The following appeared as part of an article in a business magazine.

“A recent study rating 300 male and female Mentian advertising executives according to the average number of hours they sleep per night showed an association between the amount of sleep the executives need and the success of their firms. Of the advertising firms studied, those whose executives reported needing no more than 6 hours of sleep per night had higher profit margins and faster growth. These results suggest that if a business wants to prosper, it should hire only people who need less than 6 hours of sleep per night.

Write a response in which you examine the stated and/or unstated assumptions of the argument. Be sure to explain how the argument depends on these assumptions and what the implications are for the argument if the assumptions prove unwarranted.

The argument presented above is flawed in two fundamental ways. First, it fails to account for the different work hours and sleeping habits of the executives in the survey. Different people require different amounts of sleep to function optimally daily. Furthermore, some executives may sleep more than necessary for their well-being, while others may sleep too little. As a result, this sample size of executives cannot conclude the relationship between their sleep and company performance.

Second, the data presented in the survey is unreliable. The respondents self-reported their hours and sleep habits, and then the researchers generated an average based on this information. Since the respondents likely all work in the same kinds of companies and have similar workloads, any differences in sleep habits could easily have been smoothed over or exaggerated. Thus, the resulting average could be misleading.

Third, even if 6 hours of sleep per night is the ideal amount for people with a particular job, the question remains whether the executives in the study manage to achieve the amount they indicate they require. A more valid measure would be to compare the sleep habits of executives who have achieved financial success to the sleep habits of their less successful counterparts. The former would need to sleep less than the latter. While the exact comparison method would be complicated, it could involve a study on a larger sample.

If the assumptions stated above prove unwarranted, the argument has a serious flaw. Even if the relationship between sleep and company performance is found to be valid, the fact that the average executive in the sample reported needing 6 hours per night of work amounts to a gross oversimplification. The reality is that most executives need more than 6 hours of sleep per night to function at their best. Those who work 10-hour days or 12-hour days may need only 5-6 hours of sleep per night. Likewise, a few executives may perform better if they sleep less than 6 hours per night. Students, for example, often sacrifice sleep to study for or act in a final marathon examination. Some executives may perform better if they rest for 10-12 hours rather than 6 hours.

Conversely, some executives may perform poorly if they sleep less than 6 hours. Pilots, for example, sleep less than 6 hours per night to fly 24 hours a day. These studies show that different people require different amounts of sleep, not that anyone needs only 6 hours of sleep per night to be productive.

The argument also assumes that executives who sleep less than 6 hours per night have better profit margins and higher growth rates. If the goal of a business is to maximize its profits, it should hire only executives who need 6 hours of sleep per night and cannot afford to pay other people to sleep longer hours. However, it would be better to hire executives that are more productive in their sleep. A sleeping executive wastes their time. An effective executive, on the other hand, can better meet the needs of the company. Whether this better meeting of those needs translates into increased profits is a question of degree. However, even small increases in productivity can have a significant impact on the bottom line.