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Sleepless Heroes

Fast Company‘s December issue features an impressive set of “highly productive people.”  The people profiled are all operating at intense levels, having achieved huge success in varied fields like cooking and writing and entertainment and corporate deal-making.  Beyond the thread of success, there were a few other themes — a strong sense of purpose (yay), clear priorities (hooray), genuine love for their work (wa-hoo), and not very much sleep (thunk).

Every person interviewed was asked what time they hit the hay and what time they rise each morning, and while the precise times differed, the duration didn’t.  Most people reported getting somewhere between 5-6.5 hours of shut-eye each night.  My gut instinct was to write Fast Company and ask whether they questioned the message they were sending readers about sleep, but I stopped myself, realizing that this just might be reality.  “Maybe that’s what it takes to operate at that level,” I told myself, feeling a bit bummed that I’m not among the 1-3% of the population that lives happily on just a few hours of sleep a night (Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Leonardo da Vinci, and I’m pretty sure my friend Kermit all fit into this category).

It might be that every person in that article is in the 1-3%, but nonetheless, it makes me concerned that lack of sleep falls somewhere between “requirement for entry” and “badge of honor” in today’s society.  It’s so easy to see these sleepless heroes at the office or at the gym and question our own circadian rhythms.  I’ve definitely tried to function on less sleep than the 7.5-8 hours I need…and failed miserably (sorry again, dear husband and sweet children and patient co-workers).  We each have our own magic number, and it’s well worth it to figure out what that number is and design days and lives that help us hit it.  After all, getting the shut-eye our bodies need (women need more than men, btw) will keep our metabolism and weight in check, keep our minds sharp and immune systems strong, and boost our resilience to negative emotions and fear.  Oh, and it will probably make us more fun to be around too.

So in the end, I don’t have a hot-headed reply for Fast Company.  I love the stories of their sleepless heroes in all of their night-owl glory.  And after a bit of reflection I appreciate the reminder to dig in my heels, stick to what I know I need, and define success on terms that work for me and the people I love.  Even if my productivity takes a hit.

Photo by Leonardo Angelini (via Flickr Creative Commons)

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tbh, my productivity (like my mood!) takes a massive nose dive if I don’t get enough sleep. I do sometimes envy those who can function well on less but it ain’t me.

    December 8, 2013
  2. Funny, when I was in University, getting 4-6 hours sleep didn’t bother much. (And i wish I could say I spent most of that time partying, but like a true book worm, I was always nose deep in either my studies or catching up on my reading.) Nowadays…. I need at least a full 7 hours.

    December 9, 2013
  3. Reblogged this on lithakazi's Blog and commented:
    I wonder… Will I ever get back to being this kind of ‘sleepless soldier’?

    December 9, 2013
  4. Brynn, I agree so much with your sentiment: “We each have our own magic number, and it’s well worth it to figure out what that number is and design days and lives that help us hit it.”
    When I am lacking in sleep, I too am irritable and hard to be around. I think back to those sleepless nights with my girls, and am happy we are onto the glory sleeping through the nights. I know that I need a minimum of 7 hours a night, and that I function best closer to 8. So, I do put myself to bed earlier than I sometimes want to – 9:30/10 – knowing how much I need/like sleep. I miss out on the night time because it is important for me to get up as early to work out and write. 5:30 comes fast, so I need to go to bed early. I I also think that consistency is important, going to bed and getting up at the same time on a regular basis.

    December 9, 2013
  5. I go by Ben Franklin’s theory – early to bed, early to rise makes us healthy, wealthy and wise. 🙂 I get to bed no later than 10pm and up by 5am. Like you, have figured out I need at least 7 hours of sleep to stay healthy. Thank you for making the point that getting less sleep in our society has become a badge of honor – but not necessarily a good badge and at what cost to our health.

    December 9, 2013
  6. Randi Rosenbluth #

    could not agree more. I really need 8 hours of sleep to feel refreshed, and awake. And while everyone is different, most experts agree that the average person needs 7-8 hours of sleep for health.

    December 9, 2013
  7. Danielle @ Labelsarefortincans #

    I find I’m more productive with more sleep! And I would also question the health of the people they featured. Sure it’s great to be productive… but if you feel like crap…?

    December 9, 2013
  8. It could also be that some of these folks told the reporter the number on the lower end of their average. I often take these types of articles with a grain of salt. No one wants to be the one person admitting to a reporter that they don’t get to the office until 9:30… Recently there was this article about new-mom entrepreneurs and I remember thinking these women seemed super human and I felt kind of bad about myself. Then I remembered that a narrative can often be very different than reality.

    December 9, 2013
  9. Could also be that some of these people are reporting the low end of their averages. No one wants to be the one person admitting they get into the office at 9:30… I often am skeptical when I read these types of pieces. There was this article about new mom entrepreneurs that came out recently. All the moms sounded like super humans and I started to feel bad about myself. But then I realized that a person’s narrative can be very different than their reality. There are definitely super humans out there, but I also believe great feats can be accomplished with even 9 hours of sleep.

    December 9, 2013
  10. I love the picture you used to open this post with. I need more than five to six hours of sleep and while I’m not a morning person, I try to follow the “early to bed, early to rise” routine to get the most out of the day. When I go camping, though, I enjoy staying up late and stargazing, as a city dweller I don’t get as many opportunities as I’d like to see the Milky Way and the northern lights. The next day I sleep in to compensate.

    I don’t know if you had intended for this to dovetail so nicely with your recent post about the benefits of exercising, and how the unique and intense connections with nature were among them?

    December 12, 2013
  11. Alexis #

    I think people get so few hours bc that’s all time allows sometimes. I know I average between 4-5 bc I work full time nIghts, recently went back to school and workout to keep myself from feeling bad about everything I miss while working on one or the other. I do (excitingly) look forward to graduating and sleeping all night again. I expect to have faster times. 🙂

    February 21, 2014

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