Beep. Beep. Beeeeeep. As college students, we are all familiar with the sound of our morning alarm, set to jolt ourselves from slumber into the hustle and bustle of the day. Sleep is a prized commodity, but how do our sleep schedules compare to the greats’? From top CEOs to renowned scientists, sleep is a controversial factor for success.
Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo and former executive at Google, is known for her achievements in the technology world. She started as Google’s first female engineer and is now one of Forbes’ “Top 40 Business Stars Under 40.” Behind the scenes, however, she worked 130 hour work weeks at Google, even sleeping at her desk to optimize her productivity.
“When he was on a working spree, Thomas Edison would go without sleep for up to 72 hours straight. His secret to rejuvenation was power naps.”
Another notable sleepless CEO is Jack Dorsey, formerly of Twitter and now CEO of Square. Running on about 4 hours of sleep a night, he would wake up at 5:30am for a six-mile jog and meditation before starting his busy day.
Thomas Edison definitely thought that sleep was for the weak. His most famous invention, the light bulb, changed human sleep patterns by allowing us to work long after sunset. Edison called sleep “a loss of time, vitality, and opportunities.” When he was on a working spree, he would go without sleep for up to 72 hours straight. His secret to rejuvenation was power naps on a tiny cot he kept in his laboratory from which he woke up fresh and ready to tackle his next challenge.
However, others pride themselves on the amount of sleep that they get. Albert Einstein needed 10 hours of sleep in order to function well, and would often tack on another hour if he was working hard on a theory. Einstein’s reasoning was that sleep allowed him to dream which inspired creativity and refreshed his mind.
So, are you more like an Edison or an Einstein? Either way, is there a right amount of sleep that we should be getting? Unfortunately, the unsatisfying answer is that there is no set amount of time, just enough so the person is not sleepy in the daytime. However, as illustrated by the examples above, some people need less than six hours to feel well-rested, while others require more than nine.
According to researchers at the University of California-San Francisco, the reason may be because of our genes. If they naturally wake up feeling refreshed, short sleepers like Dr. Edison and Marissa Mayer may have mutations in the gene DEC2 or BHLHW41. Dr. Ying-Hui Fu from UCSF found that mice that were given a mutation in DEC2 needed less sleep than they had previously. In 2014, another paper from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia showed that a separate mutation in DEC2 accounted for a large difference in the amount of sleep that two twin brothers needed.
Researchers are still working on the genetic framework of sleep, as early findings seem to indicate an entire genetic pathway dictating the amount of snooze time we need.
Hopefully they’re not losing too much sleep over it.