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Memo To David Axelrod: Take A Nap

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David Axelrod, President Obama's chief political adviser, sleeps "five fitful hours a night," the New York Times reported yesterday.

"I think he's getting close to a burnout kind of thing," Axelrod's friend Sam Smith was quoted as saying.

Charles Czeisler, a Harvard sleep researcher, has found that getting four or fewer hours of sleep five nights in a row has an impact on our memory, attention and speed of thinking that is equivalent to being legally intoxicated.

"Like a drunk," says Czeisler," a person who is sleep deprived has no idea how functionally impaired he or she truly is. Most of us have forgotten what it really feels like to be awake."

"In my long political career," Bill Clinton told a post-presidency audience, "most of the mistakes I made, I made when I was too tired. Too many members of the Congress in both parties are sleep deprived. It clouds your judgment, and it undermines your ability to be relaxed and respectful in dealing with your adversaries."

In a much cited study of the keys to great performance, researcher Anders Ericsson found that top violinists named sleep as the second most important everyday activity, after practice, when it comes to improving as violinists.

The best violinists in his study slept an average of 8 1/2 hours, including a 20 to 30 minute daytime nap. Ninety-five percent of us need at least seven to eight hours a night to feel fully rested. The average American sleeps between six and 6 1/2 hours with no nap.

Sleep is the first thing the driven class is willing to sacrifice in the name of getting more done.

That's based on the mistaken assumption that the best way to be more productive is to work more hours. In fact, there's considerable evidence that people get more done, in less time, at a much higher level of quality when they're more rested.

It's not how the number of hours you work that determines the value you generate, it's the focus you're capable of bringing to whatever hours you work.

How would you like to be operated on by a surgeon who is deeply sleep deprived? Or fly in a plane with a pilot who hasn't had sufficient sleep?

How do you feel about having your government run by people who don't get enough sleep?

Virtually all major disasters caused by human error during the past 50 years were connected to insufficient sleep, or took place in the middle of the night, when the body is craving sleep. Think of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Challenger space shuttle crash, the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl meltdowns.

How do we get our leaders to start truly valuing sleep, recognizing periods of real recovery not as a sign of weakness, or a waste of time, but rather as a prerequisite to great performance? And how do you do the same? My own first answer is to go to bed earlier.

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