Meet history's most famous short-sleepers

These nine historical individuals are famed for their extreme dedication to their work. So much so that they often skipped out on a good night's sleep.
Christopher McFadden
A man sitting at a computer at night.
Irregular or chronic lack of sleep may reveal something about a person.


  • Some extraordinary individuals who, through willpower or genetics, could function quite well with very little sleep.
  • While most of us need 7-8 hours a night, these people managed to get by with just 4 hours, and sometimes less, a night.
  • But who are these famous examples of short sleepers?

Getting a good night's sleep is often one of the simplest things you can do to maintain good physical and mental health. Recommended amounts of sleep vary from person to person, but some can wake up refreshed with half the amount most need.

As we wrote previously, this can be due to genetics, but other individuals pride themselves on "skipping out on kipping" to get the most out of their day. However, as you are about to discover, these people also had some tendencies you might not want to emulate.

What is short sleeping?

While some rare individuals possess the unique ability to function with minimal sleep, attributed to a genetic mutation, for others such a pattern could signal an underlying medical issue. Numerous studies have pointed to intriguing correlations between certain behavioral patterns and sleep habits.

For instance, people who routinely stay up late "burning the midnight oil" may be at a higher risk of exhibiting psychopathic tendencies. One study reveals that individuals tend to behave more ethically during the morning hours and that the likelihood of engaging in unethical conduct increases as the day progresses. Another intriguing experiment demonstrated that people are more prone to unethical practices like lying and cheating in dimly lit environments than in brightly lit ones.

Psychology Today suggests that night owls could potentially display more immoral behavior. As the publication explains, people who are considered psychopaths are generally characterized by high levels of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy, sometimes referred to as the Dark Triad.

Individual possessing these traits tend to be emotionally cold, callous and manipulative, showcasing an inflated self-image and unabashed self-promotion. Their actions are often impulsive, and they may even engage in reckless or criminal behavior without considering the consequences for others. In particular, individuals with high scores in what is termed "primary psychopathy" are typically shallow, insensitive, and exhibit superficial charm.

Research has consistently shown that people who tend to score higher in these negative personality traits often regularly sleep less than around 6 hours a night, as opposed to those who receive closer to the recommended amount of sleep.

Interestingly, a specific subset of individuals, termed "successful psychopaths," often includes professionals like politicians, lawyers, and surgeons, who are adept at using others to their advantage without resorting to hostile or criminal behavior. In contrast, individuals with high levels of so-called "secondary psychopathy" are more impulsive, lack long-term objectives, and are more prone to hostile or criminal activity.

Meet history's most famous short-sleepers
Irregular or chronic lack of sleep may reveal something about a person.

Despite these findings sounding somewhat unlikely, it is worth noting that some of the world's most famous short-sleepers also display such patterns. Make of all that as you will.

Famous short sleepers

And so, on to the main event. There have been many high-profile short-sleepers throughout history, but most, as you are about to find out, tend to end up in specific careers. Can you think of which ones?

Let's find out.

1. Sir Winston Churchill was a night owl

Meet history's most famous short-sleepers
Sir Winston Churchill.

Beauty sleep: roughly 4 hours a night

One of the world's most famous short sleepers was the "British Bulldog" himself, Sir Winston Churchill. A war correspondent in his youth, Churchill rose to prominent positions in British politics, becoming the Lord of Admiralty during WW1, and ultimately leading the nation as Prime Minister during the Second World War.

The man was known for his unusual sleep habits and fondness for alcohol. He often worked late into the night, getting about 4-5 hours of sleep, supplemented by daytime naps. Churchill was also known to enjoy whisky and soda throughout the day and was fond of champagne, but he maintained that he was rarely drunk, despite these drinking habits.

His courage, determination, and leadership during World War II solidified his place as one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. Sir Winston Churchill died on 24 January 1965, and most Brits still consider him a hero today.

2. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk slept very little

Meet history's most famous short-sleepers
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

Beauty sleep: roughly 4 hours a night

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938) not only forged a nation from the ashes of an empire but remains the embodiment of Turkey today. He is still revered by many in modern Turkey, and for good reason.

A contemporary of Sir Winston Churchill, the early careers of the two were somewhat entwined with the disaster of the Gallipoli campaign in WWI. A tragic and wasteful loss for Churchill and the Allies, the campaign lit the spark that would lead to the rise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the eventual creation of modern Turkey.

Like Churchill, Ataturk did not sleep too much. Official accounts are few on the ground, but according to some sources, Ataturk only slept 4 to 5 hours daily. The two men, Churchill and Ataturk, would probably have gotten on well if it weren't for the war.

