This is a self-management issue. How much sleep do you need to be effective and how much are you running on?

Just interested as I tend to burn time I should be asleep with other activities at home - cause I'm there so little I have a tough time facing 2h with my family and then off to bed.

For me, I need 7-8 consistently yet average around 6h, leaving me fatigued and less productive at work. I've recently read Saddam Hussein ran on 4h whilst in power. Take from that what you will!


vadim's picture

Hi Cowie 165,

it is a common opinion that the less one sleep the more he is productive.

It is again common sense to say that dictators "never sleep" because they have to care about the country and the people or any other HIGH activity.

Same was for scientists (is said that Leonardo da Vinci slept very few).

There is an interesting article in the October issue of HBR that adress this issue: "Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer. A Conversation with Harvard Medical School Professor Charles A. Czeisler".
Professor Charles states that: “We now know that 24 hours without sleep or a week of sleeping four or five hours a night induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of .1%. We would never say, ‘This person is a great worker! He’s drunk all the time!’ yet we continue to celebrate people who sacrifice sleep for work."

Good night :wink:

aspiringceo's picture

The quick answer is whatever works for you, in saying that there is a general agreement in the medical world that there is no minimum number of hours that we should all spend sleeping before endangering our health. Some of us can get by on six hours without feeling any ill-effects and others claim to need a minimum of eight or nine hours. We all need so many hours sleep in each 24-hour cycle and it doesn't matter how we get them. In some countries it is common to sleep for five hours at night and two in the afternoon. That is the same as having a full eight hours at night. Some people make up the deficit by having little dozes throughout the day.
The other thing to suggest is to grab a 1 or 2 hour lie in at the weekends.

I personally sleep about 6 hours a night but get a 2 hour lie in on sunday and a 1 hour lie in on saturday, I have a friend who is a builder who goes to bed after midnight and is up at 5am 6 days a week but he grabs 30mins sleep every evening.

BTW, Like Saddam, Margaret Thatcher boasted that she only ever needed five hours in bed when she was Prime Minister. This is not unusual as we need less sleep as we get older.

akinsgre's picture

I'm sure other's have seen articles recently about "Sleep" Cafes that have pods for individuals to take naps during the day.

I found that I started getting really tiired around 1:30 and after that would be pretty useless for the rest of the day. So I have begun going to my car at lunch and grabbing a 45 minute nap... Really helps me for the rest of the day.

I think this topic is similar for arguments against working overtime. It's well documented that working too much contributes to decreased performance. But when was the last time you were told to work less because you'd been making too many mistakes.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

(The HBR article really is quite good.)

My experience on coaching managers regarding sleep is not that good. That is to say, I have been ineffective at helping managers change their sleep patterns.

On the other hand, I have had all KINDS of success at helping executives with work life balance... which has led to much more sleep, as well as family time.

Yep - we all need sleep. Some a bit less than others. Mike and I were both young Army officers, and the mantra there was "stay up for 5 straight days on exercises". We all thought we were tough... but we were just stupid by the end of it.

Nothing wrong with an all-nighter every once in a while, in my opinion... and I still pull them a few times a year (and, I can, which many out of shape managers and executives cannot do).

The real answer? Go home. More hours at work is RARELY the answer.


ctomasi's picture

I normally get seven to eight. I found that adding a regiment of exercise does quite a bit to keeping the energy level up during the day. Also, avoid large lunches whenever possible. That after lunch slump is really tough if you've had too much to eat.

I'm a bit quirky, but fortunate. I have a good internal clock. I get up at, or slightly before, the alarm (5:30AM) and I get up RIGHT THEN. No snooze button. I see those as completely useless. If I need a nap (weekends) for an hour, I wake in one hour. OK, I'll admit that's weird, but handy. At night I normally shutdown quickly, but nce in a while it takes some self relaxation techniques.

The things that are killers for me is trying to sleep while traveling. Planes, trains, and automobiles are not conducive to good rest.

I agree with Mark, there's nothing wrong with an all nighter. But more rest is always better.

Did I mention I've been caffeine free for six years?

cowie165's picture

It's the usual thing - you spend the day in a crabby mood, which makes your relationships within your organisation more difficult combined with you being less effective as your brain is stuck in first gear.

Chuck you make some great points. Exercise contributes to better quality sleep. I have also heard opinions that if you need to hit the snooze button you aren't going to bed early enough. And self-relaxation! I use that too.

Have you ever tried setting your body clock? Sounds like you may have. I know that if I have an important early appointment, I can spend a moment thinking about my wake up time and my internal clock does the rest! Works to within 10 minutes. It is one of most inexplicable events I've come across.

Why did you give up the caffeine? I recently tried to eliminate sugar from my coffee and when I did so but then craved a biscuit (cookie) or piece of chocolate, I realised it was the sugar fix I needed and not necessarily the caffeine.

Mark H, thank you for your post. I'll see about sourcing the HBR article from the work library. I'm in the military and are often hear of a study that cited a soldier can operate on 4h sleep for up to 90 days without significant performance decrease. Hrmmmm. Captain Casio helps a lot of guys through their picket duty!


Len's picture

I'm 52 years old and have been living for most of my working life with the same pattern: about 5 hours Sun thru Thursday nights, and maybe 8 hours on Friday and Saturday nights. The result is that I'm typically more and more worn down late in the day as the week wears on.

About two years ago, I saw a story that linked diabetes and lack of sleep. Eight months ago, I had a physical and guess what? High blood sugar. Not yet diabetes, but getting there.

And for those who commute by auto, there's the safety issue of falling asleep at the wheel on the way home from a long day. Ever notice that you don't really catch yourself FALLING ASLEEP at the wheel? You catch yourself WAKING UP behind the wheel. Bad ju-ju. I am trying to mend my ways.

ctomasi's picture


I gave up caffeine because it caused a roller coaster effect. I would be active and awake for a while then come down hard. The more caffeine I took the harder I would come down until I developed headaches in the afternoon.

I also started noticing strange rythms in my heartbeat at odd times. While I have no imperical evidence to support my claim, it seems to have been greatly reduced with the eliimination of caffeine.

I enjoy the flavor of coffee and tea, but caffeine (to me) is just a substitute for doing the right things: exercise, eat right, and get enough rest.