10 great people who slept less than five hours per day

By Vladimir Marchenko

  1. Leonardo da Vinci
  2. Thomas Jefferson
  3. Nikola Tesla
  4. Richard Buckminster Fuller
  5. Gaius Julius Caesar
  6. Napoleon Bonaparte
  7. Voltaire
  8. Margaret Thatcher
  9. Thomas Edison
  10. Marie Curie

Many famous people, especially politicians and ingenious inventors, slept very little. Partly, due to the amount of work they had, partly because they practised polyphasic sleep routine trying not to waste too much time sleeping. Today you will learn about the most outstanding practitioners of this polyphasic sleep and what they achieved thanks to it.

Before we begin, it is important to mention that the sleep approaches these great people practised were the continuation of their ideas, and these are not the examples one should blindly follow. For most people, neither short polyphasic sleep nor sleeping less than 8 hours a day is advisory.

1. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

Leonardo da Vinci portrait

A famous author of the inventions that were well ahead of their time Leonardo da Vinci was one of the first proponents of polyphasic sleep. This method implies several short sleep intervals instead of sleeping 8 hours once a day. Da Vinci was practising 15-20 minute naps every 4 hours, thus, in total, he slept around 2 hours a day. Genius ideas were coming to him in his sleep, and he was implementing them straight after waking up. Thanks to this, the famous painting “Madonna Litta” and the book “Anatomy. Records and drawings " appeared. Since then, this type of sleep is considered to be a sign of genius-level intelligence and, in general, is believed to allow more efficient use of the remaining 20-22 hours. Probably, da Vinci had borrowed his famous sleep routine from nature where short intervals of slumber are more common than a long sleep.

2. Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826)

Thomas Jefferson portrait

A leading spokesman of the USA sovereignty, one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence and the Founding Fathers of the United States, Thomas Jefferson slept just 2 hours a day. The president of the state, a philosopher, a diplomat and an outstanding figure did not have a specific sleeping routine. He was going to sleep late and waking up at dawn, as early in the morning as he could clearly see the time on his table clock. Мost of his life Jefferson followed a strict schedule. Straight after awakening, he was measuring climate indicators in order to create a national meteorological database, was having breakfast at 8 in the morning, practising writing and answering the letters afterwards.  During the day he was engaged in various government affairs, was riding a horse, having dinner at 15 o'clock in the afternoon with 14 close friends and colleagues, could take a nap after, or read with a glass of wine till late evening. Jefferson’s routine remained the same until the day he died (at 83 years old).

3. Nikola Tesla (1856-1943)

Nikola Tesla rare photo

Famous inventor, teacher, physicist and engineer from Serbia had complicated relationships with sleep. Even though the life of Tesla is still full of mysterious facts and legends, it is well known that he was a very energetic person, even though slept just a bit more than 2 hours a day. However, that did not stop him from inventing a number of devices using alternating current, developing the principles of field theory, radio communication and multiphase systems. In terms of electricity, he was one of the initiators of the Second Industrial Revolution. His contemporaries claimed that he was so consumed with his work that could easily sacrifice sleep for the sake of implementations of his ideas. Historians say that his abnormal sleep routine lasted until he got a nervous breakdown and exhaustion, after which he returned to normal sleep.

4. Richard Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)

Richard Buckminster Fuller photo

A talented American architector, designer, engineer, inventor, philosopher, writer and poet began his experiments with sleep in the middle of 1900s. The sleep routine he developed was called Dymaxion and implied sleeping every 5.5 hours for 30 minutes. Therefore, he was sleeping only 2 hours a day. Fuller followed his special routine for about two years. He claimed that during that period he didn’t have any problems with sleep and was even complaining he had to abandon his regime because of his companions who worked normal hours. After examination, doctors did not manage to find any deviation from the normal state of health. On the whole, his experiments with sleep were just part of a bigger task of discovering a way for humans to live longer and in harmony with themselves. The philosopher died at the age of 87.

5. Gaius Julius Caesar (100–44 BC)

Gaius Julius Caesar monument

Few facts are known about sleeping habits of the famous ruler of Ancient Rome, mostly from his biographers Sallust and Plutarch. Sallust wrote: "Caesar taught himself to work hard and sleep little (...) He craved for a strong army and a new war seeking for power which would give scope to his brilliant talents." Plutarch vaguely described him: “He made a cure for his health out of the warfare, and always slept outside. Most of the time Caesar was either sleeping in wagons during long journeys, or on the ground shoulder to shoulder with his soldiers.” It is believed he slept for only 3 hours at night on average. Perhaps otherwise, he simply would not be able to control of the Roman Empire.

6. Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821)

Napoleon Bonaparte portrait

His highness the emperor of France described Bonaparte: "Napoleon sleeps four hours, the elderly - five, the soldiers - six, the women - seven, the men - eight, and the sick sleep nine." Indeed, Bonaparte was going to bed around midnight, but at 2 o'clock he used to get up and work. Around five in the morning, he was laying down again for a couple of hours till 7 am when everyone else was getting up. Thus, the conqueror of Europe and North Africa slept 4 hours per day in total.  However, it only happened when there were no insomnia attacks or war campaigns in his life. Historians say that the emperor could get a nap during the day if there was nothing important to do. However, after being sent to the island of St. Helena he suddenly turned into an “owl”, going to bed late and getting up only in the afternoon.

7. Voltaire (1694-1778)

Voltaire portrait

One of the greatest philosophers and enlighteners of the XVIII century, a poet, prose writer and publicist was a coffee lover and fond of chess. If Starbucks had existed in his time, Voltaire would have been a regular there, since he drank up to 40 cups of coffee a day! Drinking coffee is not a healthy ritual, but perhaps it was this energy drink that made him disclose the new facets of philosophy. Overall, Voltaire slept no more than 4 hours a day, although it is still not clear whether it was a consequence of his craving for coffee or his sleep disorder. Perhaps, the philosopher needed to drink coffee due to lack of sleep.

8.  Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013)

Margaret Thatcher best photo

Have you noticed already that it was mostly politicians that were practising polyphasic sleep? The Iron Lady of Great Britain was no exception. Even though the role of Thatcher in British political history is still debated, it is clear that she was an outstanding workaholic and slept only 4-5 hours a day. She had a defined purpose in life: “Some people work to live. I live to work. I often sleep only an hour and a half a day, sacrificing good sleep for the sake of decent hairstyle." After her death, Time magazine deemed Margaret Thatcher one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century in the category “Leaders and Revolutionaries”.

9. Thomas Edison (1847–1931)

Thomas Edison rare photo

The inventor of the phonograph and Edison’s light bulb, a person who was the first one to say “hello” on his improved version of the phone, and the author of more than 3,000 patents simply wouldn't have been able to do it all if he had slept lots. Edison said that he slept around 5 hours a day. Like many genius people, he considered long sleep to be a pure waste of time and a sign of laziness. Perhaps, his craving for productivity encouraged him to invent the first bulbs. With the appearance of electricity, allegedly, the overall duration of sleep was reduced from 10 to 7 hours a day as people were able to get up earlier. Nevertheless, there was a small sofa in Edison’s office, indirectly suggesting that the great inventor might have been taking brief naps during the day.

10. Marie Curie (1867-1934)

Marie Curie image

A famous scientist, first female teacher of the Sorbonne University and a member of the Paris Medical Academy, the winner of the Nobel Prizes in physics (1903) and chemistry (1911), Marie Curie was a loving wife and a talented researcher. As you may notice, sleep was clearly not on the list of her priorities. She was absorbed in the studies of radioactivity and managed to discover two new elements of the periodic table - radium and polonium. Unfortunately, it was these elements that caused her death at the age of 66. Curie spent a lot of time investigating new elements and often forgot to sleep away from the laboratory behind the lead screen. It is believed she slept no more than 5 hours per day.

As we mentioned above, sleep routine of famous people is not an example to follow blindly. Moreover, if you sleep as much as the great ones but due to insomnia, try using the Hypnopedia App. It has a set of ASMR sleep sounds for body relaxation, which is one of the most important factors for longer sleep. Hypnopedia helps you to fall asleep smoothly. Moreover, it has a special collection of sleep affirmations that will help you to pump your skills and implement your great plans. If you want, for example, to discover a new chemical element or create a new style in the architecture, Hypnopedia App can help you to build up self-confidence for your big aims through thematic affirmations that are played during your sleep. After pumping your confidence, you can proceed to the experiments with polyphasic sleep, which we will discuss in future publications.

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