The 4-hour sleep schedule for highly effective and successful people


I sleep 8 hours a night.

How about you?

Sleep is contentious. Some brag about how little they sleep, others are called names for sleeping more. Grown-ups, teachers, employers, colleagues, friends… many of them have ideas about your sleeping habits (while being mobile screen and caffeine addicts themselves).

Then there is the whole morning vs. night people debate that I won’t mention further.

In short, sleep is a topic discussed to death; but I’ll steer clear of the most obvious sleep related issues and be as direct and pragmatic as I can be.

Executive Summary – 10 points for sleeping like a boss 

Going straight to the point, you should 1) admit sleep is important and take the following steps:, 2) calm down before going to bed, 3) avoid exposure to blue tinted screens before night-time, 4) sleep at regular hours, 5) in a cool and 6) dark room, possibly with 7) your feet outside the covers or the bed.

A few other tips include 8) keeping two sets of pillows going at all times, letting one set rest outside the bed to dry out and re-fluffify every other night, thus never using the same pillow two nights in a row. Similarly you should 9) hang your covers, rather than leave them on the bed during the day, and 10) pay attention to your caffeine habits (amount, timing and effect on your sleep).

This is how you should feel when waking up: 

Sleep with me

After my recent intimate posts on everyday happiness and re-charging, it’s time to go even further and get into bed with me… for a good night’s sleep.

Without sleeping well, you stand no chance at all of a happy, relaxed and healthy life, so this should in fact have been the first post in the series.


Disclaimer: If you want references, go somewhere else. This is ‘just’ my personal preferences and recollections of dozens upon dozens of science podcasts, articles and videos made into an actionable list for maximizing your quality sleep.

The 4-hour sleep myth

I have slept much less than 8 hours a night in my days, due to stress, external pressure (employers or girlfriends), (extended) office hours, blind ambition and naïveté, not to mention stories about presidents and money men not just getting by but excelling on 4 hours per night or less.

At its worst I was analyzing and programming over 100 hours a week, often sleeping at the office, and still finding time for alcohol. That left just 4 hours a night for bed. I was on the brink of breaking down and I’ve only just about recovered now, 20 years later.

Eventually I realized, it’s not the important and effective people that minimize sleep. It’s the other way round. If your work is menial, it’s okay to do it for many hours a day and with a chronic sleep deficit. It’s like working drunk (here are the first references I found on Google), but if you’re only an ‘errand boy‘ anyway it doesn’t matter (article about me by Mike Cernovich – author of Gorilla Mindset).

On the other hand, if you carry real responsibility your paramount priority is being rested, relaxed, absolutely not stressed, and thus prepared for whatever happens.

Society might force you to occasionally sleep less than you need, but you shouldn’t exacerbate and prolong the problem by actually believing the 4-hour hype.

Sure, whore out, force yourself through it, impress whoever needs impressing, use caffeine and alcohol to keep going. But, always remember, you are working below capacity if sleep-deprived, and you should strive for normalization as soon as possible, after you’ve kick-started your career or whatever you’re doing.

Most research and articles on sleep you’ll come across are flawed, simply because most sleep research used to be based on self reported numbers. Sometimes too high, sometimes to low, sometimes an irrelevant average, never adapted to your individual situation.


Why you should let sleep run its course

You need as much sleep as you need.

-yes, if I can use a tautology I will, and this is one of the best opportunities.

You can’t base your sleeping habits off of other people, not even me or president Bill Clinton (who started sleeping less after hearing successful people did that… and then he had to have heart surgery in his 50s).

Here, WebMD chimes in regarding 7 sleep myths, including the 8-hour and 4-hour myths.

Sleep deprivation has adverse effects on your immune system, general inflammatory status, memory formation, creativity, short and long term intelligence, decision making, willpower, eating habits (cravings), happiness, as well as possibly means bad news for your risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

This year’s Nobel Prize winner Aziz Sancar has showed that the circadian rhythm is closely linked to the DNA repair system. If it’s frequently manipulated (coffee, alarm clocks, jet lag?) or disrupted, DNA errors might multiply and cause, e.g., cancer. The DNA-repair activity is at its highest in the morning, and coincides with a spike in the cortisol level which makes you naturally alert and awake the first 1-2 hours of the day.

As Dr Kirk Parsley puts it: Every indication, every metric has a pathway through sleep

So, sleep as much as you need, no more, no less (more has been linked to disease and early death, even if the direction of causality is debated to say the least). However, who in their right mind would even attempt to sleep more than needed. Who has the time to begin with (except yours retarded truly)?

