How to Live on 4 Hours Sleep a Day

Voltaire, the great 18th Century philosopher, drank up to 30 cups of coffee a day, some sources say more, and slept 4 hours a day. Drinking that much coffee certainly can reduce the amount of sleep you get. However, sleeping 4 hours a day is not limited to Voltaire; other well known people have made the same claim.

Several people in history claimed to live on four hours of sleep a day, including Napoleon Bonaparte and Florence Nightingale. Thomas Edison slept around four hours a day and Michelangelo claims to have slept 15 minutes every hour and a half. Winston Churchill slept six hours a day while Nikola Tesla slept only two hours a day.

Several famous people today claim to live on 4 hours of sleep a day, including: Martha Steward, Madonna, and Jay Leno. President Bill Clinton sleeps 5-6 hours a day.

The question arises: Are these people really living on that amount of sleep? Are they tossing and turning in bed, underestimating the sleep they get? Can I sleep less without ill effect?

Before limiting your sleep you need to understand the health issues surrounding such activity. Also note that most people tend to sleep less as they age and when spending most of their day resting.

Health Issues

Age and amount of physical work performed largely determines how much extra sleep you need. An infant needs more sleep than a senior citizen. Some people naturally need less sleep while others can train themselves to live on less sleep.

The issue of sleep arose for me when I needed to visit the doctor because I slept so little. From my teenage years on I have slept 4 hours or less a day for long periods punctuated with a day or two of 6-7 hours sleep. I came to realize I was not sick, I just needed less sleep.

The issue advanced when my youngest daughter started showing signs by age 5 of needing less sleep. She gets up around 4 a.m. most days after about 6 hours sleep. This goes on every day. I think it may, in part, be genetic. However, I noticed in college many students could train themselves to function normally on significantly less than 8 hours sleep.

My original concern, and one you also need to consider, is health issues. Does less sleep harm the body or brain? A University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center study indicates that as long as you get four or more hours sleep a day you are not at a greater risk of dying. The same study indicates that more than eight hours sleep does increase death risk. This is only one study, but a very interesting one. Other studies come to similar conclusions.

The real health risk is fatigue. Driving and operating equipment while tired leads to an increase in accidents. Students overtired underperform in school.

Many people experience weight gain when sleep deprived. Part of the obesity problem today may stem from a societal self-induced sleep deprivation. Weight gain can lead to other medical complications. Before you attempt to live on less sleep to meet demands of family life, school exams, or work schedules, discuss your health with your doctor. Make sure your body can handle short or long-term sleep deprivation.

How You Can Live on 4 Hours Sleep

Some people naturally need less sleep. If you normally need seven hours sleep a night your body will react to a reduction in sleep. Forcing your mind and body to do things they do not want to do can lead to health problems.

I looked at my sleep habits to discover why I need less sleep. I may naturally need less sleep, but I don’t think that explains my complete sleep patterns. Then I started to study other 4-hour sleepers to find commonality. There are only a two things that really make the difference between 4-hour sleepers and longer sleepers.

Naps: I tend to sleep about two-thirds of my daily sleep at night. The other third is broken down between naps and meditation (see below). I have a couch in a file room next to my office. I make frequent use of the couch, especially when working long hours.

I also noticed that may people that live on 4 hours sleep tend toward creative endeavors. Writers and artists sleep less from what I found. Part of the reduced sleep requirement may derive from a sedentary occupation or the brains response to creative activity. Many politicians also tend toward a lower sleep requirements and politicians are in a high stress job. The common ground here is “love of what you do.” It seems to me that those that love what they do have less need for sleep. Boredom induces a higher need for sleep. Perhaps when the mind and body machine are in a lower need mode, it is time to shut down.

Meditation: Most “short sleepers” did not employee a conscious meditation ritual. However, many did actually meditate. Michelangelo stayed lying on his scaffolding and closed his eyes for fifteen minutes every hour and a half. He then opened his eyes and worked another hour or so. He did this without a clear distinction between night and day. The schedule remained regardless of where the sun rested in the sky.

Power naps are more meditation than sleep and can provide greater refreshment than actual sleep. Zen monks meditate more and sleep less.

