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The Sleeping Habits Of Successful People - Why Sleep (or Lack Thereof) Matters

The Sleeping Habits Of Successful People - Why Sleep (or Lack Thereof) Matters

Category: Sleep Talk
Posted: Feb 18, 2019 09:42
Synopsis: It's well-documented that, as society has changed over the last centuries, so too have our sleeping patterns.

It’s 3 a.m. You’re still working on the proposal, business plan, or novel you started before dinner. You’ve managed to stay awake with a mixture of caffeine, sugar, and frequent walks around your office. Though you’re currently deprived of sleep, you know the completion of this task means a successful future of restful evenings.

Or, will it? If you pull an occasional all-nighter, then it might be the case. However, if your sleeping habits are comprised of, well, not sleeping, then you could do more harm to yourself and your business.

Successful Sleep

The most successful inventors, creatives, and business people in history slept at some point in the day. It may not have been eight straight hours, or even four. Sometimes, their sleep comprised of several cat naps.

Those unable to sleep due to medical issues like insomnia found ways to establish rest habits -- be it meditation, medicine, or another method. In other words, no matter how they did it, the most successful people in history developed habits that gave them the energy to create and perform.

Past and Present Examples

These past and present individuals learned how to regulate their sleep and productivity.

  • Sir Isaac Newton slept only two hours a night and spent the remaining at work.
  • Charles Dickens took a compass with him wherever he went in order to sleep facing north. He believed it helped him be more creative during the day.
  • Sir Winston Churchill would drink a weak Scotch and soda at 5 p.m. and followed it with a two-hour nap. This allowed him to work through the evening, sometimes doing a day-and-a-half’s work in 24 hours.
  • Virgin’s Richard Branson goes to bed at midnight and sleeps between five and six hours.
  • Former Virgin Money’s CEO Jayne-Anne Gadhia regularly sleeps eight hours a day.

More Than a Perchance to Dream

Getting rest and establishing a regular pattern or habit is more than an opportunity to dream. Although, that has resulted in some of our greatest inventions, discoveries, and artistic works. It’s a time for a body to heal its heart and blood vessels, maintain its immune system, and increase proper brain function.

In addition, sleep is a natural function of humans. We’re blessed (some successful people may say cursed) with a repeating 24-hour rhythm called the circadian cycle. During the day, a brain compound called adenosine (ah-DEN-o-seen) continues to rise.

Can This Cycle be Adjusted?

According to Newton, Dickens, and Churchill, the answer is yes.

Once adenosine peaks, usually when it gets dark, it triggers the release of melatonin. This natural chemical makes us drowsy and prepares us for sleep. Once this happens, the adenosine breaks down to start the process once we wake up.

However, some have been able to counteract the effects of melatonin to establish different resting habits and increase their awake times. It could be through natural ways, like meditation or exercise. Or, it could be through artificial stimulants like coffee, soda, or energy drinks.

Another reason that allows successful people to sleep less and produce more … the “Thatcher” Gene

The “Sleepless Elite”

During her time as Prime Minister, Baroness Margaret Thatcher used to work 20-hour days. Officials and staff were amazed she only needed four hours of sleep to be refreshed. Others believed it was the passion for her job that helped.

Thatcher isn’t the only successful individual with this ability. Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, only slept four hours a night. While she promoted a full eight hours of rest for patients, her sleep patterns didn’t harm her ability to inspire.

Some people sleep even less. Nikolas Tesla only dozed an average of two hours a night. There was one point the inventor went 84 hours, more than three days, without a complete sleep cycle.

These individuals are part of the “Sleepless Elite.” While they may be workaholics, there’s also a genetic reason why sleep isn’t needed. The culprit, or welcome guest, is gene variant p.Tyr362His – known as the “Thatcher” Gene.

Researchers at the Centre for Applied Genomics in Philadelphia studied 100 sets of twins in the early 2010s to determine this specific genetic variant. When it was over, those with the difference not only chose to sleep less but were also more adept at mental tasks after close to 40 hours without sleep. In addition, they required less recovery time.

The Thatcher Gene doesn’t eliminate the need for sleep. Rather, it allows them do so in shorter periods. In the case of Baroness Thatcher, she took numerous cat naps during the day to keep herself sharp.

The Eight-Hour Crowd

Not every successful person sleeps in short shifts. Many of today’s entrepreneurs and personalities sleep somewhere between six and eight hours or more. 

Queen Elizabeth regularly does this. Though 92 as of this writing, the Head of State for 16 governments rises each morning at 8:30. After a rigorous schedule of meetings, appearances, and parties, she retires between 11 p.m. and midnight.

