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Sleep Is the New Status Symbol
For Successful Entrepreneurs
By NANCY JEFFREY
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Jeff Bezos is a man to be envied.
His Amazon.com has revolutionized online shopping and made him an icon for brash, young Internet entrepreneurs. And, of course, Mr. Bezos, chief executive of the company, is very, very rich.
But here’s the real sign that he’s made it: Mr. Bezos, 35 years old, gets eight hours of sleep a night.
A restful, rejuvenating, even luxurious, eight solid hours of sleep a night.
“I’m more alert and I think more clearly” as a result, Mr. Bezos says. “I just feel so much better all day long if I’ve had eight hours.”
It’s official. Sleep, that rare commodity in stressed-out America, is the new status symbol. Once derided as a wimpish failing — the same 1980s overachievers who cried “Lunch is for Losers” also believed “Sleep is for Suckers” — slumber is now being touted as the restorative companion to the creative executive mind.
Business superstars-of-the-moment like Mr. Bezos and Netscape Communications Corp. co-founder Marc Andreesen, who likes at least eight hours of sleep a night, are a world away from the vintage workaholism of a Michael Milken or the nonstop deal-making and partying of a Donald Trump, who used to brag about indulging in only a few hours of nightly downtime. Now, sleep is a perk of the truly successful, a privilege of membership in that elite stratosphere of people secure in the knowledge that the show can’t start until they arrive.
In the very early days of his career at Netscape, Mr. Andreesen, 27, used to get up around 7 a.m. and work as late as 4 a.m. the next night. “I would spend the whole day wishing I could go home and go back to bed,” he says. Now new chief technology officer at America Online, which recently purchased Netscape, Mr. Andreesen has learned his sleep-performance ratio like a computer algorithm: “I can get by on 7 1/2 without too much trouble. Seven and I start to degrade. Six is suboptimal. Five is a big problem. Four means I’m a zombie.” And, on weekends, he indulges in 12-plus hours of sleep. “It makes a big difference in my ability to function.”
The refreshed executive comes in striking contrast to the rest of exhausted America.
During the past three decades, Americans have put in longer hours at the office and packed ever more into their pre-bedtime hours: working at home on lapt-op computers, surfing the Internet and e-mailing friends, flipping among ever-expanding choices on television.
The result: Nearly two-thirds of adults get fewer than the eight hours of sleep a night during the week that the average American adult requires, compared with fewer than half of Americans in 1960, according to the National Sleep Foundation, Washington, D.C. And nearly one-third of Americans make due with 6 1/2 hours or fewer a night during the work week.
Yawning Through Life
The upshot of this mass sleep deprivation? Many Americans are yawning their way through life. According to the foundation, about 62% of adults have driven while drowsy during the past year and 27% have, alarmingly, dozed off behind the wheel. About 40% of adults are so sleepy during the day that it interferes with their jobs, family duties and other daily activities.
But not people like Judith Curr, the Australian-born publishing executive and newly named president of the Pocket Books division of Simon & Schuster Inc. When she came to New York from Down Under in 1996 and was determined to have breakfast, lunch and dinner with everyone in the publishing world, she used to scrape by on six hours of sleep.
Today, Ms. Curr luxuriates in as much as 8 1/2 hours a night. “It’s very much part of my agenda to get enough sleep now that I’m more in control of things,” she says.
Think of it as the chaste form of sleeping your way to the top. Sleeping a lot never paid off in the old days of the “organization man,” when moving up the corporate ladder meant working longer and staying later than your co-workers. But in today’s high-tech, information-driven economy, the fresher, more creative mind often wins the day.
Richard Edelman, 44, whose Edelman Public Relations Worldwide has 1,600 employees, prides himself on getting seven to eight hours of nightly sleep. “If I’m pitching a story” to a reporter, “I’ve got 30 seconds to sell it or not sell it,” says Mr. Edelman, president and chief executive. “If I sound like I’m dragging, I’m going to bore you.”
Adds Ms. Curr: “It’s about what you do when you are awake that counts, not how long you are awake.”
Another reason so many t-op executives are getting more sleep: because they can. The surest way to set your own hours has always been to become the boss, but the huge proliferation of start-up companies and venture-funded entrepreneurs means there are a lot more bosses out there. At large companies, the ascent of telecommuting, flex time and team-based management is making it easier for people to come in later and cut out earlier — especially t-op executives who can delegate their work to people lower down in the ranks.
