Have you ever wondered what separates the world’s most powerful men and women from the average Joe Bloggs working a dull day followed by a pint down at the local pub? While you might assume that pedigree, oration skills and even good looks might be the divisive factors, in fact the difference may be much simpler than you think. The answer could have to do with rest – and not simply how much you get, but when and how you grab your sleep.

Prevailing attitudes about sleep

Scientists have always shared the rejuvenating benefits of a healthy dose of sleep, with the ideal of between 6 and 8 hours regularly cited as the magic number that is certain to cure all of your woes, aches and illnesses. Night owls are often looked down upon as lacking moral fibre, and those who sleep in past 10am are seen as lazy slackers with no ambition. After all, history looks kindly at those who followed a rigourous sleep schedule; Benjamin Franklin is often quoted for espousing, “Early to bed and early to rise makes and man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

But is this always the case? Evidence clearly points away from a “one size fits all” approach to healthy sleep, and some experts even assert that those who stay awake later (and rise later in the day) are actually blessed with higher IQs (though early risers tend to do better at standardised testing, thought to be due to the time of day the lessons and tests are administered). It seems that the common wisdom about those who are tucked in bed by 10pm and up and awake by 6am is not so set in stone after all.

Sleeping habits of Top CEOs

Here is a brief list of the sleeping habits of some of the world’s most rich and powerful CEOs, artists and world leaders throughout history. Do you recognise your own snoozing patterns in any of these remarkable people?

  • Donald Trump – The American CEO turned politician claims to only get three hours a night. Some might say that this could cause poor judgement.
  • Michael Chabon, Marcel Proust and Franz Kafka These celebrated writers are known to have sat down to write between 10pm and 3am every night, a bizarre work and sleep schedule that certainly worked for them.
  • Karen Blackett – This Mediacom UK CEO is truthful about the fact that she relies on vitamins to help her make up for lost sleep. When asked how much sleep she usually gets, she answered: “Six to seven hours. I’m the mum of a three-year-old: you survive on what you can get! I thoroughly recommend ginseng and David Kirsch vitamins.”
  • President Barack Obama – Previously one the most powerful men in the world, Obama gets a scant six hours every night (on the low end of what is considered healthy), and often sleeps between 1am and 7am. Obama doesn’t rely on an alarm clock – he has the press secretary rouse him for their morning meeting.
  • Silvio Berlusconi – The former Italian Prime Minister claims to sleep only 2 to 4 hours each night; this means that his body (and his mind?) are probably very stressed and could be prone to poor decision making.
  • Sir Isaac Newton – This scientific genius claimed to sleep only 1 to 2 hours each night, as this freed him to work on his inventions and theories for over 22 hours each day.
  • Indra Nooyi – The Pepsi Co. CEO sleeps only 4 hours a night, a fact that she attributes to her love of her job. “I feel if I slept six, I am a basket case. So four is a pretty good number. To be a CEO is a calling. You should not do it because it is a job. It is a calling and you have got to be involved in it with your head, heart and hands. Your heart has got to be in the job, you got to love what you do, it consumes you.”
  • Ursula Burns – The Xerox CEO sleeps five hours a night, which is slightly healthier territory but still an inadequate number.
  • Jayne – Anne Gadhia – Virgin Money’s CEO values her sleep, and she maintains and strong and healthy sleep schedule of eight hours per night (between 10:30pm and 6:20am). In her words, “I always sleep like a log!”
  • Vittorio Colao – The Vodaphone CEO is a powerhouse, waking up at 6am and working nonstop throughout the day, taking only a 40 minute break to exercise and have a brief dinner with his family. He works straight through until 10:45pm, and heads to bed at 11:30. With 6 and a half hours, he is just eking by, but should definitely have a bit more shut eye to compensate for all of that work!

Everyone can agree – inadequate sleep is dangerous

While many of these CEOs are burning the candle at both ends and getting a lot done during their waking hours, are they sacrificing their health to do so? No matter when you get your sleep, whether in one long period or over the course of a few shorter siestas throughout the day and night, experts all agree: ensuring that you get enough sleep for your body (usually between 7 and 8 hours a day, with additional sleep needed for children, teenagers and pregnant women) is key to your physical health and your mental well-being.

Getting too few hours of sleep can leave you more susceptible to illness, disease and depression, can cause you to feel scattered or anxious throughout the day, and can lead you to make impulsive or harmful decisions. Severe sleep deprivation is downright dangerous, especially if you plan to operate a vehicle or any heavy machinery. Before you plan to dramatically change your sleep schedule, ensure you speak with your physician and get the all clear.