It seems that everywhere you turn people are bragging about the few hours sleep they got last night and how burnt-out they are.
Despite the hype we’ve built around working ourselves to the brink of oblivion, some of the most successful people prove that the key to winning is not depriving ourselves of sleep to the point of exhaustion, but rather cultivating sleep habits that work for us.
Here are some of the most interesting methods of famously prolific people:
As we already know, getting a full, uninterrupted eight hours isn’t the only way to sleep, and da Vinci may have put that notion to the ultimate test.
It is fabled that the polymath practiced what we refer to today as a polyphasic sleep schedule. By taking 20-minute naps every few hours, da Vinci would have had more hours in the day to satisfy his seemingly unquenchable curiosity. Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon Bonaparte, Nicholas Tesla, and Thomas Edison were also said to have practiced this sporadic sleeping habit.
Well, more specifically he slept in a hypobaric chamber while training for the Olympics, but he did compare himself to "the boy in the bubble" on CBS's 60 Minutes.
The sleeping chamber reportedly simulates the air at high altitudes—comparable to about 9,000 feet above sea level—where the concentration of oxygen in the air is significantly lower. This would force his body to work harder to create more oxygen and reportedly train his body to recover from injuries faster.
Ben Stein, who I think we can all agree is a pretty rational guy, is a huge proponent for sleep. He’s often commented on today’s culture of sleep deprivation and contends the world would be a much happier place if we all got a little more sleep.
His most interesting words of wisdom on the matter, though, came after what he thought was a near-death experience. After coming down with a nasty case of bronchitis—which he originally mistook for a heart-attack—Stein submitted some of his most insightful life lessons learned to the New York Times. Third on the list:
Get a big dog and have that dog sleep in your bed with you. Dogs know nothing of mortality, and they share that peace with you.
Dr. Charles Czeisler is the chief of the sleep medicine division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the director of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, but NBA players simply refer to him as the sleep doctor.
According to the New York Times, Czeisler is the unofficial nap consultant for the Boston Celtics, the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Minnesota Timberwolves and has worked with several star players to teach them the value building nap time into their routine.
With players constantly on the road, late-night games, and morning shoot-arounds, making the time to get enough sleep is essential for performance and recovery. Czeisler told NYT that players who got a total of nine hours of sleep, whether by sleeping in the evening or napping in the afternoon, were better able to react, remember plays, and maintain their overall health.
Steve Nash of The Phoenix Suns now swears by his naps:
If you nap every game day, all those hours add up and it allows you to get through the season better. I want to improve at that, so by the end of the year, I feel better.
In an essay entitled "Sleeping and Waking," Fitzgerald enumerates in heart-wrenching detail his struggles with insomnia, referring to the point he wakes from sleep as "a sinister, ever widening interval."
A natural storyteller as he was, Fitzgerald would try to lull himself back to sleep by narrating to himself scenes of his imagined triumph: "'…we go to the day of the Yale game. I weigh only 135, so they save me until the third quarter, with the score—'"
But these stories had worn thin for him, and eventually his thoughts would turn to past woes and horrors—what he could have done but didn't and what he had done but shouldn't have.
Life was like that, after all; my spirit soars in the moment of its oblivion; then down, down deep into the pillow…
The singer takes her sleep very seriously. Carey claims that her vocal chords are different than most people's, and says she needs to sleep 15 hours a day to sing the way she wants to.
She also told Interview Magazine that for three hours a night she sleeps in what is essentially a steam room with a bed in it. According to Carey, Luther Vandross introduced her to the idea that humidity could help keep her voice in tip-top shape.
[Image: Flickr user Pedro Ribeiro Simões]