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"For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry. For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day. For poise, walk with the knowledge you'll never walk alone."

Sam Levenson

Great People Sleep Less?
Monday, 19 January 2009

Six to eight hours per day is the average amount of sleep a person needs. That's about one-third of a lifetime! As a population, we sleep about 1 to 1.5 hours less than we did 100 years ago. Scientists say that sleeping 7 – 8 hours a day is normal, if you sleep less, your health can suffer from that. Though sleep requirements vary from person to person - some people are naturally short or long sleepers.

My norm is 7 hours a day, though if I sleep 6 hours I won’t see any difference. But if I sleep less I will be sleepy. And I like to take an afternoon nap that usually lasts 15-30 minutes. I feel refreshed after it:)

Recently I’ve read that some great people slept less than we usually do, for instance, da Vinci slept only 1.5 – 2 hours a day. How is it possible?! I’ve started to wonder if my 7 hours a day is just a habit and I can sleep less. Or is it what my body really needs? The thought of having extra hours added to my working time has inspired me to find out more about it.

I've found some information about sleeping habits of great people who are considered to be extraordinary sleepers. What can I say? There are so many myths and legends around them that it's difficult to say something for sure. But I'll try to write the most interesting facts in this article.

Leonardo da Vinci

Some sources claim that the legendary artist Leonardo Da Vinci was able to stay awake and alert almost 22 hours of every day, all the while working on brilliant artworks and inventions. He slept only 1.5 - 2 hours a day taking a nap 15 - 20 minutes for every four hours that he was awake.

Nowadays this sleeping system is called polyphasic sleep. Its followers try to use it and say that the system works fine for them. However its opponents say that da Vinci sleeping habit is just a myth, there are no trusted sources to confirm this fact about great artist.

Lifetime: 67 years


Nikola Tesla

One of the greatest inventors claimed to sleep just 2 - 3 hours a day.

"I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success... Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything."

~ Nikola Tesla

"Tesla who could indeed work throughout the night, would often crash for the entire day of sleep after his exploits. He exhibited classic signs of manic creativity, which might have been interrupted by short recuperative naps or long recovery sleep. Otherwise, Tesla was nothing more than a short sleeper."

~ Polyphasic Sleep: Facts and Myths

Lifetime: 87 years


Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson is considered to be a polyphasic sleeper. He slept only 2 hours a day.

Though, in letters to Doctor Vine Utley (1819), Thomas Jefferson writes about his sleep habits. We can conclude that his sleep was not very regular, he would go to sleep at different times (often late into the night), he would always devote at least 30 min. to creative reading before sleep, he would fall asleep later if the reading was of particular interest, and he would regularly wake up at sunrise.

Lifetime: 83


Thomas Edison

The great scientist remarked that he slept less than 5 hours a night.

"Most people overeat 100 percent, and oversleep 100 percent, because they like it. That extra 100 percent makes them unhealthy and inefficient. The person who sleeps eight or ten hours a night is never fully asleep and never fully awake - they have only different degrees of doze through the twenty-four hours."

~ Thomas Edison

"Edison's contempt for sleep is well documented. Yet it can only be attributed to his ignorance. Little was known about the biological role of sleep at his time. He believed wrongly that, as with food, humans will always sleep more than necessary given a opportunity. As a natural short sleeper, he believed long sleep is a sign of laziness. His co-workers noted that Edison actually slept far more than he would like to admit. Clearly, he would carry sleeping little as a badge of honor. He catnapped a lot, and his nap cots have been preserved to this day in Edison museums."

~ Polyphasic Sleep: Facts and Myths

While working in his lab, he allowed himself almost no sleep for days. He kept a small cot in one corner and grabbed only a few minutes here and there to sustain him. A famous picture shows him stretched out fast asleep on the top of a workbench. Edison never discouraged this type of representation of himself, and newspaper photographers happily took the bait. Edison was known to sleep for an entire day, waking only to take a light meal, and then it was back to bed.

Lifetime: 84 years


Sir Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton needed 3-4 hours of sleep daily.

He worked so long and hard, often without sleep for days that he became ill from exhaustion.

"He was suddenly struck by an amazing thought. Perhaps the moon was trying to fall to earth (a much larger mass than the moon). Perhaps there was some other force preventing it from doing so. What if the centrifugal force pulling the moon away from the earth was perfectly balanced with gravity force pulling the moon toward the earth? If that were true it might also account for the movement of the earth around the sun, in fact all the planets. How about the entire universe? Wow! What a concept. No wonder he couldn’t sleep."

~ Isaak Newton Biography by Famous Lives

Lifetime: 84


Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military general, the first emperor of France and one of the world's greatest military leaders. He is also famous for his love affair with Josephine. Their love story is considered to be one of the greatest love stories in history.

