Sleep less, do more?

PREETI KOPIKAR | Updated on July 30, 2011

Shah Rukh Khan sleeps just four hours a day.

Do ambitious people keep longer waking hours, and is this the secret behind their success?

While an average person requires six to seven hours' sleep, one wonders if ambitious people are programmed to restrict their sleeping time.

“Three-four hours of sleep; that does it, for me,” says Shah Rukh Khan.

‘Iron Lady' Margaret Thatcher isn't far behind — she ruled over Britain with as little sleep on her side. TV host Jay Leno tickles your funny bone with, again, four hours of snooze, while ‘Material Girl' Madonna belts out chartbusters with minimum beauty sleep. Benjamin Franklin mirrored Thomas Edison's contempt for sleeping long hours, when he said, “There will be sleeping enough in the grave”. Dozing for a mere two to four hours every night, he gave us the famous quote, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”.

Vikram Raizada, Executive Director — Marketing, Retail and Business Development, Tara Jewellers, says, “I do not know if there is any conclusive evidence that suggests one or the other, but it certainly appears that ambitious people sleep less. Perhaps we are all influenced by the popular phrases we learn in school such as ‘the early bird catches the worm' or ‘burning the midnight oil'.”.

Adds Suchna Hegde Shah, Founder, Away and Beyond, “They are always thinking about ‘what next'. I too keep thinking of ways to achieve my goals so an overactive mind is the main reason”.

But some driven and successful entrepreneurs think otherwise. Aditi Talreja, Director,, says, “I don't believe ambitious people sleep less. It is true that they constantly think about growth and improvement, but rest is essential to all. A good night's sleep freshens up the mind to face new challenges head on. When I get adequate sleep, I'm able to be objective and give my 100 per cent to work.”

Melinda Beck, a health columnist with The Wall Street Journal, explains why for some people a full night's sleep is a waste of time. Known as “short sleepers”, they are energetically, effortlessly packing in a lot in a day, often multi-tasking and finding more interesting things to do than sleep. The inventor Nikola Tesla was known to get only three hours of shuteye, but often missed even that if engrossed in a project. He wrote of his work, “Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.” Insomnia vs. short sleepers

“Insomnia is a condition where one wants to sleep but cannot, causing needless worry. While insomniacs tend to suffer from depression, short sleepers wake up vibrant and refreshed. They function well on four hours of sleep,” says Dr Dayal Mirchandani, a psychiatrist and founder of the Behavioural Science Foundation.

“Lack of sleep can also lead to accidents which in some cases may be fatal,” he adds.

Although sleep deprivation can lower brain activity and affect physical and psychological health, sometimes leading to early death, short sleepers remain unaffected by these. They remain active, energetic and healthy. They go through the day without taking naps or loads of caffeine.

Runs in the family

Scientists have long thought that sleep patterns are linked to genetics. Several genes have already been identified that reportedly determine whether people are likely to be up with the lark or stay a night owl.

“My dad was in the Defence forces so he kept a tight routine. And the same is true for most of my family, so it's probably true in our case,” says Raizada. Renaissance painter Michelangelo was convinced that aboriginals and highly creative people rarely slept more than four hours at a time.

“I do wake up with an idea in the middle of the night. But no, I don't have a diary to jot them down, or else I would never go back to bed. Once awake, I also get a lot of ideas in the quiet hours of the morning and that gives me some time to think them through,” says Dilip Kapur, President, Hidesign. Raizada and Suchna, on the other hand, readily jot their creative thoughts on their Blackberry phone any time of day or night.

Burnt out?

Thanks to changing lifestyles, an increasing number of people today are sleeping less than before — late-night TV shows, night-time chats over Skype and Net surfing are among the usual suspects. This often leaves them feeling burnt out. But ambitious people who sleep less appear more focused and don't fritter away their waking hours.

“Have a clear line between work and leisure. If followed religiously, the chances of a burnout are reduced,” says Suchna .

“Yes, I do at times get burnt out,” admits Kapur — that's when he likes to “take walks with my dogs, read a book or simply travel a bit.”

Sleep on this…

Florence Nightingale slept just four hours each day. Famous painter Salvador Dalí would often doze off in his chair, holding a spoon above a pan. When he fell asleep, the spoon would drop and the clatter would wake him. These forty winks are said to have sustained him for many years.

While Napoleon Bonaparte, a short sleeper, could sleep at will, Albert Einstein slept 10 hours a night, although if he were busy he would take 11. He believed dreams allowed him to think more clearly.

Published on July 28, 2011

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