11/21/2013 09:08 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Even These Successful People Are Terribly Misguided About This One Important Thing

With our jam-packed schedules and overcommitted lives, it can be tempting to skimp on sleep to fit everything in. But if you think spending less time between the sheets will increase your productivity, you might want to think again: On top of a host of health problems, sleep deprivation can affect the brain and nervous system in similar ways to drinking alcohol, and has been linked to poorer decision making, lower job satisfaction and decreased productivity. There's even research that it can take a toll on innovation, HuffPost previously reported.

But amongst the uber successful, sleep has become a dirty word. Alan Derickson wrote in a Harvard Business Review article last week:

Unfortunately, a deeply embedded American cultural tradition dismisses sleep as a waste of time. At least since General Electric founder Thomas Edison declared sleep “an absurdity, a bad habit” a century ago, many successful business leaders have promoted a virtual cult of overextended wakefulness, often amplified by considerable media attention to their behavior and commentary. From the Wall Street dynamos monitoring and mastering global financial markets at all hours of the day and night to the NFL coaches living all season in their offices, a sizable contingent of self-disciplined professionals in positions of authority continue to perpetuate unhealthful patterns by pushing themselves and others under their control to turn work into a restless marathon.

"There is now a kind of sleep deprivation one-upmanship," HuffPost president and editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington said in a 2010 TED talk. "Especially here in Washington, if you try to make a breakfast date, and you say, 'How about eight o'clock?' they're likely to tell you, 'Eight o'clock is too late for me, but that's okay, I can get a game of tennis in and do a few conference calls and meet you at eight.' And they think that means that they are so incredibly busy and productive, but the truth is they're not, because we, at the moment, have had brilliant leaders in business, in finance, in politics, making terrible decisions."

There's some evidence that this habit of boastfully depriving ourselves of sleep isn't only a modern phenomenon, though perhaps a uniquely American one: "How much more than is necessary do we spend in sleep! Forgetting that the sleeping fox catches no poultry, and that there will be sleeping enough in the grave, as Poor Richard says," wrote Benjamin Franklin in his best-selling Poor Richard's Almanack.

While a very small part of the population (probably 1 to 3 percent) are short sleepers, who need only a few hours of sleep to thrive (rumored short sleepers include Margaret Thatcher and Bill Clinton), the majority of humans require something more akin to seven or eight hours a night to avoid being bleary-eyed, unfocused caffeine addicts who can barely get through the day.

The first step is to change the conversation -- we rounded up a few examples of quotes from successful people that illustrate this widespread mentality. We can't help but wonder what more some of them could do if they got a little shut-eye.

"How does somebody that's sleeping 12 and 14 hours a day compete with someone that's sleeping three or four?"

donald trump

The New York Daily News credits this quote to Donald Trump, but we beg to differ: Optimal sleep is a vital component to productivity and better decision making. That said, too much sleep has also been associated with serious health problems. Let's agree to a healthy medium, shall we?

"It's an exhausting lifestyle, and I always say sleep can go."

martha stewart

Martha Stewart knows a thing or two about staying busy, but it often comes at the expense of shut-eye, she told WebMD the Magazine. "It's not important to me right now," she said an an interview with the publication. "I never stay in bed late -- I can't! In my house, the first people arrive at about 6:30, and I have to be up well before that."

"If you catch your body at a weak moment, as I often do, it might actually believe you when you tell it after four hours of sleep that you actually slept a full night and you feel like a million bucks."

willie geist

As the co-host of not one but two morning TV shows (Morning Joe and TODAY), Willie Geist is familiar with early wakeup calls (3:30 a.m. to be precise). "Once you’ve apologized for lying to your body, sworn never to do it again, and given it a buttery Croissan’Wich as a peace offering, your survival relies on staying busy for the rest of the day," he wrote for Bloomberg Businessweek last year. "I find when I’m totally focused on work, I don’t feel as tired as I am. The minute you downshift, the car starts to stall." Whether your body keeps moving or not, sleep deprivation has been linked with a host of serious health issues, from increased stroke risk to memory loss. (And, we might add, skimping on shuteye is associated with increased calorie intake, which could explain the Croissan'Wich craving.)

"I'm very much a sleep-when-you're-dead person."

elizabeth banks

This isn't the only time Elizabeth Banks spoke out about her sleep deprivation: "Even though I have a baby that wakes up anywhere between 5:30 and 6:30 in the morning, I still cannot get myself to bed before, like, 1 a.m. every night," she told Women's Health, as reported by People.com. "I am falling apart under the weight of lack of sleep."

And the old sleep-when-you're-dead saying hits a little too close to home: studies have linked too-little-sleep with serious health conditions, including cancer and heart disease. Even more sobering? Research has also shown that short sleepers die younger than their peers who snooze 6.5 to 7.5 hours a night, TIME reported.

“Come on, getting seven hours of sleep? That’s for the offseason."

joe bugel

Joe Bugel, former offensive line coach for the Washington Redskins, shared those thoughts in 2004, the Boston Globe recently reported. "We’re back to working the same way: Monday through Thursday till 3 or 4 in the morning, then home for dinner with the wives on Friday," he said. "We get our two or three hours of sleep during the week, and we’re happy.” (And he's hardly the only coach with that philosophy -- check out the Boston Globe article for more.)

Not only can sleep deprivation have deleterious effects on a coach's health, but sleep is especially important for their athletes -- just one extra hour of shut-eye can dramatically improve performance, and some teams have even started to incorporate sleep into their training regimens.



7 Sleep Conditions