President’s Day Question: When Do Presidents Sleep? - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on February 18, 2013

President’s Day Question: When Do Presidents Sleep?

If you were lucky enough to enjoy a three-day weekend for President’s Day, you might have taken the opportunity to sleep in or treat yourself to an afternoon nap. Certainly it’s not something the actual resident of the White House had time to do.

In order to fully refresh your body physically, emotionally and intellectually, you need at least 7 hours of sleep a night. But if you think you’re too busy to get your seven hours, how do you think the pressurized Leader of the Free World is doing?

Historically, the answer is “not that well.” Not surprisingly, many of the nation’s former leaders experienced a variety of sleep issues. And as we honor our past leaders this weekend, let’s take a look at some of their interesting sleeping habits.

Let’s begin with the most common sleep behavior: snoring. It’s not surprising that numerous presidents kept their first lady up at night with vicious snoring. The first President of the United States, George Washington, was known to be a heavy snorer, as were John Quincy Adams, Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Ulysses Grant and numerous others.

Snoring can also be a sign of serious health issues related to breathing. Former presidents William Taft and Grover Cleveland both showed signs of sleep apnea, which means they often stopped breathing during the night ― sometimes for as long as one minute. The fact that Taft and Cleveland were the heaviest in presidential history is also not a coincidence, since obesity often goes hand-in-hand with sleep apnea. Taft’s sleep issues were so severe, he often fell asleep in the middle of the day (and you thought it was bad to fall asleep at your desk!).

Think that’s bad? John F. Kennedy, who shared a similar quirk, was a hypersomniac, which means he could fall asleep at any given moment, sometimes even mid-conversation!

But the daily stress of being president can also make sleeping through the night difficult, and many presidents were said to show signs of insomnia. During the Civil War, Abe Lincoln often kept his personal aides awake late into the night telling funny stories. Bill Clinton was also known for his inability to sleep, and to keep others awake as well.

So did any of the nation’s presidents ever get any rest?

Well, there is one. George W. Bush was well known for making sure he slept through the night, whether he went to bed early (like on the night of his inauguration) or with the help of sleep aids.

While some perceived this as a lack of concern for the issues facing the country, placing more emphasis on sleep isn’t exactly a selfish concept either. Bill Clinton, a self-proclaimed “functioning insomniac,” actually called out political figures for not getting enough sleep. After his presidency, he commented on the scary fact that so many of the politicians in Washington were basically walking zombies. Clinton remarked that lack of sleep not only dominated Congress, but also negatively impacted their ability to think clearly and decisively.

However you look at it, even the most important leaders are not exempt from the necessity of sleep. It’s a basic human function, and while you won’t be remembered in history books for falling asleep during meetings, you still want to make the most out of the days you are awake.

For more information, visit Crozer-Keystone’s website at Crozer-Keystone offers a multidisciplinary approach to the identification and treatment of all types of sleep disorders. CKHS also offers skilled care for pediatric sleep disorders through the Crozer-Keystone Pediatric Sleep Center at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. To make an appointment, visit our website or call 1-888-SLEEP-03 (1-888-753-3703)

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