The Dalai Lama is another very busy individual who sleeps eight, sometimes nine, hours a night to keep a calm and rested mind throughout his busy day. As he has mentioned numerous times, “Sleep is the best meditation.”

We already mentioned Richard Branson’s sleep routine. How does he keep his amazing energy throughout the day? In a blog post on Virgin.com, he revealed he starts to wind down soon after dinner. He heads to a quiet area to review social media and email then makes sure to power down his digital devices. He is normally asleep between 11 p.m. and midnight.

While Regular Sleep is Important

Longer periods of sleep do amazing things successful individuals. While they sleep, the brains’ sanitation removal process is 10 times more active than during a nap or meditation. Brain cells are repaired, new memories are reinforced, and stress is reduced.

Sleep also allows the body to make its necessary nightly repairs. Hence, the reason why the inflammation you experience the day before may be reduced or you won’t feel as bloated. In the end, sleeping can ultimately help you live longer.

The Nappers

Regardless if they want to or not, there are those successful people who don’t get a full night’s rest all the time. Instead, they rely on smaller bursts of sleep throughout the day to reboot their brains and bodies. Many of these individuals had the process ingrained in them that it became a lifetime habit.

We mentioned Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher as two examples of successful people who survived with naps. However, some have taken the idea further. You can go as far back as Salvador Dali and Aristotle to see this. Both the artist and the philosopher believed in the concept of a hypnagogic nap.

Normal sleep comes in four stages. In Stage 1, we’re on the threshold between wakefulness and a dream state. Here, we may see shapes and patterns, hear noises, and feel physical sensations related to the day’s events. Both Dali and Aristotle believed that, in nap form, hypnagogia provided more inspiration and genius than normal patterns.

In fact, Dali set up a system of micro naps. He would place a plate face-down on the floor and hold a key. As he started to doze off, the key would fall and strike the plate to wake him up. Whether it was one second or five minutes, Dali mentioned he would feel rested and energized.

The Power of Napping

Napping has similar benefits to those of a normal eight hours of sleep. It can reduce stress, reboot your brain, and provided needed energy. However, according to The Mayo Clinic, napping at the wrong time or too long may have adverse effects. For instance, you may feel groggy or encounter problems going to bed at the proper time. Nevertheless, a nap is a good idea no matter how busy your day is. Fighting through enormous amounts of fatigue causes mistakes.

The Strange Habits

Charles Dickens isn’t the only famous person who had a strange habit connected to sleeping. Past and present personalities also lay claim to some interesting ways. Some are due to past experiences while others are to help them get through grueling schedules.

When Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney is ready for bed, he can’t fall asleep unless a vacuum cleaner runs in the background. When that’s not available, his wife’s hair dryer is a good substitute.
While touring, American rapper Eminem needs to put foil on his windows to keep out the light. Like Rooney, he also needs some form of white noise to sleep better.

The inventor of the telephone and teacher of the deaf, Alexander Graham Bell, was a night owl. After sleeping between four and six hours, Bell would work once the sun went down. His days would end either at 10 p.m. or 5 a.m. depending on the activity.

Frankenstein author Mary Shelly had a strange sleeping habit due to a disorder called parasomnia. Shelly suffered from sleep paralysis – the feeling of being conscious but unable to move.

Another person who couldn’t sleep due to parasomnia is UK sportscaster Natalie Pinkham. A sleepwalker and previous sufferer of night terrors, Pinkham found relief through a combination of medications, including an iron supplement.

No Matter What – They Find a Way to Sleep

No matter if they do it through medicine, meditation, or turning off their phones, the successful people mentioned here all found ways to rest. Regardless if it was a micro nap or a full eight hours of sleep.
While sleepless nights may have been the way to go in past decades, the sheets may be shifting toward regular patterns. Authors like Dr. Rangan Chatterjee have noticed more mindfulness by those who reach the highest peaks. They relax more, eat better, and get a good night’s sleep.

How You Choose to Sleep

Know you need to determine what’s best for you to succeed. Continue the same path of sleepless nights and days? That can lead to success in the present but problems in the future. Not simply health-related. Rather, mistakes that can affect you or your clients.

Establish a sleep pattern to increase your energy and productivity? That’s probably the best answer. What you determine depends on your past habits. If you’re a napper, go that route. If you get eight hours of sleep a night, then stop what you’re doing at a good point, wind down, and get a good night’s rest.

Seek help if you have some form of parasomnia so you can put your brain to rest as well as your body. There are numerous medications and treatments that can help with this. If you’re uncomfortable taking sleeping pills, consider meditation, hypnotherapy, or natural products like melatonin.

The first step to your success is establishing your healthy habits. Once that’s taken care of, the business plan and client building will fall into place as your brain and body work with maximum efficiency.


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