Becoming president of the United States is without a doubt a remarkable achievement. And with the responsibility of presidency also comes stress and a demanding schedule. When you have appointments with diplomats and foreign leaders around the world, you’re bound to have to give up sleep occasionally for other duties.
Driven and successful people tend to have fairly full schedules and lofty goals set for themselves. Maybe there is something we can learn from the sleep habits of some of the world’s most motivated people that can be applied to our own goals. So how have past presidents dealt with the need to fit in sleep around all their duties and appointments? Here’s what we know.
When Barack Obama was in the White House, he described himself as a night owl. Night owls tend to stay up until midnight or later on a regular basis. And traditionally, night owls are thought of as less successful than early birds. But Mr. Obama didn’t let his late night habit get in the way of his presidential responsibilities. He still started his day early by having a White House phone operator call him each morning. If you’re like Mr. Obama, you can still be successful and start the day early, even if you aren’t a morning person. You just need to get a friend or family member to give you a wake up call, or use a wake-up call service.
Don’t let sleep stereotypes stop you from your success either. Being a night owl does not have to mean wasting your productive hours. In fact, some people work better and get their best ideas late at night. If that’s you, then embrace your late night tendencies and use that time to tackle projects and problems. The main thing is that you are still able to get at least 7 hours of sleep most nights.
Of course, the world is mostly set up for early bird success. But you can find ways to build a career and life that fulfills you as a night person. Living close to work means you can get a little extra sleep instead of waking up early for the commute. Or you can ask to work from home a couple days a week in order to get up a bit later and still start work on time. Another option is selecting a job that operates on a different schedule from regular office hours. Some employers may even be willing to offer flexibility in what specific hours you work, as long as you are getting in a full work day. It never hurts to ask.
And Mr. Obama didn’t squander his morning time, either. Once he was up, he states that he would hit the gym to get his day started. It is true that exercise reduces stress levels and increases energy. So even if you can’t get a full night’s rest, don’t skip that workout.
William Howard Taft was overweight during his presidency. In fact, he holds the record for the heaviest US president to date. And the extra weight took a toll on his sleep. That’s no surprise. Being overweight is known to contribute to sleep problems like snoring, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome. When it comes to nighttime breathing issues, extra fat tissue around the neck can close off part of the airway at night, leading to snoring and apnea, a temporary stop in breathing.
Taft reportedly suffered from sleep apnea, which affects breathing at night and can cause poor sleep quality. Because he wasn’t getting his night time snooze quota, President Taft would fall asleep during the day, even while he was on the golf course. Unfortunately, although nighttime breathing problems are in part caused by obesity, they can also contribute to obesity. That means the sleep disturbances themselves make it even harder for someone to lose weight and improve nighttime breathing.
It’s possible that the stress of being in charge of the nation was behind his poor health and sleep problems. After leaving the White House, Taft lost weight and his sleep apnea went away. Sleep apnea is a serious health concern. If you feel exhausted after what seems like a full night of sleep, you may want to find out whether sleep apnea is the cause.
John F. Kennedy took not one, but two different barbiturate sleeping pills while in office. The stress of being responsible for a nation seems to have taken its toll. Barbiturates are habit-forming, can have serious side effects, and become less effective over long-term use. Long-term side effects include bone pain and muscle weakness. They also make it difficult to wake up, unlike methods that help you to fall asleep naturally.
If you find yourself suffering from insomnia and desperate for sleep, you can try a few natural sleep inducers before turning to pills. Try turning off your phone, computer, TV, and other devices one to two hours before you go to sleep, and follow a regular bedtime routine to help your brain prepare for sleep. Exercising daily and eating a healthy diet is also shown to improve sleep.
Want to know the one diet change that can improve your sleep quality? Cut back on the sugar. Too much sugar can cause gastrointestinal upset, including heartburn and bloating, and it disrupts mood and brain function. Sleeping pills can work as a short-term solution for sleep disturbance, but you’re better off changing diet and habits for a long-term insomnia solution.
JFK wasn’t the only one to turn to pills for extra sleep. But instead of depending upon them at night, George Bush, Sr. used them to fall asleep while traveling by jet. This allowed him to catch some extra sleep in between other duties. Taking advantage of sleep opportunities while someone else is driving sounds like a good idea.