Our 12 hour sleep schedule origins

Dr Parsley, above, also pointed out (just as Jessa Gamble and others) that early retirees that can craft their lives, and sleep, to their liking, sometimes fall back to the sleep habits of 150+ years ago: Before the invention of the electric light, humans spent around 10-12 hours a night in bed, consisting of 4 hours of sleep, followed by several hours of calm contemplation, and then another 4 hours of sleep.

If you’re one of the few lucky ones getting so much sleep this happens to you, use those inter-sleep hours for red light reading, mobility exercises, meditation or similar toned down activities. Thus, better sleep will lead to better mental health and mobility and yet better sleep, in a highly beneficial self-reinforcing feedback loop. 


Warning signs of too little sleep

How do you know if you sleep to little?

As long as you are not medication, travelling heavily, drinking alcohol regularly, doing exciting stuff or watching TV, mobile or computer screens right before going to bed, or are a large caffeine consumer you should be able to quite easily gauge your sleep needs. Below are just a few heuristics regarding sleep deficits.

  1. If you need an alarm clock to get up on time, you’re sleeping too little
  2. If you fall asleep almost before laying down your head, you’re sleeping too little
  3. If you wake up in the middle of the night, it might just be natural for you. Humans may not be made for just one sleep episode per night as Jessa Gamble explains in this 4 minute TED presentation (8 straight hours work very well for me though).
  4. If you’ve tried forcing yourself into (for you) obviously unnatural sleeping habits, such as Kramer-Da Vinci-sleep, you should just let yourself slip back to your natural pattern.
  5. If you’re not a high volume training athlete, a 7-sigma intellectual anomaly, or recovering from a severe injury, and spend more then 10 hours sleeping or in a semi-comatose condition per day, you probably should check yourself.


The sleep check list

-how to optimize the  length and quality of your sleep

  1. Go to bed at as regular hours as possible. If I’m not out partying, I turn off the lights at midnight every night, which means I wake up without an alarm clock between 7:30 and 8 am when I’ve slept enough.
  2. Spend as much time as possible outside during the day. The vitamin D-serotonin-melatonin cycle runs on sunlight. Sunlight also synchronizes your circadian rhythm, making nr 1, above, easier
  3. Daytime naps: I like them. But, don’t overdo it, if that disrupts your total amount of sleep. Change your eating habits if you all too predictably nap after eating high GI carbs
  4. No cellphones! Watch (i.e. don’t watch) your screen time habits. Avoid blue tinted TV, computer and cellphone screens at least half an hour before going to sleep. Some (weirdos) put on orange glasses a few hours before closing their eyes for the night.
  5. Keep your bedroom cool, which simulates night time
    1. in particular the feet; I sleep with my feet outside the covers and outside the bed
  6. Keep your bedroom dark, which simulates night time. Even the weakest tiniest light source on your skin (not the eyes) can affect your sleep negatively
  7. Take care of your body: walk, work out, work on your mobility, drink fish oil, eat vitamin-D supplements. If you’re healthy you’ll sleep better (better posture, more relaxed, less imbalances), and if you sleep better it’s easier to stay healthy (more sleep means more testosterone in men, more willpower during the day, better eating and training habits)
  8. Don’t have coffee first thing in the morning – wait an hour or two for the most effective and least addictive caffeine response. In addition you minimize the disturbance of circadian related DNA-repair and risk of cancer. Read more about the chronopharmacological facts about caffeine here.
    1. I limit my coffee intake to a cup every second day, which I have after my morning walk with the dog, i.e., some 90-120 minutes after waking up. Then I head for the gym.
    2. In addition, it’s advised not to drink coffee too late in the day. That, however, depends on so many things (e.g., are you a fast metabolizer? Does caffeine affect your sleep at all? More here about coffee and your body), you’ll just have to do your own experimenting.
  9. Dry and fluffy pillows and covers (don’t make the bed, hang the covers during the day to make it fluffy and dry; keep extra pillows resting on the side and switch every other night, i.e., never use the same pillow two nights in a row)
    1. The reason for “all this” – which by the way takes less effort than, e.g., making your bed everyday or just keeping one set of pillows going (just wash the pillow cases after the same amount of nights slept on) – is that dry and fluffy pillows give transport air better and give you the support they were intended to do as new.
    2. Another way of selling the idea to you is that it feels like coming to a hotel with fresh pillows every night
  10. Use a sufficiently hard mattress (I need a lot of stability at my weight (200+ lbs) to keep my posture correct when sleeping)
  11. Get out of the bed if you can’t sleep within 30 minutes (first try a cooler or warmer room, changing direction in the bed or some (dimmed light, red light) reading
  12. Got milk? If you can’t sleep, try some warm milk: the tryptophane effect is debated, but the taste might have a familiar, nursing and comforting effect
  13. Meditate – just focus on your breathing, nothing fancy or cumbersome, slowly in, slowly out, just focus on the process of breathing, nothing more. Check out my post on meditation for newbies here.
  14. De-stress, write (to do later or not to do) lists to get whatever is on them off your mind (see my next post on ‘stress’)
  15. Sleep on your side to clear waste from the brain (that could increase the risk of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s) and avoid mobility issues
  16. Avoid alarm clocks for getting up; wake up naturally if possible. Set the alarm at the latest possible time you have to get up without rushing too much. Get to bed early enough (and the same time every night) to wake up before the alarm – at least 4 days out of 5.
  17. Get up (immediately) when you wake up. Fool yourself into doing just one little thing before climbing back into bed (but by then you see no point in going back). I usually urinate and then brush my teeth. It helps knowing i can go back if I want to. It also helps knowing I’ve had my 8 hours and don’t need more.
  18. Experiment to find your own techniques for going to sleep when you can’t; become cold, then warm again, drink warm milk, get up, read a little more, pet something (triggers oxytocine release), change pillows, rooms or sleep direction.

