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)