And his son, George W. Bush, also made sleep a priority. He regularly went to bed as early as 9 P.M. and got as much as 9 hours of sleep per night. But he rose early and got to his debriefings at 6:45 A.M. His schedule left little time for downtime activities in the evening.
It may be tempting to skip out on sleep, but they had the right idea about getting sleep when they could. Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours per night. It varies by individual. If you need more than 7 hours of sleep, you should listen to your body. Studies show that even slight sleep deprivation seriously reduces your cognitive abilities during the day. So that lack of sleep is literally making you dumb. On the other hand, you should also watch out for oversleeping, which can make you lethargic and bring on headaches.
John Quincy Adams had a morning workout routine that involved either going for a 6-mile walk or taking hour-long swimming sessions outdoors. He would wake at 5 A.M. in order to fit his exercise in before the workday started. Anyone would be wise to adopt a similar habit. Research shows that people who exercise in the morning have an advantage in maintaining energy, keeping a healthy weight, and falling asleep easier at night.
Waking up early to exercise actually has an all day positive effect on your metabolism. When you work out in the morning, before eating, your body uses the food you eat later to replenish itself and feed your muscles rather than storing it as fat. You don’t get this effect from working out at night and then going to bed.
It’s also less stressful to wake up for a workout. You get your exercise routine out of the way and don’t have to worry about it looming over you the rest of the day. Because it’s done, you won’t be tempted to skip it and then lay awake in bed feeling guilty. Exercise during the day also releases hormones that keep your body rhythms in check, also helping with nighttime sleep.
If you’re trying to fit exercise into your schedule, try waking up a bit earlier to work out. Exercising late at night before bed tends to provide a buzz of energy and make it difficult to fall asleep. Regularly exercising at night may end up leading to sleep deprivation.
There seems to be a trend with presidents waking early to get in their exercise before the business of the day. In fact, Herbert Hoover had his own personalized sport, called Hooverball. He made it to the field about six days a week at 7 A.M. and played Hooverball for half an hour.
Staying healthy and in shape gave him a good reason to get up early. And that makes sense. Getting up early for a regular workout routine develops self-discipline. Developing the self-discipline to stick to a workout plan can easily transfer to self-discipline for other goals. Maybe that is why it has been a habit of so many presidents. Morning exercise also helps you to have more focus for the next tasks in your day.
Described as both a night owl and a morning person, Lyndon B. Johnson would stay up after midnight and wake up around 6:30 or 7 A.M. That being said, Mr. Johnson knew that sleep mattered. So despite his short bedtime routine, he would get in a post-lunch nap every day.
And he was smart to do so! Multiple studies show that naps of about 20 to 40 minutes are more effective at increasing focus and alertness than either caffeine or exercise (though they can help). That means you’ll make fewer mistakes in your work during the day. It really is better to get more rest than to try to keep at a project while your eyelids are drooping and your head is nodding.
In fact, research indicates that breaking up your day with a nap provides you with the same level of alertness and energy for the second half of your day as you have for the first. With his afternoon nap, Mr. Johnson could divide the day’s responsibilities into two shifts. He would wake up from his afternoon nap reenergized and ready to complete his work. You can take advantage of this too. Even if you can’t fit in a nap every day, it’s a good plan for days when you have an activity going on after work.
What are some other ways that naps actually increase your success? Napping improves learning and memory. And it also helps to prevent burnout. When you have a prolonged task to work on, taking a nap between sessions reverses information overload so that you stay productive. This is especially true for tasks that require creativity.
If you need extra brainpower, a 90-minute nap is ideal because it takes you through all 5 stages of sleep. That means you’ll get the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep that charges your mental juices. But if you don’t have 90 minutes and just need an energy boost, you can try this nap hack, called the “caffeine nap”.
Drink a cup of coffee, and then immediately take your nap. It will take a while for the caffeine to circulate through your system and take effect. In the meantime, you get in stages 1 and 2 of the sleep cycle, which boosts energy and stamina. The caffeine helps you to arise from your nap feeling wakeful rather than giving into longer sleep. And you get the double boost of caffeine and sleep when you wake up. Note that you still should not drink caffeinated beverages before bed because it will disrupt your REM sleep, which you absolutely need.
President Clinton by self-admission got less sleep than he should have. He usually only slept 4-6 hours each night, preferring instead to stay up having conversations or reading up on policy information. He referred to himself as a “functional insomniac” because of his late night schedule.