Some sources say that Napoleon slept only from 12 p.m. to 2 a.m., and then he woke up, worked and went to bed again at 5 a.m. and woke up at 7 a.m. It means he slept only 4 hours a night.

"Different subjects and different affairs are arranged in my head as in a cupboard. When I wish to interrupt one train of thought, I shut that drawer and open another. Do I wish to sleep, I simply close all the drawers and then I am - asleep."

~ Napoleon Bonaparte

Some publications claim that he advocated 6 hours of sleep a night for men and 6 for women.

The officers of Napoleon have reported that even in a battlefield after long hours, Napoleon had the amazing ability to energize himself within half an hour. He handed over his command to his subordinates giving them instructions that he was not to be disturbed under any circumstances for the next half an hour. Then stretching out in his tent he would enter into scientific sleep and precisely within half an hour he would come out energized, fresh and ready again for an action.

"He is indeed said to have slept little and frequently suffer from insomnia at times of great stress. He was also often interrupted by messengers that might perhaps increase his propensity to napping at daylight. Yet he was to be woken up only with bad news. The hard rule was that the good news could wait. His memoirs indicate that he did not mind dying young. Consequently, he would disregard his doctors on the matter of sleeping little and drinking buckets of strong coffee. As Napoleon's life was jam-packed with stress, his short sleep might have been a consequence of his lifestyle. Low sleep diet did not translate well to Napoleon's military skills. Some contemporaries attribute his errors at Waterloo to sleep deprivation. Yet, during slower days he would sleep for sound seven hours, waking up at 7 and often lazing until 8. Then he would yet add a nap in the afternoon. Records also indicate that at Saint Helena he was a normal sleeper, and while stress was replaced with boredom, he often slept late."

~ Polyphasic Sleep: Facts and Myths

Lifetime: 52


Benjamin Franklin

Some sources claim that Benjamin Franklin slept 2-4 hours a night.

Though we all know his famous quote: "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."

Actually, Franklin’s reputation regarding limiting sleep is closely akin to his reputation for frugality – "A penny saved is a penny earned," and all that. Sleep is something that is natural, but has the potential for being misused. (Too much of a good thing, in other words.) In Franklin’s day, industriousness and hard work were extremely important human virtues. Edison adopted Franklin’s philosophy as well, and in both cases, it was important for them to model their behavior in a way that suggested that they didn’t sleep very much. To them, it meant that they were diligent and demanding in their lives, and never lazy in any way. In Franklin’s autobiography, he explains his quest (tongue-in-cheek) for moral perfection. In his principles for order, Franklin offered appropriate activities for each hour of the day. In his thesis, Franklin allocated only 4 hours of sleep per night. This tenet is the most often quoted reference to the myth of Franklin’s lack of sleep.

"There will be sleeping enough in the grave."

~ Benjamin Franklin

Franklin “caught up” on his sleep, logging many hours “in the sack” after bouts of sleepless activity.

Lifetime: 84


Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill was said to sleep 5 hours a night on average, but he did at least advocate a substantial daily nap on top of that modest allowance.

He would wake at 8, spend the morning in bed reading papers, dictating letters, etc., take a long nap at tea time, and work till as late as 3 am. He averaged 5-6 hours of sleep per day.

"You must sleep sometime between lunch and dinner, and no halfway measures. Take off your clothes and get into bed. That's what I always do. Don't think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That's a foolish notion held by people who have no imaginations. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one - well, at least one and a half."

~ Winston Churchill

His naps were 1.5 to 2 hours long, for a total of about 8 hours a day!

Winston Churchill had twin beds and when he couldn't fall asleep in one he changed to the other one.

Lifetime: 91


Albert Einstein

The story goes that Albert Einstein liked to sleep 10 hours a night - unless he was working very hard on an idea; then it was 11. He claimed that his dreams helped him to invent.

Also he felt that naps "refreshed the mind" and that they helped him to be more creative.

Lifetime: 76 years


Calvin Coolidge

Calvin Coolidge slept 8 hours a night, plus 2 or 3 hours in the afternoon. In fact, his very first act as president of the United States was to go to sleep. It is said that Calvin Coolidge got more sleep in the White House than any other president.

Lifetime: 61 years


As you can see it's difficult to say for sure who was a real polyphasic sleeper. And it's difficult to claim that sleeping less is a precondition to being successful in life:) So, I've stopped my little research and never changed my sleeping habit. No extra hours has been added to my working time though I try to work more efficiently, I think this will help me more.

Now I understand that it doesn't matter how much you have but it does matter how you use what you have. And I think that everyone should listen to his body and feel what it really needs. Do not be too lazy to sleep more than you need and do not be too hard-working to neglect your health.


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