The politics of z’s: sleep habits of history’s greatest leaders

December 15, 2020 6 mins read
The politics of z’s: sleep habits of history’s greatest leaders

Whether you want to go into politics, run a successful business or just run your own household successfully, it helps to study what some of the greatest leaders have done, even when it comes to the way they sleep.

How many hours did Benjamin Franklin sleep each night? Why did Henry VIII have servants roll on his bed before going to sleep? Did Margaret Thatcher really only sleep 4 hours a night? Keep reading to find out.

Julius Caesar

He may have established the Great Roman Empire, but Julius Caesar did not prioritise good sleep. The former Roman general and statesman slept 3 hours in total each day.

He also did not sleep in private accommodation while on military campaigns and slept on the ground in the open air along with his soldiers, sacrificing his own sleep comfort in the process.

Napoléon Bonaparte

Napoléon Bonaparte was a French military leader and statesman who is famous for leading many successful campaigns at the time of the French Revolution, as well as the French Revolutionary Wars. He was the first emperor of France between 1804 and 1814, and again shortly during the Hundred Days War in 1815.

Napoléon believed that sleep was a useless way to spend your time and seldom slept through the entire night. He also struggled with insomnia during times of stress.

Napoléon would often sleep from midnight to 2am, get up to work and then sleep again from 5am to 7am before taking on the day.

He would also apparently sleep for very long periods of time (at least 18 hours) after he finished campaigning. Talk about trying to catch up on sleep.

Henry VIII

Henry VIII was the King of England between 1509 and 1547. While he may be better known for his relationship dramas (he had six wives), today, we’re focusing on his sleep habits.

As is royal tradition, he did not share a room with any of his wives, but he did visit their chambers when he wanted intimacy before bedtime.

He had attendants in his room at all times. There was a wheeled bed that could be pulled from underneath the King’s bed. Favoured servants even shared the King’s bed at times like Thomas Culpeper.

He slept on several mattresses that were stacked on top of each other and had a servant roll on the bed each night to ensure there were no enemies with daggers hiding in his bed.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States and also a polyphasic sleeper. He had no regular bedtime schedule and would go to sleep at different times each day, but he always rose with the sun. He reportedly only got 2 hours of sleep in total, split into a few naps every day.

Jefferson usually read for at least 30 minutes before going to sleep.

Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon B. Johnson was the 36th President of the United States and someone who definitely made sure he got enough total sleep. He divided his day into two shifts and followed a biphasic sleep schedule.

He went to bed at midnight, got up between 6:30am and 7am, worked until 2pm, took a nap and got up at 4pm again.

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill was the British Prime Minister (twice). He is famous for his incredibly inspiring speeches, his work ethic and for leading Britain through WWII. He mastered the art of achievement, and all this on only 5 hours sleep!

He was a biphasic sleeper who went to bed at 3am and then woke up again at 8am. Had a whiskey with soda at 5pm before taking a 2-hour nap. He never skipped his nap.

Churchill stayed up through the night and continued to work until morning. He believed that his sleep schedule allowed him to get one and a half days out of one.

Sacrificing sleep for the sake of productivity might make it seem like you are getting more done, but due to the decline in mental performance you get when you are sleep deprived, you might actually work at a slower pace as a result.

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher, known as “Iron Lady” was the British Prime Minister between 1979 and 1990, as well as the Leader of the Conservative Party from 1975 to 1990.

She was a force to be reckoned with and a true workaholic. Thatcher only slept 4 to 5 hours a day and followed a polyphasic sleep schedule. She even confessed to only getting an hour and a half of total sleep at times.

She frequently took naps in her car and a custom headrest was even made to help protect her during her naps in transit.

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America.

Franklin once said: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” This is wonderful if you go to bed early enough. But the politician, writer, statesman, inventor and scientist allowed no more than 4 hours of sleep per day and got up each morning at 5am.

Getting up early and sacrificing sleep gave him quite a few extra hours in a day to tick things off his to-do list, but his health likely suffered as a consequence.

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy was serious about his naps. After some mid-morning exercise, he took a 1-2-hour nap after lunch each day with his wife. He was not allowed to be disturbed unless it was a true emergency. Until after 3pm, all calls, questions, meetings and tasks had to wait.

It seems that a biphasic or polyphasic sleep schedule was quite popular among these famous leaders of the past.

Nelson Mandela

During his 27 years in prison on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela mostly slept on a thin mat and a stone floor. But after being released and becoming the President of South Africa, his sleep situation was quite different.

He would normally start his days around 5am and would go to bed between 9pm and 11pm. He exercised for about an hour each morning after waking up. Mandela kept the same schedule of waking up at 5am and exercising each morning throughout his time in prison and did not abandon it after he was released.

Modern politicians

So what about our modern-day leaders? Here is a look at the sleep habits of a few famous modern politicians:

  • Donald Trump: He sleeps 3 hours a night to help him ‘get ahead of the competition,’ but he also reportedly spends hours before bed watching TV. We also know that he likes to Tweet late at night.
  • Barack Obama: The former US president sleeps around 6 hours a night. He considers himself to be a ‘night guy’ and will go to bed between midnight and 2am. He does take a break to tuck his wife into bed at night.
  • Boris Johnson: The British Prime Minister has stated that he doesn’t sleep much because of how much he works. In 2014, he said that he only needs 5 hours of sleep a night.

Even though many of the famous leaders of the past sacrificed sleep to give them more time to work each day, getting more sleep can give you an advantage.

If you want to become a world leader, getting enough sleep will help give you the mental energy and focus you need for all the important decisions you will need to make and meetings you will need to attend.

Even if you just want to become a better leader of your own household, good sleep will give you an advantage.