However, the truth was probably more insomniac and less functional. Insomnia and sleep deprivation have much more effect on the body and mind that just making you feel tired during the day. It decreases memory and cognitive function, and it also deteriorates your health, taking a toll on your cardiovascular system. Maybe his insomnia is a reason Mr. Clinton had heart surgery in his 50’s, despite getting regular exercise.
Insomnia can also make you feel tense and anxious, not a good combination for tackling important tasks or dealing with others. Even if you think you can function with less sleep, statistics show that far more work and car accidents happen when a person is sleep-deprived. And if you have important work to do, your problem solving abilities are sharpened after a good night’s rest.
Calvin Coolidge would sleep up to eleven hours every night, going to bed at 10 P.M. And even that was not enough. He also took a two to four hour nap in the afternoon. It’s hard to see how he got much work done on such a rigorous sleep schedule. But it’s likely that his constant snoozing was related to depression. He lost his son, who died at 16, and is reported to have avoided speaking about it or seeking any help in coping with his grief.
Depression is known to cause fatigue and lethargy, but can also interfere with quality sleep. Most people suffering from depression experience insomnia, a chronic inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. That being said, about 15 percent of those suffering from depression have the opposite problem, oversleeping.
For some, long bouts of sleep are a way to escape the cause of their depression and avoid thinking about the negative aspects of their life. If you are sleeping more than 10 hours a day on a regular basis, that is considered oversleeping. Most healthy adults need no more than 10 hours of sleep, and as little as 6 hours. Although excessive sleepiness is a sign of depression, it is usually caused by insomnia and sleep difficulties. Actually sleeping for most of the day is a cause to see a doctor to determine whether you have depression or depression coupled with another health problem.
Theodore Roosevelt may have been into physical fitness and being outdoors, but his sleep sounds altogether unhealthy. He was known to be an extremely loud snorer. In fact, he was moved to a separate floor of a hospital once in order to allow the other patients to get away from the sounds of his snoring and get some sleep.
Snoring is often thought of as simply an annoyance to those around us, but a perfectly normal behavior. That’s not the case. Snoring is usually a sign of some kind of breathing difficulty. And severe snoring is often an indicator of poor sleep quality.
You can actually feel like you are sleeping all night long but not get a good sleep because of snoring. The snoring prevents you from getting the full amount of oxygen that you need at night. And that’s why snoring is something you should look to treat rather than ignore.
Most snoring is caused by a physical blockage of airflow in the airways. It happens when the back of the tongue blocks the throat, or when you have too much fat tissue in your neck, and it restricts your throat passage. The back of the tongue can become too relaxed from drinking alcohol or other reasons. Of course, Mr. Roosevelt also suffered from childhood asthma, so it seems that breathing issues followed him throughout life.
Aside from overly relaxed tongue muscles or excess fat tissue, snoring can also be caused by something as simple as nasal congestion. If congestion is causing your snoring, you can look to treatments for allergies or sinus issues. Stopping your snoring could be as simple as opening up your nasal passages.
You can find out whether you snore in a couple of ways. If you live with someone else, they will likely let you know if you snore at night. Or you can ask them about it. If you live alone and aren’t sure whether you snore, take a look at your sleep quality. Getting a full night’s sleep and still feeling exhausted is a sign that snoring may be impairing your sleep. Of course, occasional light snoring is normal for most people and not something to be alarmed about if it doesn’t disrupt you or your sleep partner.
How presidents sleep seems to be less about valuing the health benefits of sleep and more about driving themselves to succeed. Rising early appears to be a trademark feature of being a president. And stress certainly took its toll on the majority of the United States’ commanders in chief. That being said, even these leaders understood that they had to get some rest.
Despite the American drive to look constantly busy in order to justify one’s importance and achievement, most research indicates that a person performs better when getting enough sleep at night. Sleep deprivation severely impairs cognitive function and has a negative impact on mood. Sleep is also one of the body’s primary methods of dealing with stressors.
Chronic stress leads to inflammation. And inflammation is a driving cause of cardiovascular disease, dementia, diabetes, arthritis, and other illnesses. When your body doesn’t have a chance to manage stress through sleep, you are much more susceptible to health issues, both physical and mental. To get your best chance at achieving your goals, keep your energy and health at their peak with a regular sleep schedule. So go ahead and take a nap, no need to feel guilty!