Tim Ferriss: If You Have to Cut Your Sleep to Be Effective, Your Priorities Are Out of Order

You can train yourself to sleep less. But the bestselling author and productivity expert thinks you shouldn't.

learn more about Stephen J. Bronner

By Stephen J. Bronner


What if you only slept four hours a night? It's an intriguing idea. It could give you an edge, adding hours to your day, giving you a chance to work while your competitors slept.

But is it worth trying? To find out, Entrepreneur spoke with Tim Ferriss, the bestselling author of books such as The 4-Hour Body and the The 4-Hour Workweek. The busy podcast host and productivity expert shared his thoughts on sleep training and the limits of carving more time from our sleep schedules. He also shares his personal sleep routine -- and why he makes time for a 90-minute nap.

Related: Do You Sleep More Than Elon Musk, Mark Cuban, Sheryl Sandberg and Other Leaders?

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

You say you can train yourself to fear less, but can you train yourself to sleep less?

There are people who practice what is called polyphasic sleep, and that refers to taking what you typically consider monophasic sleep, in other words one block of sleep from, say, 11 p.m. to 8 a.m., and breaking it up into fragments throughout the day, which allows you to sustain yourself on a lower total amount of sleep.

Some people have gone as low as say two to two and half hours of sleep a day for six months, 12 months. The CEO of Automattic, considered the developer of Wordpress in the early days, which now powers 25, 27 percent of the entire internet, created the majority of his code base in one year while using polyphasic sleep. Now if you ask him why he stopped, his answer is he got a girlfriend. It is extremely [unsociable] and requires napping throughout the day.

Related: Tim Ferriss's 7-Step Checklist for Overcoming Fear

So, can anyone train themselves to sleep this way?

The short answer is yes, you can train yourself. Will the benefits outweigh the downsides? That's a separate question. But there are some people like Amelia Boone, a four-time world champion in the World's Toughest Mudder and Spartan Race and so on, she only needs four hours sleep a night. That's it. It's hard for her to sleep, say, six hours.

This reflects an underlying superiority of recovery systems. But a normal, a muggle, is not going to train themselves to do that for a decade straight. I don't think that's reasonable and almost certainly unsafe. You can train yourself certainly quite a bit and improve your biology, but you are ultimately going to have some type of baseline that you're working with. You know, maybe you're the Homer Simpson of sleep or maybe you're the Michael Jordan of sleep. I don't know. Most people will be somewhere in the middle.

Related: 5 Ways to Get Better Sleep Without Sleeping More Hours

How many hours of sleep are you currently getting on average?

I will get eight to nine and a half, but it could be split. For instance, today I got seven and a half hours sleep at night, and I will do my best, although I am not always consistent, to get 90 minutes of some form of nap later this afternoon. That is what some people would consider one ultradian cycle, 90 minutes. I find that to work very well. I'm also on book deadline at the moment, so things are a little more unusual.

Not sleeping, especially in a startup environment, is a sort of badge of honor. What do you think about that?

Generally speaking, if you feel like you have to cut down on sleep to get done what you need to get done, it's not that you don't have the time, you don't have clear enough priorities.

Stephen J. Bronner

Entrepreneur Staff

News Director

Stephen J. Bronner writes mostly about packaged foods. His weekly column is The Digest. He is very much on top of his email.

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