This page may be out of date. Submit any pending changes before refreshing this page.
Hide this message.

Sleep: How do CEOs who sleep for only 4-5 hours daily manage to function and run multi-million dollar companies for years?

100+ Answers
Gui Ambros

It's alarming to see some of the answers here, associating sleep deprivation with success, or super-human abilities.

Some may think they're special, and are performing optimally on a 4h sleep schedule. No, they're not. You may think you are, and even feel good for "hacking" your body and extending the day by 15%.

But here's the problem: you will pay a price, as it has been proven again and again[1,2]. And I'd argue that even in the short term you'll be performing sub-optimally; you're just a poor judge of your own abilities. Like someone who had two drinks, and still thinks is perfectly capable of driving.

I've spent several years sleeping 4, 6, and 8h, during different life cycles: startup founder, kids, stressful corporate life, easy years, back to stressful corporate life, etc. And while I have the ability to sustain short sleep schedules for extended periods of time (read: years), I'm now aware that anything less than 7h is the stupidest thing I can do to my brain. I'd be trading off more minutes in the day, for lower cognitive ability, fewer synapses, poor memory, deficient neurochemistry in the long run.

If you think you're gifted because you can live on a 4h sleep schedule, I urge you to at least consider that you may not be. And you won't know for sure for another 10 or 15 years, when your cognitive abilities will have suffered enough for you to notice. And by then you'll never know for sure if it's age-related, or it's because all those years of sleep deprivation.

For the ones thinking you have "better genetics", please consider the opposite: you likely have a defective body. Your body is unfortunately incapable of demonstrating the common warning signs after a night or two of sleep deprivation, like most people.

You may not feel it immediately, but eventually you will see the patterns emerging - poor memory, lower cognitive ability, mood. By the time you realize you have a problem, you may have caused enough damage to yourself, and it can take years to recover. Plus, it's really hard to re-wire your brain to sleep more, after an extended period doing the exact opposite.

A good introduction to brain development and neurochemistry is the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. The primary focus is exercise, but it also touches on sleep, the cumulative effect of stress, and what happens with neurotoxins in your brain.

EDIT: Adding a another link [3], with a great summary of how sleep works in your brain, and why sleep deprivation impacts your productivity so much (whether you *think* you have "special genetics" or not). Plus some tips on how to start to sleep better, although these are pretty obvious: light, time, melatonin).

[1] Neurocognitive consequences of sleep deprivation.
[2] Effects of sleep deprivation on cognition.
[3] The Guide to Overcoming Sleep Deprivation

Quora User
There are many thoughtful responses here already, so I'll just add a bit of anecdotal color based on personal experience as CEO of an eCommerce retailer generating $20mm+ in annual revenue.

As a direct response to the question being asked: generally, they don't; the question, however, seems to be flawed insofar as it assumes that CEOs regularly "function" (and presumably perform well) and get only 4-5 hours of sleep daily.

Normalizing for things like genetic predisposition for being able to function on less sleep (as if there were some objective measurement for functionality) and varying modes of cognitive bias (i.e. confirmation bias, outcome bias, et al.), medical research seems to suggest that there is:


No Direct Positive Correlation Between Lack of Sleep and Work Performance


Diligence, perseverance, and luck contribute to a CEO's ability to optimize functionality (as CEO) and her likelihood of success. There seems to be no data available to suggest that there is a positive correlation between said conditions and the degree of a CEO's "functionality" or performance; conversely, sleep deprivation may lead to issues:

"Insufficient sleep may not have led the news in reporting on serious  accidents in recent decades. However, that doesn't mean fatigue and  inattention due to sleep loss didn't play a role in these disasters. For  example, investigators have ruled that sleep deprivation was a  significant factor in the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, as  well as the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl...

In addition to the ties between such high-profile disasters and sleep  deprivation, there is a growing recognition of the link between lack of  sleep and medical errors in our hospitals."

Source: Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School (http://healthysleep.med.harvard....)

Now Go Get Some Sleep

This really has little or nothing to do with being a CEO, and everything to do with genetics. A very small percentage of the population is genetically programmed to need less sleep than average. These people are known as "short sleepers" or "hypo sleepers".

The fact that I need 3-4 hours less sleep a night than my wife is an inconvenience for a relationship, but certainly helpful in being an entrepreneur. It's as if I get an extra 1/3 of a day to work/play with, compared to most other people.

Here's a link to a report on an interesting study which describes people like me (and mentions the link to hypomania, which characterizes me and many other entrepreneurs): The secrets of short sleepers: How do they thrive on less sleep?
Top Stories