Sleep As Escape
Other executives argue that sleep is the best, even only, escape they can get from the escalating demands of work. “Technological change — e-mail, voice mail, intranets, the Web, handhelds, notebooks, etc. — has made the 24-hour workday possible,” says Mr. Andreesen. “It is very important that the work culture of the future includes the ability to not work for a certain number of hours per day, or we are all going to burn out,” he says.
Of course, it’s awfully easy for the super-rich to advocate more rest when they’re already napping in the lap of luxury. But not every affluent executive is tossing out the No-Doz. Mr. Milken, that symbol of 1980s success (and excess), was famous for sleeping only about four hours a night. These days? “He sleeps as little as he always did,” says an associate of Mr. Milken, who has focused his energy in recent years on raising money for research on prostate cancer.
Another 1980s power player, Mr. Trump, says he is still megadealing — and megapartying — on three to four hours of sleep a night. Although he primarily credits his intelligence for his success, he believes his ability to get by on only a few hours’ sleep gives him an edge. People who need 10 or more hours of sleep “are at a major disadvantage,” he insists. Sleeping less “gives me more time to have fun, such as having a beautiful girlfriend,” says Mr. Trump.
Indeed, even some of the new sleep poster-CEOs say they sometimes envy those who can comfortably get by on less. Netscape co-founder Mr. Andreesen, for example, speaks admiringly of a friend who could go several days without sleep. “He consumed huge quantities of Mountain Dew and Skittles to keep going between sleeping periods,” Mr. Andreesen says. “But he had a lot more time to get things done.”
Still, in the therapy-immersed, self-indulgent 1990s, many people have come to value taking care of their bodies as much as getting a lot done. Snapple king Michael Weinstein, for instance, boasts that he not only gets seven to eight hours of sleep but often also manages to squeeze in two half-hour exercise sessions a day. “There’s no reason I have to get less sleep than what my body needs,” explains Mr. Weinstein, 50, chief of Triarc Beverage Group. He says nodding off at night is something he has learned to “look forward” to over the years.
Trendy management and self-help gurus are also urging people to “balance” work and family, job and leisure. Amazon’s Mr. Bezos, for example, generally doesn’t schedule early-morning meetings so that he can enjoy a leisurely breakfast with his wife. “I wanted her to get the best hours of my day,” he says. And some executives say they started trying to sleep more after they had children.
Other people have simply come to terms with their bodies’ limits. As recently as a few years ago, David V. Johnson, chairman of real-estate developer Victor International Corp., was averaging four hours of sleep a night. Now, he gets six to seven.
“In the early days, I was trying to prove to everybody and to myself what I could do,” says Mr. Johnson, 49. “Now, I have learned to respect my limitations. We don’t do all-nighters anymore.”
Madison Avenue Tags Along
Even Madison Avenue is spreading the gospel of well-restedness. A current television commercial for the Acura Integra opens with a young executive oversleeping while his colleagues fume, waiting impatiently for him in the boardroom. When he finally arrives at work, he orders an older executive out of the chairman’s seat and starts the meeting.
“The days of the boss showing up at 6:30 a.m. and going home at 8 p.m. … That’s really passe,” says Michael R. Bonsignore, Honeywell Inc. chairman and CEO.
“The old macho idea of ‘I work, work, work and I don’t sleep’ is saying the organization is everything and I’m nothing,” says Kevin Cashman, head of LeaderSource, an executive coaching firm based in Minneapolis. CEOs aren’t simply sleeping to be happy, he says, they’re doing it because it works. “The more balanced and rested and resilient you are, the more you are going to produce.”
Will the indulgence of the rested elite ever trickle down to the weary masses? Experts predict that, just as exercise-and-nutrition fervor started among the affluent, so will the zest for sleep. “They are the icons … the ones who set the styles,” says Thomas Roth, head of sleep medicine at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Their healthy sleep habits “could destroy that image that to be successful, you have to be sleep-deprived.”
Robin Miklatek begs to differ. The 40-year-old U.S. benefits director for Avon Products Inc. endures a few sleepless nights a month because of business concerns. CEOs, she says, get a good night’s sleep “because they have a great support staff getting the work done.”
Consider Bob Ambrose. The 51-year-old group vice president of Edelman Public Relations, and assistant to Mr. Edelman, says he rises at 3 a.m. every day so he can get to the office at 5:30 a.m. to read newspapers for his boss and answer dozens of e-mail messages from Europe and Asia. He believes he deserves at least some of the credit for Mr. Edelman’s peaceful nights. “Because I’m here,” he says, ” I can take some of the pressure off.”