Janet Yellen survived the 'horrifying' financial crisis thanks to this one simple habit

Former Federal Reserve Board Chairwoman Janet Yellen discusses monetary policy and the economic outlook at Stanford University on January 19, 2017.
Elijah Nouvelage | Getty Images

Former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen says that when the financial crisis struck America a decade ago, she kept exhaustion at bay by prioritizing one simple habit: sleep.

"I always tried to get a good night's sleep so that I'd wake up with my wits about me and not be exhausted," said Yellen Monday night during a discussion moderated by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman at the City University of New York Graduate Center.

Up until the crisis, Yellen said the Fed offered "pleasant work-life balance." But once the economy took a turn for the worse, "work-life balance was dead" for both her and her staff.

As banks and financial institutions fell and the financial system imploded, recalled Yellen, the market still opened Monday morning. That often meant working through the night, weekend and around the clock.

"It was horrifying. It was a completely all-hands-on-deck" situation, said Yellen. "This required an absolute, all-out effort."

Sleep's crucial role in productivity was something she came to appreciate as the lead economic policy adviser in the Clinton White House. In a post like that she said, things were often unpredictable and sleep was one thing she could plan ahead for.

"I felt that was the kind of job where you had to be alert and you had to have your wits about you and be able to respond to developments that you couldn't plan for or anticipate," explained Yellen.

In the talk, Yellen acknowledged self-made millionaire Arianna Huffington's work to advocate for sleep as a health and productivity tool. Huffington has been a vocal sleep advocate ever since accidentally overworking herself to the point of exhaustion and injury in 2007. She's since written "The Sleep Revolution" and "Thrive," in which she presents scientific and economic reasons for getting more sleep.

"Arianna Huffington wrote a book about how important it is to get a good night's sleep, and I think that's a good piece of advice," said Yellen.

Even some of the world's richest and most successful people, including Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, swear by getting a full night's rest and credit that rest with helping them do their best work.

Furthermore, top sleep experts stress that cutting your sleep short won't boost your productivity, but will actually hamper it, making it more difficult to think creatively and focus. According to a new study released last month, it can even make it harder to adapt to changing situations and make you more prone to anger.

As Bezos has said, "Eight hours of sleep makes a big difference."

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