Any casual googler can find article after article about how the most successful people in the world need less sleep than the rest of us. These kinds of write ups can make those of us who’ve yet to crack the Forbes 500 feel as if we must sacrifice a crucial part of our health and happiness in order to achieve lofty goals in any field. The truth is not always what it seems, however. Many CEOs get enough sleep, but as a collective audience we tend to relish in stories of people who marginalize themselves to be successful. We don’t want to hear about the mogul with a relatively normal sleep schedule because that means that real people actually can reach the peak of industry, and that the view from above isn’t just reserved for the superhuman. If you’re trying to convince yourself that you don’t need a full night’s sleep, if you think that by following Trump’s schedule of sleeping 3-4 hours a night you’ll become as successful as he is, you’re both likely wrong, and also setting yourself up for failure, not success. So don’t listen to the blogosphere (except for this one, because we are literally the end-all-be-all), and listen to these CEOs who know the value of a good night’s sleep. Your career might just thank you for it.
Arianna Huffington: The journalist, entrepreneur and media mogul is known for her appreciation of a good night’s sleep. In 2010, Huffington delivered a TED talk (link above) in which she discussed the value of sleep at length. In 2007, she collapsed from exhuastion at her desk, broke her cheek bone, and required stitches above her eye, among other injuries. From that day forth she decided to make it a point to get enough sleep. That was almost four years before she sold her company to AOL for 315 million dollars – so it would be tough to argue her decision to get enough sleep hindered her success. Huffington also challenges the belief that time spent sleeping is totally unproductive – she recognizes that some of our best ideas spring to the front of our brains in the moments just before and after sleep, and can even reveal themselves to us in our dreams. (BTW Anybody know what dreaming of a gregarious sea monster who likes to eat fois gras and play the harmonica means? I feel like he’s trying to give me my billion dollar idea.)
Jayne-Anne Gahdia: The CEO of Virgin Money gets up every day at 6:20am and is asleep by 10:30 every night. Having been conditioned by all the talk of CEOs who deprive themselves of sleep in order to succeed, her 8 hours comes off as almost luxurious, surely not the kind of treat a high powered CEO would give themselves. But sleep is not a treat, just as oxygen is not a treat, and Gahdia has had a career that anyone would envy. Before she was the boss of Virgin Money she managed over 70 billion pounds in mortgages for RBS, took charge of buying up massive chunks of the banking industry in the UK, and has a family at home to boot. By her own admission she is never one to give up, and if a woman with a life this stressful still hasn’t given up on sleep – neither should you.
Sabrina Parsons: As the CEO of Palo Alto Software, Parsons led her company through the turbulence of the great recession and did so without losing any of her people. Her company trades at over $100 a share on the NYSE, and she is the mother of three children. Also, and you could probably see this coming, she gets a full night’s sleep as often as possible. She manages this by setting up her day in such a way that she can minimize her stressors, and focus on unwinding and getting in her rest when the time is right. Do yourself a favor and check out her great article on the subject here.
You may have noticed a distinct lack of men on this list, and with only 24 women CEOs in the Fortune 500, that might be surprising. Tim Armstrong does his best to get six hours of sleep a night, but otherwise you’re hard-pressed to find a high-powered male CEO talking about getting a lot of sleep. Huffington touches on this in her talk, but there seems to be a bit of machismo surrounding sleep depravity, as if powerful men wish to out-exhaust each other. The moral here is that while these men are incredibly successful and their careers are to be admired, if they’re deliberately damaging their health in order to appear more hard-working, eccentric, or other-worldly, they aren’t being as productive as possible. Listen to your body, listen to the three powerful women listed here, and don’t sacrifice your health for a perceived career gain when in the long run, as these CEOs have showed us, it won’t even do you much good.