Sleep Habits of The Successful

Is it a myth that we need an average of 8 hours sleep a night? The evidence for it does not exist yet it is a widely held belief that we need 7 to 9 hours.

Is there an increased pressure in society now to stop prioritising sleep in order to be productive; with not being well rested actually risking lower quality output?

Is the 24/7 nature of technology putting added anxiety on us causing us to be more reactive for more hours of our day?

Is attempting to attain a goal orientated ambitious lifestyle contributing to our lack of work-life balance? Meaning we are burdening ourselves to cram as much in as we can during potential waking/working hours with crazy routines so that we don’t have to sacrifice any element of what we want in our life.

Many highly successful people manage to go about their lives on very little sleep, which fascinates me as I definitely need a greater than average amount of sleep in order to function at my highest. Still psychologically I seem to feel the stress of fitting so much into working days; maybe through impatience, ambition or being in the self help business I feel I should be making an example. However I seem to find personally that time and time again if I sacrifice my sleep, it often takes me twice as long to do the best work I can.

Perhaps it is not the time asleep but the quality of sleep that matters.

Arnold Schwarzenegger believes that you can’t use lack of time as an excuse for not reaching your goals, he states in this interview that 6 hours sleep is enough and then you have 18 hours left of the day to achieve your goals. I love his line about if you need more than 6 hours sleep…”just sleep faster!”

Sleep is so important for learning, memory, growing muscles, repairing tissue and synthesise hormones so it therefore makes sense that many ailments are caused by lack of sleep, such as:

  • issues with pituitary gland
  • negatively effecting the immune system
  • weight gain through an imbalance of ghrelin and leptin
  • diminishing the libido
  • increasing diabetes risk
  • lowering your mood
  • increasing the risk of heart disease

…to mention a few.

Why is it then that high achievers seem to cope well on so little sleep? Or are they just high functioning insomniacs?

In the sleepless elite we have:

6 hours sleep

Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL, wakes up at 5:00am aiming for 6 hours of sleep.

Barack Obama sleeps between 1:00am and 7:00am.

5 hours sleep

Jack Dorsey, Twitter founder and Square CEO who at one point said he was spending 10 hours a day at Square and 8 – 10 hours a day at Twitter. So he managed to work 18 – 20 hours on around 5 hours sleep.

Jay Leno is another short sleeper at 5 hours a night.

4 hours sleep

Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, apparently sleeps four hours a night.

Winston Churchill was another four hours a night sleeper.

3 hours sleep

Fashion designer, Tom Ford, reportedly only sleeps 3 hours a night.

So what contributes to this mastery of being awake and productive?


It is interesting to consider as to how our biochemistry might cause and also react to less sleep actually making individuals function at a higher level.  Increased adrenaline and cortisol levels can actually cause difficulty sleeping but can also increase performance levels.  It was found in those that slept less than the average actually had increased levels of those hormones later in the evening, whereas they’re usually more helpful in the morning to get us up and out and functioning.


Another thing that seems to keep and get these short sleepers up is their drive to achieve.  A lot of high achievers have such passion about their mission that they feel an immense amount of responsibility and even restlessness to carry it out at any cost and the one easy thing they can sacrifice to give them more hours in the day is their sleep.  


Some high achievers find that by having a 20-45 minute afternoon nap can set them up for the rest of their day.  


Science appears to have found that 1% of the population are simply resistant to sleep deprivation and thus less sleep simply doesn’t impact their performance.  In some studies it appeared that individuals who fared better on less sleep were not affected by the aptly named CLOCK gene which controls circadian rhythms due to a mutation [Fu 2009].  Further studies seemed to conclude that it was a combination of gene mutations and it was starting to show a hereditary pattern with reports of these less affected individuals sharing these traits with their grandparents and parents [Pack 2012]

So what else do the successful short-sleepers have in common?

Well in my own experience they are surprisingly energetic, ambitious, positive and optimistic.  This could be mindset or through their genetic mutations.  They also however seem to stick to a routine.

If they manage to avoid their performance suffering and have 4 extra hours in the day than the rest of us, teamed with incredible drive and ambition, then it follows that this combination can lead to huge achievements.

It seems as though there is no one size fits all however and we need to experiment with what works for us.  Keeping  a routine, ignoring extreme advice and not having any expectations as to what you need in terms of hours is a great start.    The more psychological pressure we put on ourselves, the more we can indeed hinder our own progress in so many different areas and cause ourself inefficiency.

We need to remember that success is not just defined by having more hours in the day but in having the following skills:

  • logic
  • problem solving
  • creativity
  • strategy
  • focus
  • willpower
  • emotional control
  • persuasiveness
  • empath
  • social skills
  • ability to learn
  • memory 
  • knowledge

Also remember that all our definitions of success differ.

Your idea of success may be having more time to play with your children, earning more money, having the freedom to travel more or being able to provide more jobs for your community rather than being a non-sleeping high-flying CEO!

Always remember that a coach can help you achieve your version of success, unlocking the answers and abilities that lie within you, without you having to radically change your sleep schedule! For a crash course to achieving your goals check out my new innovative course here.


Liverpool, UK

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