If you’re like me, you care far too much about other people’s sleep habits. So what better place to look than the POTUS’s throughout history?
The first thing to point out is that these are simply ideal sleep schedules…
You may have noticed that being in the most important job in the world throws a few curveballs at you and in the middle of a crisis you can expect that sleep is a luxury for these great men.
It’s also worth noting that being president of the most influential country in the world is a stressful and demanding job. These people are testing their absolute mental and physical limits every day and the impact this kind of work has on health is well documented.
It is not advisable to copy their sleep habits or at least the amount of sleep they get. In fact, they probably get more sleep outside of the few years in their life when they are president.
In addition, most people become president later in life. When you reach the older years, say 50-60, your body requires less sleep with 6-7 hours being pretty typical, compare this with earlier life particularly below the age of 25 where you regularly need 8-9 hours sleep a night.
Lastly, I’m keeping the politics out of this, so I’m gonna do my best to remain neutral to every president that I do. Yes, even that one that you absolutely despise.
President Donald Trump (2017-Present)
Sleeps for… 3-4 hours per night
It’s easier to find the data for the more recent presidents given the hyper-connected world we live in, and I can pull up a quote from President Trump in his own inimitable style:
Donald Trump comes in at one of the lowest amounts of sleep on this list. In fact, White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson says that he is “One of those people who doesn’t need a lot of sleep.” Also, called short sleepers, these lucky (or unlucky?) souls make up only around 1% of the population and can sleep for as little as 3-4 hours a night while feeling perfectly rested and with no adverse health effects. Not to be confused with those who are chronically sleep-deprived.
Trump typically goes to bed around midnight or 1 am and wakes up at 5 am, where he likes to use the early hours to eat, read newspapers and watch television. You imagine he probably spends a fair amount of time on Twitter in there, too!
Fun Fact: Trump gave a piece of advice in his 2004 memoir: “Don’t sleep any more than you have to.”
President Barack Obama (2009-2017)
Slept for… around 5-6 hours per night.
It’s often said that the best time to get good work done is when everyone else is asleep, there are no distractions. No being interrupted by phone calls, work emails, facebook notifications or tinder messages. Just pure, uninterrupted deep work.
And the only time to get that is by staying up late at night or getting up early in the morning.
Obama fits right into one of these two categories, but perhaps not the one you might think, he is a classic night owl. His typical schedule sees him go to bed around 1-2am and wake up at 7am.
He likes using the time after his wife and kids go to bed to get some serious work done, as well as sometimes a little reading and a little unwinding. Late night conference calls were a normal thing under his ‘night-owl-presidency’ and his staffers frequently woke up to emails from POTUS.
His 7 am wakeup is still earlier than most and he likes to use the time just after waking to exercise, saying “You have to exercise, or at some point, you’ll just break down.” And despite the small amount of sleep he gets, he doesn’t even drink coffee!
Fun Fact: One of Obama’s little pleasures before bed was to watch The Daily Show late at night.
George W Bush (2001-2009)
Slept for… 9 hours per night
George ‘double-ya’ was a man who valued his sleep. Despite having more on his plate than perhaps any other man in the country and presiding over the biggest act of terrorism on American soil and the subsequent two wars he managed to slip in a regular 9 hours of sleep each night.
His typical routine would be to be in bed by 9 pm and to awaken at 6 am and arrive at the oval office by 6.45am for briefings and reports. This late bedtime has caused him problems including during his meetings with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis are accustomed to late meetings due to the heat in their country so Bush had to stay up till 9.30pm on one occasion!
Fun Fact: Even his wife felt the need to poke fun at his sleep habits, she said at the Correspondents Dinner: “I said to him the other day, ‘George, if you really want to end tyranny in the world, you’re going to have to stay up later.’”
Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
Slept for… 5 hours per night
Bill Clinton’s philosophy on sleep was guided by a college professor who told him that ‘great men require less sleep’. This little nugget of wisdom obviously struck a chord with college-age Bill who adopted the professor’s advice on how to turn into a ‘great man’.
Clinton does seem to have acknowledged that his sleep habits were counterproductive, saying:
In my long political career, most of the mistakes I made, I made when I was too tired, because I tried too hard and worked too hard. You make better decisions when you’re not too tired. So that would be my only advice.
In fact, after his career was over, Clinton told Jon Stewart that sleep deprivation is part of the problem in Washington, claiming many senators are “chronically sleep deprived.”
