Health and Wellness

Jack Ma has good advice on stress and sleep

Chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Jack Ma at the Viva Technology show in Paris, France.
Chesnot | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Jack Ma retired from his position as chairman of Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba on his 55th birthday Tuesday. The Chinese billionaire has developed a reputation for sharing provocative advice about productivity; for example, he once advocated for a "996" workweek, in which people work a 12-hour workday, six days a week.

But Ma has also alluded that he plans to follow the "die on the beach, rather than the office" philosophy and has praised the power of sleep.

At the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos, Ma told an audience he prioritizes rest and sleep when he's faced with a lot of stress.

"If I don't sleep well, the problem will still be there," he said. "If I sleep, I have a better chance to fight it." He reiterated this in 2019 when speaking about rejection and failure at the VivaTech conference in Paris. "Of course, you are not happy when people say 'no,'" he said. "Have a good sleep, wake up, try it again."

Ma's advice tracks with what we know about the connection between sleep and productivity. Recent research from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) suggests that people with mild cases of insomnia, or difficulty falling or staying asleep, experience a 58% productivity loss the following day. And in instances where people sacrifice their sleep to get more done, they're 19% less productive the next day, the same study found.

Other research has shown that sleep deprivation negatively impacts people's cognitive performance, including memory, creativity, decision-making and emotions. For all these reasons, sleep could be one of the most important health habits impacting your productivity.

Of course, Ma's suggestion to drift off to sleep when you're stressed might be easier said than done, especially for the 30% of adults who have insomnia. Stress is a common cause of insomnia, because intrusive thoughts can make it harder for people to fall asleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Strategies like cognitive behavioral therapy, relaxation techniques and meditation have all been shown to help treat insomnia.

According to wellness guru and entrepreneur Deepak Chopra, mindfulness techniques such as breathing, reciting a mantra and recapping your day can help you fall asleep even when your mind is racing, he previously told CNBC Make It.

Beyond your own health, research from the AASM found that insomnia costs the nation 252.7 days of work and $63.2 billion a year.

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