The average person spends roughly 1/3 of his or her life asleep. But what about those who are above average? Is getting more sleep the secret to unlocking the brain's potential, or is the phrase "less is more" applicable? Read on to learn the sleep habits of Einstein and some of his fellow geniuses.
It's a common misconception that Einstein practiced a polyphasic sleep schedule. Those who arepolyphasic sleepers typically don't sleep through the night. Instead, they take short naps throughout the day and remain awake for more hours than their counterparts with monophasic sleep cycles.
In reality, Einstein was a monophasic sleeper, just like most of us. Some even claim that Einstein slept for 10 hours each night, although no primary sources seem to point to this. Regardless of how many hours this great man actually spent in bed, we know it was significantly more than some of his fellow great minds!
Nikola Tesla got very little sleep throughout his life; even as a child he would "read throughout the entire night, and feel none the worse for the loss of sleep." As an adult, Tesla claimed that he never got more than 2 hours of sleep each day, and once reportedly worked 84 hours straight without even a rest. Some point to Tesla's severe lack of sleep as a contributing factor in his mental breakdown at the age of 25.
Thomas Edison apparently only got 3 or 4 hours of sleep per night, but his real trick was taking numerous naps throughout the day. One of his associates apparently said that Edison's "genius for sleep equaled his genius for invention. He could go to sleep anywhere, anytime, on anything." Napping cots were scattered throughout his entire property, and he was often caught napping in photographs (see above).
Winston Churchill was another big fan of naps. In fact, he once said about naps that "Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces." Churchill's naps were considered a sacred part of his busy day; he even kept a bed in the House of Parliament for his personal use.
According to the book Daily Ritualsby Mason Currey, Flannery O'Connor lived a very regimented lifestyle, particularly after being diagnosed with lupus in her mid-twenties in 1951. Flannery was an early riser, beginning every day promptly at 6AM and going to bed at 9PM for a total of 9 hours of sleep.
Buckminster Fuller was one of the world's most eccentric minds, so it comes as no surprise that his sleep patterns were anything but typical. Buckminster (or "Bucky" to his friends) actually invented a form of polyphasic sleep known as Dymaxion sleep. Dymaxion ”” a portmanteau of dynamic, maximum and tension ”” was Fuller's personal brand name that he applied to many of his inventions. Fuller's sleep schedule required taking 30-minute naps every six hours, resulting in only 2 hours of sleep each day. While he adopted this bizarre sleep schedule himself (and seemed to have success with it), Fuller reportedly switched back to a monophasic sleep schedule after complaints from his wife.
Charles Dickens also had a number of quirks when it came to getting shut-eye. After suffering for years from insomnia, he eventually became obsessed with the idea that in order to get the best sleep, one must lie with his head pointing north. He also insisted on sleeping in the exact middle of the mattress. His daughter wrote:
"He could be a fidget . . . with regard to the furniture of a room in an hotel at which he might be spending only a single night, rearranging it all and turning the bed north and south to suit the requirements of the electrical currents of the earth."
The millions children who grew up watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhoodno doubt remember the man had a thing for routine. Every single episode began with him entering his house, putting on a sweater and changing his shoes (all while singing the theme song, of course). As it turns out, this love of routine was present off-screen, as well. Every day, Mr. Rogers woke up precisely at 5:30AM. He took a nap every day in the late afternoon, and went to bed precisely at 9:30PM, getting exactly 8 hours of sleep.
Another entry in Mason Currey's Daily Ritualsdescribes the sleep habits (or lack thereof) of Ayn Rand. In 1942, while writing The Fountainhead,she suffered from chronic fatigue and turned to her doctor for help. He prescribed the relatively new drug Benzedrine to boost her energy levels ”” and it worked. Although Rand had spent yearsplanning the first third of her book, she was writing about a chapter a week after taking Benzedrine. She wrote around the clock, often neglecting to go to bed at all, instead opting to take naps on the couch in her clothes.
Leonardo Da Vinci was another proponent of the polyphasic sleep schedule, opting to practice what is now known as the Ubermann method.With this schedule, Da Vinci only took 6 naps throughout the day, each one lasting a mere 20 minutes.
In Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, he shares his daily schedule, which begins with him waking up promptly at 5AM. He would then work throughout the day, taking time to dine and enjoy "diversions," before finally going to sleep at 1AM. Only 4 hours of sleep! So much for the first half of Franklin's famous quote: "early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise."
Although they weren't contemporaries, it appears that Mozart and Benjamin Franklin were on the same wavelength when it came to their sleep schedules. Similarly to Franklin, Mozart didn't go to sleep until 1AM and then woke up five hours later at 6AM, as he detailed in a letter to his sister written in 1782.
One of the famous architect's friends once mentioned to him that she never saw him do actual work throughout the day. She watched as he "held meetings, took phone calls, answered letters [and] supervised students," but never appeared at his drafting table. As it turned out, Wright was doing the majority of his drafting in the middle of the night, between 4 and 7AM. "I go to sleep promptly when I go to bed," he told his friend. "Then I wake up around 4 and can't sleep. But my mind's clear, so I get up and work for three or four hours. Then I go to bed for another nap."
Similarly to Frank Lloyd Wright, the American writer Ann Beattie does her best work while most people are asleep. "I really believe in day people and night people," she told an interviewer in 1980”” and she is firmly in the "night people" camp. She goes on to say, "my favorite hours are from 12 to 3AM for writing." As a result, Beattie sometimes doesn't go to sleep until well into the morning.
Georgia O'Keeffe was, like many other geniuses on our list, an early riser. "I like to get up when the dawn comes," she once said, going on to state "the morning is the best time, there are no people around. My pleasant disposition likes the world with nobody in it." Most mornings while living in the New Mexico desert, O'Keeffe took a short walk around her property before preparing breakfast at 7AM.