13 September 2015

Today's #Sleeptember FACT --- Weird sleep habits of famous dead people

Caveat! Don't get any ideas. Famous dead people did not become famous because of their strange sleep habits, and there's no real way to know whether their odd choices in sleep hygiene actually helped or hindered their longevity and overall well being.

However, this is the 21st century, and quality sleep is required for good mental health, solid job performance and physical longevity. We are, as a society, time pressed and sleep deprived, so making sleep a priority has never been a more important priority.

So let's just keep it simple: Sleep! One long period overnight. Seven hours at the very least, every night of the week. Naps when it's possible.

Of course that isn't simple when you are a working parent trying to make ends meet, not when life blows past at lightning speed, 24-7. But it is still simpler than what some of these historical figures have done. And keep in mind, back in the old days of these famous dead people, life was quite a bit different. Slower, for one thing. Let's not assume what worked for them at that time in history would work for them now, okay? (Unless you aspire to be Beethoven, Victor Hugo, Flannery O'Connor or BF Skinner... then you get a free pass to do what they did.)


"Mr. Pickwick's Picnic"
by Fred Barnard
  • Charles Dickens always slept facing north. North would be the darkest exposure to face for someone living in Europe, so this actually makes sense. The darker your sleeping space, the more likely you will have better sleep. He thought it made him more creative, but others suggest it was his way to fight chronic insomnia.

    Related: Dickens was first to chronicle a sleep disorder related to obesity: obesity hypoventilation syndrome, as was rendered in his characterization of Mr. Pickwick in the Pickwick Papers, who suffered from being morbidly overweight, sleepy, out of breath and red in the face. 
  • Emily Bronte was a pacer. Circles and circles of footsteps around the dining room table until she found sleep. Insomnia is nothing new for the 21st century.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote this essay in 1934 about his sleep troubles, which was inspired by another essay written about insomnia by his contemporary, Ernest Hemingway.
  • Wolfgang Mozart mostly slept from 1am to 5am. Making music was a compulsion. This is true for many artists.
  • Voltaire had similar compulsive tendencies, sleeping only 4 hours a night and boosting himself with upwards of 40 cups of coffee during the day. He would've loved Seattle.
  • Leonardo da Vinci took 20-minute naps every 4 hours, nonstop. This is otherwise known as polyphasic sleeping or the Uberman sleep cycle. I wouldn't be surprised if people today slept like this, but that's because they are working 3 jobs to feed their families. They are largely not considered widely lauded geniuses, so be careful when choosing this protocol. Da Vinci did not have to deal with reality TV, video games, crushing inflation, light pollution, single parenthood, insurance companies and processed food. He could get away with it.
  • Thomas Edison, who brought us the lightbulb and a whole range of sleep disorders to go with it, was equally a fan of polyphasic sleeping. Again, he lived mostly in darkness; it was easy to follow that regimen. There were no phones, no computers, no... well... no electricity at least for most of his life!
  • Nikolai Tesla only slept two hours a night. I doubt he would sleep at all in the age of iPhones. Too much electricity, too much blue spectrum light. He was also a fan of polyphasic sleeping (see Leonardo da Vinci).
  • Winston Churchill, unlike Tesla, took a two-hour nap everyday in order to be more productive. He was also known for being a bit of an insomniac.
  • Margaret Thatcher only slept four hours a night. Sometimes I think politicians in general cannot do more than four hours a night and still be servants of the free world.
  • Sigmund Freud did not get his seven minimum hours of sleep a night, but that was probably because he experimented with mind-altering drugs like cocaine.
  • Rene Descartes, on the other hand, slept midnight to noon almost every day. Obviously he was not using cocaine!
Check out this interesting infographic at New York Magazine which highlights the sleep schedules of a few dozen geniuses (okay, some of them are not dead, but you get the idea).