3. Baroness Margaret Thatcher was allergic to sleep too

Meet history's most famous short-sleepers
Baroness Margaret Thatcher

Beauty sleep: roughly 4-5 hours a night

Baroness Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013), the UK's first female Prime Minister, was renowned for her tireless work ethic and dedication. She famously sustained her intensive schedule by sleeping only 4-5 hours per night, and without needing daytime naps.

Her propensity to stay awake reflected her strong belief in self-discipline and personal responsibility. Thatcher's unwavering commitment to her work contributed significantly to her reputation as the "Iron Lady."

Beloved and despised in equal measures throughout her premiership and beyond, she remains one of the most important British Prime Ministers of all time.

4. Thomas Edison never stopped working

Meet history's most famous short-sleepers
Thomas Alva Edison

Beauty sleep: roughly 3-4 hours a night

Thomas Edison (1847-1931), one of the most prolific inventors in history, was renowned for his tireless work ethic and unconventional sleeping habits. He reportedly slept only 3-4 hours at night, preferring to take short power naps throughout the day.

This "polyphasic" sleep pattern allowed him more waking hours to dedicate to his work. Edison's relentless, almost obsessive drive, and willingness to fail and to learn from these failures were central to his success. He is famously quoted as saying, "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration," embodying his approach to work.

5. Nikola Tesla only slept 2 hours a night

Meet history's most famous short-sleepers
Nikola Tesla

Beauty sleep: reportedly 2 hours a night

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), the visionary inventor and engineer, was known for his extraordinary work ethic and minimal sleep habits. Reportedly, he only slept about two hours per night, supplementing this with occasional short naps. Tesla's rigorous and almost monastic lifestyle extended to his work, where he reportedly often labored for more than 15 hours a day.

His relentless dedication and pursuit of knowledge and innovation, sometimes to the point of self-neglect, have shaped his legacy as one of the most influential minds in the history of science and technology.

6. Leonardo Da Vinci had unusual sleeping habits

Beauty sleep: reportedly 2 hours a night

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), the epitome of a Renaissance man, was known for his insatiable curiosity and tireless work habits. He allegedly practiced a polyphasic sleep schedule, sometimes known as the "Uberman" sleep cycle, sleeping 15 minutes every four hours for a total of just 1.5-2 hours per day.

This unconventional sleep pattern was likely fueled by his relentless pursuit of knowledge and understanding in many disciplines, from art and anatomy to engineering and botany. His work ethic and unparalleled genius have left an enduring legacy across numerous fields of study.

7. Napoleon Bonaparte slept little

Meet history's most famous short-sleepers
Emperor Napoleon Boneparte.

Beauty sleep: reportedly 4-6 hours a night

The dynamic French military and political leader, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was known for his strategic brilliance and relentless work ethic. Reportedly, he slept only about four to six hours, often working late into the night and waking up early.

Napoleon's sleep pattern was irregular and often interrupted by his demanding duties. His rigorous work ethic, marked by detailed planning and a hands-on approach, along with his ability to function effectively on limited sleep, contributed significantly to his ability to manage his vast empire and shape European history.

8. Florence Nightingale was too busy to sleep

Meet history's most famous short-sleepers
Florence Nightingale.

Beauty sleep: reportedly 2 hours a night

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), the pioneer of modern nursing, was known for her unwavering dedication to patient care. Reportedly, she slept very few hours a night, often working through the night to tend to the sick. This earned her the nickname "The Lady with the Lamp."

Her work ethic, characterized by compassion, attention to detail, and relentless commitment to improving hospital sanitation, revolutionized the nursing field. Despite her limited sleep, she demonstrated an extraordinary ability to maintain her focus and productivity, significantly contributing to her lasting legacy.

9. Adolf Hitler's lack of sleep might explain a few things

Meet history's most famous short-sleepers
Hitler and Paul von Hindenburg.

Beauty sleep: reportedly 4 hours a night

Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), the dictator who led Nazi Germany, had highly irregular sleep patterns, often working late into the night and late into the day, with estimates of only a few hours of sleep per night. His working style was impulsive and erratic, often influenced by his intake of various drugs.

Hitler's work ethic, driven by his extremist ideologies, was marked by a ruthless focus on his goals. His intense and obsessive nature likely influenced his ability to function on minimal sleep, ultimately leading to the immense destruction of his rule.

And that is your lot for today.

The sleep patters and work ethics of these influential figures vary greatly, demonstrating there is no one-size-fits-all approach to productivity and success. From short sleepers like Edison, Tesla, and Thatcher to those with more irregular patterns like De Vinci, each found a rhythm aligned with their personal needs and professional demands.

But do any of these short-sleeping individuals fit the profile of a psychopath? Florence Nightingale probably did not, but Adolf Hitler or Napoleon Bonaparte probably yes. But we'll let you decide.

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