The answer to this question sheds interesting light on the modern myth of the “genius short sleeper”. It is often claimed that Napoleon slept very little. Some say he slept only from 12 am to 2 am, when he woke up and worked, before returning to bed at 5 am and getting up for good at 7 am – a grand total of 4 hours sleep a night!
Though Napoleon left no direct account concerning his sleep, one of his most important aides – General Armand de Caulaincourt – stated: “The Emperor needed much sleep, but he slept when he wanted, during the day as well as at night.”
His private secretary, Louis Antoine Fauvelet De Bourrienne, is even clearer about his sleep habits: “If his enemies, by way of reproach, have attribute to him a serious periodical disease, his flatterers, probably under the idea that sleep is incompatible with greatness, have evinced an equal disregard of truth in speaking of his night-watching. Bonaparte made others watch, but he himself slept, and slept well. He in general slept seven hours out of the twenty-four, besides taking a short nap in the afternoon.”
So far from being a short sleeper, Napoleon was in fact disappointingly average in his sleep needs. Today, “the idea that sleep is incompatible with greatness” is still being perpetuated by those who wish to appear great. So it’s good to know that the great man himself needed a minimum of seven hours a night. Don’t settle for less yourself!
Dr. Neil Stanley
Dr Neil Stanley is an independent sleep expert who has been involved in research for over 35 years. After starting out at the R.A.F. Institute of Aviation Medicine, he moved on to the University of Surrey's Human Psychopharmacology Research Unit, where he was Director of Sleep Research. Today, he travels the world lecturing on various aspects of sleep to both healthcare professionals and the public at large.