For me, I can meditate sitting up in a chair. When the office becomes hectic I need more sleep or a few breaks throughout the day. I choose the breaks and spend my hours at home with family and reading, things I really love. Ten or fifteen minutes in meditation refreshes. When practiced on a regular basis, meditation can feel like an entire night of sleep. Here is a blog post I wrote on Zen Meditation Practices.

How many hours of sleep do you get per day?

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Conclusions

Once again, please use caution when reducing your sleep. Consult your doctor for current and possible additional health issues surrounding reduced sleep for you. I know many of you came here to learn how to spend more hours awake. If you are unable to reduce your sleep below a certain level without discomfort or medical issues, then sleep more. Your doctor and body can help you live more hours without sleep. Just do it safe.

Remember, reducing sleep and spending most of your day in a daze is not a real reduction in sleep. You are just a zombie and an accident waiting to happen.

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Comments 27 comments

Au fait profile image

Au fait 11 months ago from North Texas

People broke their sleep patterns up into at least 2 segments for centuries before the light bulb was invented. I've written about both biphasic and polyphasic sleep. The last several months I've gotten less than 4 hours of sleep nightly and it's rough even if I manage a nap during the day.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 18 months ago from Southern California, USA

There are many nights when I only need four hours of sleep. I tend towards six. But I just cannot sleep eight hours, which is a very rare thing for me.


kitkat1141 profile image

kitkat1141 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

I am the only one in my family who needs sleep! My husband seems to function well on about 4 hours. He claims to hear the grass grow, he is such a light sleeper! Very interesting info.


KeithTax profile image

KeithTax 4 years ago from Wisconsin Author

Jer, you make a good point. When we are excited about life we tend to need less sleep; when we are down or depressed we tend to need more.


jer 4 years ago

Interesting, doing what I loved I needed 4-6 hours of sleep being in a job I hate I need closer to 10 hours total. 8 hours at night, 2ish right after work.


Rick 4 years ago

Nothing is Impossible and i'm gonna make myself get used to 4 hour sleep , i got used to it until i went somewhere late night and the usual routine got broken


molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago

This was an interesting read.

I have had a sleep issue for many years. Delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS)

I have just started taking Melatonin this week, my sleep pattern has changed to something more 'normal'!

I have written a few hubs on sleep issues and was surprised by the prevalence of sleep problems.

Voted up and interesting.


stessily 4 years ago

Keith Tax, Well presented. There are many different views on how much sleep is necessary, but it really seems to be individualistic: some seem to need more, some less. I agree that creativity often is accompanied by decreased sleep needs, which often are replaced by or supplemented with naps. When I'm working on a project and I'm in the home stretch, I definitely follow Michelangelo's practice of napping/meditating every hour on the hour.

Well done.


KeithTax profile image

KeithTax 4 years ago from Wisconsin Author

Not everyone can live on 4 hours sleep, iama and Senoritaa. It is important to listen to your body.

Flashpoint, I know what you mean about sleeping in small chunks. I balance this with a cat nap during the day.

I want to thanks the rest of you for commenting as well. Your comments can help others with sleep issues. It also allows others to determine if they really have a sleep issue or just need less sleep naturally. It is important to note that you should see your doctor if you believe you have a sleep issue.


iamageniuster profile image

iamageniuster 4 years ago

I currently sleep 6 hours a night. I tried to cut down to 4 using polyphasic sleep but it's just too annoying.


Senoritaa profile image

Senoritaa 4 years ago

Informative. I would really be glad if I could do with 4 hours of sleep, and more time for myself. However, I have realized that less than 8 hours of sleep causes harm to my alertness. Like you said, its probably just that some people need less hours of sleep and some don't.

Voted up for your style of imparting information.


femmeflashpoint 5 years ago

Keith,

I saw this on your list of hubs, and jumped on it. I'm always on the look-out for new information on sleeping habits, and insomnia.

I found it to be very informative. I was hoping to find the answer to make repairs to my own foul sleeping habits, lol.

I seldom sleep for more than two hours at a time. I can seldom manage to keep the two hour cycles going for more than six hours at a time. And, I often have fatigue and feel mind-numb. However, those intermittant spurts of energy I get are massive, and I can accomplish a great deal while I'm riding the wave produced by one.