Fun Fact: Clinton was infamous for his late nights where he would call staffers in the middle of the night without regard for whether they were sleeping or not!
Lyndon B Johnson (1963-1969)
Slept for… 5-6 hours per night
Johnson had a peculiar schedule that would now be referred to as a ‘biphasic’ sleep pattern. This is essentially having two regular periods of sleep over the course of a day, usually one main sleep and one elongated nap.
In Lydon’s case, he would arise at 7 am and had breakfast right away before tending to duties. At 8 am he would start work and then go for another, “working breakfast” and would work until 2 pm.
He would then take a full nap, pajamas and all, until getting up around 4 pm and beginning his ‘second shift’ and working until late in the night. Given the state of foreign affairs in the 60s and the Vietnam war, this schedule would routinely get interrupted by important matters.
Fun Fact: Johnson insisted that his staff follow a similar “two shifts” pattern to himself!
Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)
Slept for… 11+ hours per night
Coolidge’s reputation as a hands-off, mediocre president is probably not done any favors by his unusually long nighttime sleeps. His daily sleeping routine would consist of going to bed at 10 pm and rising around 9 am, giving him a long 11-hour sleep.
If he got less than that he would be liable to take a nap before lunch and he would regularly nap between 2 and 4 hours in the afternoon. It seems he spent much of his presidency, and much of the ‘Roaring Twenties’, not paying it very much attention at all!
It has been proposed that one possible reason for Coolidge’s extremely long nights of sleep was a depression that was instigated by the death of his sixteen-year-old son, after having suffered the earlier childhood losses of his mother and sister.
The 1920s were not the best place for those suffering from mental health conditions so it seems possible that he found relief through long periods in bed.
This theory is supported by the fact that his initial tenure was marked by activity, holding regular press conferences and building ties with Mexico among other acts. After his son’s death there was a marked change in Coolidge’s behaviour, including all 10 of the early signs of depression.
This is probably an important point worth considering if you know someone who is sleeping an unusual amount, perhaps something is not ok.
Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)
Slept for… in bed for 9 hours but suffered from insomnia
The further back in time we go, the more difficult it is to pin down an exact number of hours of sleep. The one thing we know about Abraham Lincoln was that was an insomniac and used to suffer terribly because of it, which just magnifies how impressive the feats he achieved during his presidency were.
He would regularly wake at 7 and spend an hour working or reading the newspaper before a simple breakfast of eggs, toast, and coffee.
In the evening he would aim to retire to bed by 10 or 11 pm although it is unclear exactly how much sleep he would have got. This would be pushed back as late as 2am when important new about the war was innocent.
He was also famous for his midnight walks that he presumably took during one of his many sleepless nights.
Fun Fact: Lincoln completely avoided alcohol, which you thought would be worth a try if you had insomnia
Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
Slept for… variable but low
Thomas Jefferson is one of the more interesting entries on this list given that many claim that he was what we now call a ‘polyphasic’ sleeper.
This involves not subscribing to a standard 6-8 hours main sleep at night and remaining awake during the day, but spreading sleep out in small increments throughout the day with the intention of need less sleep overall.
Jefferson’s bedtime was subject to change given his various duties and social engagements. He made little fuss of this but still arose at the same time each bed regardless of when he retired. He had the remarkable ability to wake up with the sun, claiming that over a 50-year period the sun had never caught him in bed.
Jefferson’s morning routine consisted of, among other things, reading and recording the temperature. He liked to do this at dawn when it was at its coldest, and at 4 pm when it was at its warmest.
It is unclear why he practiced this odd ritual. He would also tend to correspondence (that’s emails for you and me) before enjoying breakfast and the rest of the day.
Fun Fact: Jefferson never went to bed without at least 30 minutes worth of reading in him for him to ruminate on during sleep.
So the general theme is that when you’ve got the most important job in the world, you don’t get much sleep. That seems to make sense. It does make me wonder if these sleeping habits were acquired early on or if they were necessitated as a result of the job.
Is sleeping 4-6 hours per night a requirement to climb the many ladders of politics and get onto the top rung?
Or can you still achieve that high whilst getting a normal amount of sleep?
I’m a terribly light sleeper myself and this website is mainly designed for helping people like me get to sleep quickly and get a decent, uninterrupted forty winks.
If you’re interested in improving your sleep then check out my recommended products page for the stuff I’ve found to work including the one thing that I use literally every day and has basically rescued me from a lifetime of getting irate in bed.