely. That’s the time when there should be no indication, and everyone’s focused on getting their work done. And then, when you’re in your afternoon dip, that’s when you should go on your lunch, one-on-one walks, and you should engage the team on things that maybe aren’t as high capacity.

And so that’s as you think about applying that science your day, it can really help reorganize. So, I think a lot of people have felt that they perform different times differently. I’m a morning person. I’m a late person. But the core concept is that you do have very different times to perform. Those are the two big ideas. If you know those and master those, that’s how you get the best fit and there … The science shows that there’s really nothing beyond that, that you can do to make a material improvement against any outcome.

Claire Lew: That is enormously illuminating, Jeff. And this is coming from someone who I’ve done the reading. I have an Oura ring, all of the sleep stuff. And it’s so useful to know. It’s those two pieces that are most fundamental to pay attention to sleep debt and circadian rhythm. And when I think about the most direct application for leaders about this, or the way that I internalize this for folks who are listening, who are leading, is the importance of doing this more than anything. Yes, creativity. Yes, for optimizing your team performance. But actually, and this is related to what you talked about, is can you build your length of rope that you have for dealing with all the shit?

So, possibly, one of the most common things I hear from managers is, “Oh my God, Claire, there are so many things I’m doing. There are so many decisions I have to make.” People are coming to you with complaints. People are talking, badmouthing each other. You might have to fire someone. I mean, in these times of COVID, you have to do layoffs. This job is stressful. It’s so hard. And I think, and I’m sure, you’ve looked at the research around this, but in stressful situations, that rope that we give ourselves to react in a way that is calm and measured and incisive becomes shorter and shorter and shorter. And so, just think about all the time as a leader, how can I extend that rope? And there is a better metaphor that exists. It’s just not coming to me, but just extending some sort of rope here.

Jeff Kahn: I do like that, thinking about it.

Claire Lew: But it’s, we need that emotional slacks, so to speak. Right?

Jeff Kahn: Totally. And it’s not my field of expertise, but one researcher that does specifically this work, his name’s Chris Barnes wrote a really nice piece in the Harvard Business Review in 2016 about some of the research he’d been doing. And what’s so fascinating about his work is that he specifically looks at how does sleep affect perceptions of leadership in the workplace? So, what happens when you have a leader, and they’re getting six hours of sleep? What happens to the perception of that leader from their direct reports when they’re getting eight hours of sleep? What happens to the perception of that leader when their sleep actually hasn’t changed, but the employees are getting less sleep? What happens? And so he’s looked at all of this and one of the … Actually, as a study directly on what you’re talking about with this like rope lengthening.

And it’s specifically around calls of the abusive behavior in a manager to direct report relationship. And what he finds is abusive behavior goes way up as you’ve gotten less sleep, and again, why is that? So, sleep debts now high. What does that mean? Your body’s in a fight or flight response. It’s releasing a ton of cortisol. But on top of that, if you were to image the brain at night and actually look at what’s happening, so you’ve got the … And again, I’m not an expert on neuroscience here, but this is what helps me think about it. You have your amygdala, which is your emotional part of the brain. And then you have your prefrontal cortex, which is helping you regulate all your emotions. You want to burst out in a fight; your prefrontal cortex is keeping you in check, all the executive functioning. And what you see is as you sleep, that increases. Literally, the connection between your emotional part of your brain, the amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex starts shrinking away like the box.

You don’t need emotion right now. Like we need to escape these Pack Alliance that are taking our food. You need to just mobilize all short-term resources and go. And so, that’s how as you get less sleep than you need, the body’s reacting in that fight or flight response. And obviously, that’s why if you read Matt Walker’s book or look at any of the science on longevity, your longevity gets cut short; your chronic disease rate goes high because of that sort of behavior. So yeah, I mean, sleep increases abusive behavior and manager direct report relationships. You’ll see it in just measures of also charismatic leadership goes way down. It is rising. It’s just surprising to see. But there are researchers that help us get this stuff and study it day in, day out, which is part of the-

Claire Lew: Science. That is so massively useful. And I’m sure for folks who are listening; they might be already planning their bedtime tonight to try to optimize for this. But I mean, here’s the brilliant thing that you’ve done, Jeff, which is that you’ve built a company that helps calculate this and helps people actually figure out what is my sleep debt, and what is my circadian rhythm. So, for folks who are listening and watching this, if you’re thinking, “Yeah, how do I figure out what mine is?” Make sure to go to risescience.com, where you can go to the app store and download Rise. And again, you don’t have to buy a gadget or anything to track it. It’s just all in the data that you have existing. And then you also work with teams on this as well, right?

Jeff Kahn: Yes.

Claire Lew: Mobilizing sales teams, you’ve worked with even elite athletics teams in the past to help optimize performance as well?

Jeff Kahn: Yeah, no. And the way this happened was doing research at Northwestern. Specifically on taking wearable device data and making it useful. So, how do you turn all the deluge of data that Oura has given you, or your Fitbit’s giving you? You make that to something that actually helps you get these real-world results that we’ve all heard about. And so, that’s really the research that myself and my co-founder were focused on and ended up finding a place for this within Northwestern football team. The results there were so strong that other pro teams started finding out. And so, we were graduating. He was like, Bill Belichick calling us up saying, “Well, can you do this for us?” It wasn’t actually …

Well, now, Bill’s a supporter, but now almost name a pro-team name, a college team, and likely, we worked with them, and just the results are just more impactful than anything else that they could do. And more recently started applying a lot of this to the workplace where it’s just so important, definitely mentioned sales teams. We’ve got a lot of experience working with them and measuring the return on investment of sleep in a sales context and having a chance to work with a lot of companies too that just see this as a priority and want to help their employees with something that matters.

Claire Lew: Incredible. Well, Jeff, I can’t thank you enough for, first of all, just the work that you’re doing to be in a way that’s important work. And second of all, for sharing such incredible insights that reminds us to focus on really what’s most important so we can show up in our best selves. And I think, personally, just most meaningful is you’re sharing your own struggles and vulnerability around the fact that it is okay to not always be okay, and sleep can help us with that.

Jeff Kahn: Yeah, It is. It can. And I’m still working on it. So, I’ve got a long way to go, and I still get that emotional when things aren’t okay. It feels like things aren’t okay. But I’m working on that actively, but yeah, I sleep, I just continually see my days that are hardest like, “Oh yep. My sleep. That was seven hours, eight hours. I mean, it’s just so simple. It’s like, just get it right, like this, get your sleep debt, keep it low. And life is so much better.” And just can’t emphasize enough how much of a difference it will make. And will it ensure you to be your very best? No, but it’s certainly the case that without keeping your sleep debt low, without planning your day along with your circadian rhythms, there is no way for you to be your best

I mean, that’s just sort of scientific discovery. And it’s just one of these things like it’s in our control and you just feel so much better, but it is hard to do. And I think relevant to all the leaders out there, if you’re in a leadership position, there’s a much higher chance. You’re also getting far less sleep than the average person. So it’s particularly important because your work, how you show up, affects so many people, affects all those people’s families, affects just the humanity around us. So please take it seriously, and it should be a responsibility that you think about your sleep debt every night.

Claire Lew: Thank you so much, Jeff. I’ll be rising to your rallying call. And I hope everyone here will too. No, it’s important. So thank you so much for encouraging us all to take that step and appreciate everything. Thanks.

Jeff Kahn: Thank you.

Written by Claire Lew

CEO of Canopy. My mission in life is to help people become happier at work. Say hi to me on Twitter at @clairejlew.