If I could sleep in two hour shifts, and wake up alert and ready to go, I'd not mind at all! So far, I haven't been able to pull that off consistently, but I'm working on it!

Great hub!


Peter1234 5 years ago

Nice article.


michelemacwrites profile image

michelemacwrites 5 years ago from USA

Great and highly informational hub. I have been able to function fairly well on four to five hours sleep. What I hate the most is that feeling of exhaustion that seems to creep in around two in the afternoon. If at the plant, I drink coffee all day long to eliminate that afternoon need for a nap. Thanks for sharing and keep hubbing !!


Ingenira profile image

Ingenira 5 years ago

Very interesting information. When the mind is very busy, as in the case of Napoleon Bonaparte, Florence Nightingale and Thomas Edison, it is hard to sleep.

But drinking 30 cups of coffee is too much, that's more than a cup in every hour. I think with such less sleep and so much coffee, the health is badly affected.


Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 5 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

Well this was certainly interesting. I think Julius Caesar could be added to your list - of folks who didn't sleep much at all.

I don't know how people do that. I just can't. If I drank as much coffee as Voltaire I think I'd probably spontaneously combust or something.


Saloca profile image

Saloca 5 years ago from Liverpool, UK

I'd love to only need 4 hours sleep but it's just not possible! My body is pretty well trained now to get almost an exact 8 hours and wake up without an alarm which is great. I do feel better and have more energy throughout the day since getting into this routine and am considering knocking an hour or so off that and seeing how it goes.

nice hub!


thedutchman profile image

thedutchman 5 years ago

This article is great. Love it!keep it up!


fucsia profile image

fucsia 5 years ago

I sleep a lot and I would sleep less! But I feel that my body needs sleep. Because of my work I lead a life irregular and sometimes I sleep at night, sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon. Perhaps this affects the quality of my sleep and then also on quantity. Very interesting your speech on meditation. Now I want to know more, and ( why not??) try to meditate with regularly.

Thanks for this interesting Hub!


Andrew Gubb profile image

Andrew Gubb 5 years ago from Barcelona, Spain

That meditation tip was useful. Thanks!


vadette971 profile image

vadette971 5 years ago from Zambales, Philippines

i have been living on a 5-6 hour night sleep with no day nap for 3-5 years now. im doing great so far..


Tina2011 profile image

Tina2011 5 years ago from NY & NJ

I lived on 4 hours sleep a day when I was studying for my Master's degree with a young child, husband and full time job. It was crazy but possible. I dont recommend it for the long-term. The winter months were the worst.


plcarpe profile image

plcarpe 5 years ago from Illinois

Very good article! I have NEVER needed as much sleep as others, and I do not sleep by a certain schedule. Instead, I pay attention to my body. When it is tired, I determine if I need a nap, a break, something to eat, or just to go do something besides work. Sometimes I work a 24 hour stretch, other days, I either do other things, or don't work at all. I actually feel BETTER when I pay more attention to my body. I am 56, but look and feel younger than most people my age, but I am a major fan of detoxing by using fruits in my diet. I also don't eat things like pasta, or other food that tends to have no nutrition (read the labels). So I think your article is quite good, as you provide direct experience and the people who are saying it makes you sick are probably people whose bodies function differently. You body is always a good guide.


Sarah Masson profile image

Sarah Masson 5 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

Very interesting. I've never really thought too much about this before. I don't think I would function very well from only four hours sleep. Thanks for the information :)


Leah Whitehorse profile image

Leah Whitehorse 5 years ago

I really would love to get to a point where I need less sleep. My grandmother rarely slept more than 4 hours but she also took naps. At the moment I can't function well without at least 7 hours sleep but I firmly believe that meditation can help reduce this as you've stated. Interesting hub.


snakebaby profile image

snakebaby 5 years ago from Boston, MA, USA

Interesting information. One thing that I can be sure is that if you sleep less, naturally need less or intentionally do so, will eventually take toll on your look, because sleeping less slowly brings out winkles, sag your eyes, etc., and no matter how cautious you are if you do it on purpose, it's basically not a healthy thing to do at all.


smelloftruth profile image

smelloftruth 5 years ago

It still depends from one person to another. Others are just too immobile with very limited sleep.

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