In recent times, there has been a lot of buzz about the so called “Sleep Revolution”. Arianna Huffington recently went on a book tour promoting her book, “The Sleep Revolution” and sleep has become one of the central themes of the Huffington Post, with many posts being published on the subject. In fact, an entire blog dedicated to sleep and wellness which talks about things as varied as “What Your Sleeping Position Says About You” to “The Surprising Way Sleep makes You a Better Boss”. There are even sleep coaches now propounding various sleep hacks. The Sleep Revolution urges us all to get the ‘required’ amount of 7-9 hours of sleep a night. The movement cites the proven benefits of sleep and the effects of its deprivation in its mission to increase the amount of sleep that people get.
Proper sleep has been shown to reduce one’s risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease as well as increase mood and cognitive function. Sleep deprivation increases one’s risk for chronic diseases and reduces mood and cognitive function. The message seems clear, we have to sleep more. Proponents of the sleep revolution tells us that sleep deprivation will reduce one’s performance and energy, ultimately limiting the success he or she can attain. However, reality is not quite so simple and it is very hard to get unparalleled success and happiness if you follow the teachings of the sleep revolution.
If you look at great people throughout history, most sleep less than the so called ‘required’ amount of 7-8 hours, with many getting between 4-6 hours. Thomas Edison, one of the most prolific inventors ever with 2332 patents worldwide including the lightbulb and the phonograph, only got 3-4 hours of sleep a night. He was quoted as saying that sleep is “a heritage from our cave days.” Bollywood legend Shah Rukh Khan, a superstar of our time, sleeps 4 hours a night. He is renowned in the Bollywood industry for his near unlimited energy and charisma. Even Benjamin Franklin, the American legend and founding father who said, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”, slept 5 hours a night.
All these people are renowned for their creativity and energy. These people and others like them have continuously enthralled us and changed the world through their ideas. To get to this level, they had to do a lot of work and this would have been impossible if they were sleeping any more than they did. If they sleep so little and work so much, how come they churned out brilliance continuously? According to the sleep revolution, they would never have been so successful for so long if they had this sort of sleep cycle. The simple answer is that their energy came from a different place, a place of passion and possibility
There are many functions of sleep, but one of the main ones is to replenish the physical and mental energy that one has used throughout the day. Most people do not have a real burning purpose that drives them. They just have something which pays the bills. They live a monotonous life. They wake up, go to work, go back home, watch some TV and go to sleep. This process is rinsed and repeated for years. Most people are just living the same day over and over again. There is no real driving force pushing them to greatness. They do what they have to do and struggle to summon the necessary mental and physical energy. The monotonousness of their lives drains their physical and mental stores. This is why 76% of workers report feeling very tired many days of the week.
However, when you are possessed by a dream or an idea, energy comes from a different place and you automatically require less sleep. In fact, great people are so passionate about their goals, that it can be said that they are driven by their dream to sleep so little. Their love for their work keeps them awake. The immense energy required to do extraordinary things comes effortlessly. No strain is made on your mental and physical reserves. The energy comes from a divine source and consequently, the work that is done has a divine quality to it.
In order to attain this state where you can work with unlimited energy, your work must become like oxygen to you. It must become something which you need to live. You simply must be that passionate about it. This is perfectly expressed in a story about Socrates, one of the greatest thinkers ever.
A young man once came to Socrates and said, “I want to attain knowledge just like you. Tell me how to do it.” Socrates said, “Okay, I will teach you my secrets, but first come to the river bank with me.” Once they reached there, Socrates asked the young man to look at his reflection in the river. As the young man looked into the river, Socrates grabbed his head and held it underwater. The youth flailed about desperately for air until Socrates finally let him go. The young man was furious and demanded Socrates to explain his actions. Socrates asked him very calmly, “What was it that you wanted most while you were underwater?” The young man said, sounding rather incensed, “What do you mean you fool? I wanted air.” Socrates just smiled and said, “That is the secret of knowledge. When you want knowledge just as much as you wanted air just now, you shall attain it.”
The point of this story is clear, if you want something that is truly worth having, you have to desire it with all your being. When you reach this point, you no longer do things. Rather, things flow through you. You do not dream about things, your very life becomes the dream. It is only people who desire at this level who achieve unparalleled success and happiness. When you are at this level of desire for something, it is only natural to work continuously for it, even at the expense of sleep. However, work done out of passion will not drain your energy. In fact, it will increase your mental and physical energy. The necessary energy for your work will come from a divine source. The great former president of India APJ Abdul Kalam once said, “Dreams are not that which you see in sleep, they are what don’t let you sleep.”
In this state of desire, it is easy to work beyond so called ‘normal’ limits. You have to let the energy of this state flow. It is foolish to limit it in the name of health and getting enough sleep. This energy is what allows great people to produce consistently great results day after day. If you followed the sleep revolution, you would lose a lot of valuable time that could be used to attain your goals.
Also, when you desire something to the point that it possesses you, the best possible work is the inevitable conclusion. Most people run out of energy before they can do enough work to really bring out their best performance. The greatest people have so much energy that it looks like they are never tired. They can work for hours on end and lose track of time, entering a state of flow at will.
Flow is defined as a state of peak engagement with an activity. When one is in this state, energy comes from a divine source and great things are done with ease. Great people have the ability to work through the night and still have awesome energy because they are in a state of continual flow as they work. In a state of flow, you have near unlimited energy and everything seems to come to you at ease. Athletes produce beautiful performances and artists can work for hours on end and never notice. If you have ever lost track of time and gotten lost in your work, then you know that it is the right job for you. If this happens to take place in the night time and you lose sleep over it, then you are going to become a great man in your field.
Ultimately, what success comes down to is desire. If you want success, it cannot be a simple wish or want, it has to be a need. One can achieve good results by simply wanting success, but to reach the upper echelons of humanity, one has to need success like he needs food and water. If this need is there, then you will automatically be driven to the goal and sleep will become almost unnecessary. You will need the bare minimum of sleep and in fact, you will want the bare minimum. Most people would rather sleep than work. They see sleep as an escape from their mundane lives. Truly great people love their work so much that they would rather work than sleep. Which are you?