General Wesley Clark. Napoleon. Thomas Edison. Donald Trump. What do these men have in common? They all claim to be super-sleepers, requiring far less shut-eye than us mere mortals to accomplish even more. Earlier this week, during an interview on Fox News, the President said he goes to bed at 1 a.m. and rises at 5 a.m. to eat, read newspapers, and watch TV. His Twitter history helps confirm that — the last four days in a row he sent out the first of the day’s missives at around seven in the morning in reaction to the front-page news; this morning he excoriated Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) at 6:57 a.m.
Super-sleepers are a rare breed. Experts recommend most everyone get seven to eight hours of rest per night in order to be healthy, energetic, handle stress, regulate mood, remember important facts, and more.
A source in the White House revealed as much: After news broke of a disastrous call between the President and the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a source familiar with the circumstances said Trump was feeling some fatigue after a long day making calls to foreign leaders.
Most of us have blown our stacks in a moment that had nothing to do with our wake-up time. But the problem with chronic sleep deficit — for instance, sleeping four to five hours a night for a couple nights in a row — is that the person isn’t aware he’s impaired, nor how much it’s affecting his performance, says W. Christopher Winter, M.D., a sleep specialist in Charlottesville, Virginia, who advises nearly 30 professional baseball, basketball, football, and hockey teams.
“It’s what people would consider to be a drunk president — not drunk from alcohol, but drunk from sleep deprivation,” Winter says.
The analogy isn’t accidental — though it is ironic for a man who doesn’t drink.
Research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that people who sleep less than five hours per night are four times more likely to get into a car crash as those who sleep at least eight hours, making it akin to driving under the influence.
From a self-preservation standpoint, Trump may want to consider blocking off more time for rest.
“For a man of his age, this degree of sleep reduction over a long period of time is tremendously negative to his overall health,” Winter says. “It increases the risk of death in general, weakens the immune system, hurts the cardiovascular system, can cause weight gain — it’s hard to find an illness that isn’t related to inappropriate sleep for long periods of time.”
A healthy diet and consistent exercise can blunt the effects of sleep deficit, while poor eating and a lack of exercise exacerbate it, along with an added dose of stress (like that of leading the free world), Winter says.
Aside from the personal health benefits of a better sleep pattern, the country may benefit, too. Yes, the job of the President demands more hours than there are in a day. But work completed when you're overtired isn't your best work (just like finishing a project in the wee hours of the morning, only to realize the next day the efforts weren’t your finest). Sleeping more, even at the expense of a couple work hours, could make for a more productive and focused civil servant.
“Given the minutiae of what he has to do and the few hours of sleep he gets, the detail-oriented, meticulous leader that we need and hope him to be isn’t going to happen,” Winter says.