- Quality of Life & Wellness
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.
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?
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.