What’s the secret to success?
It’s impossible to pinpoint one exact characteristic that makes a person successful but it’s widely regarded that a regular sleep routine is one of the best ways to hone your mind and body.
It doesn’t really matter if you’re an early riser or a night owl, whether you get 8 hours sleep or 3 (we’re looking at you, Trump): if you’re able to regulate your sleeping habits, you’ll be in the perfect position to make the most of your waking hours. A good night’s sleep is key to productivity and creativity: two of the most important contributing factors to success.
So when do the world’s most successful people pull back the covers and attack the day? As you might expect, it varies widely, although early wake-up times are more common than later ones. Some successful people don’t have set wake-up times at all; rather they simply determine that they need to sleep for X number of hours and wake according to what time they went to bed.
Let’s have a closer look…
Japanese writer, born 1949
The prolific Murakami, author of the notable 1Q84, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and A Wild Sheep Chase, told The Paris Review in 2004 that he goes to bed at 9pm and rises at 4am when he’s in ‘writing mode’.
American writer, born 1932 (died 1963)
The iconic writer of the Bell Jar, Plath accomplished long-lasting and resounding success with her writing despite her battle with depression, which she lost when she committed suicide at age 30. When in the midst of her depression, she would wake at 4am when her sleeping pills would wear off and write until around 8am every day.
Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington Post, born 1950
Greek American Huffington has recently become a sleep evangelist, dedicating herself to 8 hours sleep a night, after suffering a collapse a few years ago from sleep deprivation and exhaustion. In 2016, she published The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time. She goes to bed at 10pm and rises early at 5am to begin the day.
Founder & CEO of Amazon.com, born 1964
Bezos is an incredibly successful technology entrepreneur and is another proponent of the merits of a good night’s sleep. He vouches for 8 hours a night, and like Huffington, rises daily at 5am. He told The Wall Street Journal in 1999 that 8 hours of sleep gifted him much-needed focus and clarity.
Co-Founder & CEO of Twitter and Square, born 1976
Ever-youthful Dorsey is famous in Silicon Valley for being at the forefront of 2 major tech companies: Twitter and Square. How does he give his all to both full-time pursuits? Sleep. Dorsey is another 5am riser, after which he meditates for 30 minutes, does a 7-minute workout 3 times and has a coffee before starting work. He usually goes to bed at 11pm.
Founder of Virgin Group, born 1950
Branson is the poster child for the balanced life, making sure to align his incredibly successful entrepreneurial endeavours with a healthy dose of fitness, travel, charity and family. He’s another one that wakes at 5am, regardless of where he is in the world, to exercise and spend time with his family before starting the work day with a positive mindset. He once said in a blog post, “Over my 50 years in business I have learned that if I rise early I can achieve so much more in a day, and therefore in life.”
American writer, born 1899 (died 1961)
Legendary Hemingway, author of The Old Man And The Sea and For Whom The Bell Tolls, amongst others, told The Paris Review in 1958 that he sought to rise early, as soon after first light as possible, and start writing from around 6am, finally putting his pen down at midday. He said, “There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.”
CEO of Tesla, CEO & CTO of SpaceX, and more, born 1971
South African serial entrepreneur Musk is a legend for his awesome productivity and proclivity for hard work and ultimate success. Just like Dorsey, in order to maintain his focus across multiple businesses (and reportedly work 100 hours a week), he has a regimented waking schedule. He goes to bed at 1am and wakes at 7am, usually foregoing breakfast for a cup of coffee. He works out only once or twice a week.
Victorian writer, born 1812 (died 1870)
Prolific English writer and social critic Dickens is another literary figure of routine. He would ensure himself a good night’s sleep, going to bed at midnight and rising at 7am every day. After waking and breakfast, he would write for a solid 5 hours before taking a vigorous walk through London or the nearby countryside, presumably for exercise and writing inspiration.
President of the USA, 1961
The 44th POTUS, Obama’s days are necessarily guided by a strict and regimented daily routine. He’s known for working late and getting a head start on the next day, before rising relatively early every day at 7am. He usually starts the day with 45 minutes of exercise and limits any potential decision fatigue by reducing his options for dressing and eating.
English evolutionary scientist, born 1809 (died 1882)
Darwin, the leading naturalist and geologist who brought the concept of evolution to the masses, was — like most successful people — a creature of routine. When he was writing the still-controversial Origin Of Species, he began his day at 8am with 90 minutes of work, and would go to bed at 10pm. He had trouble with insomnia and would take hours before he eventually drifted off.
Chairman of The Trump Organization & Republican Nominee for POTUS 2016
Larger than life Trump is proud of minimalistic sleep schedule, claiming that he only sleeps for 3 to 4 hours a night. We don’t know his exact wake-up time, but it’s thought to be around the 4.30am mark. While many think this makes Trump a prime candidate for a sleep deprivation study, he could be functioning just fine — research has shown that a small proportion (around 1-2% of the population) are able to function on less than 4 hours sleep a night.
Co-founder of Microsoft & Philanthropist
Mega-successful Gates is at the other end of the sleep spectrum from Trump, reportedly sleeping around 7 hours every night. He usually sleeps between midnight and 7am and likes to read books before dropping off. He told The Times, “Even though it’s fun to stay up all night, maybe taking a red-eye flight, if I have to be creative I need seven hours. I can give a speech without much sleep, I can do parts of my job that way, but in thinking creatively, I’m not much good without seven hours.”
Featured image is a caricature by DonkeyHotey and used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 licence