Got milk?

I can think of at least one other thing than tryptophane to help me fall asleep



Are you kidding me? The list is in the executive summary and in the body of the article. You want it again?!

You may get it again if you sign up for my newsletter or leave an online review of my book The Retarded Hedge Fund Manager somewhere on the internet and tell me about it.

Please, please do the latter. Write a review and tell me about it.

OK,… again: Inadequate sleep leads to impaired decision making, poor health (including cancer) and unhappiness, among other things. And the remedy is easy and delightful; just let nature run its course, sleep when you’re tired and wake up without alarm clocks.


P.S. I don’t want anybody sick or tired at my workplace. I’ll send you home. Drunk is okay though.

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25 Replies to “The 4-hour sleep schedule for highly effective and successful people”

    1. (un)fortunately I don’t know anything about snoring.

      The little I know about it first hand is that if I’m utterly exhausted and/or really drunk, I tend to roll over and sleep on my back. Then I snore.

      I don’t as long as I stay in a side position (which I do when normally tired and sober or reasonably sober)

  1. Good stuff.

    It feels ridiculous to me how much people underestimate the importance of sleep nowadays.

    I have experimented with sleeping patterns quite extensively and I have come to the following conclusion:

    Sleep is the best cure for any problem you might encounter.

    I just can’t recall the countless times I have been in the midst of a creative block or I was facing an emotional rollercoaster and decided to stop whatever I was doing, take a good 7-8 hour sleep and the moment I woke up I was ready to face my challenge from a fresh perspective.

    There is nothing worst for your brain than underestimating its capacity and processing power. The way you would reboot your computer, when you experience lagging, the same way you should reboot your brain when you see that it fails you.

    1. Hi Andrian. Thanks for sticking around.

      I think people often know that sleep is important, but still keep watching screens, drinking coffee late in the day etc., and then complain about not falling asleep right when they want to.

  2. Great article on sleep. The suggestion on the 2 pillows was pretty clever.

    Lol at the video, great one!

    Regarding coffee, I second that. I used to drink it first thing in the morning. Now, I switched it to 60-70 minutes after waking up and after some walking. Much better results.

    Looking forward to the next one

  3. How do you reset your circadian rhythm to make you wake up at certain hours naturally without an alarm? I like the silentness of the mornings and I’m not a huge evening fan either.

    1. Also. I use your technique about ‘cooling down’ one hour before I go to bed. At 9pm I start cooling down, which means no laptop, no phone (or very very low brightness) and no tv. Just me, a book and some food to get those extra calories.

      Tip: Install Flux on your laptop and smartphone. It’s amazing!

      1. I’ve got Flux. Intrepid also recommended Redshift but I haven’t tried that one.

        These things (cooling down, taking care to sleep properly) are important but most people would rather complain every day that they have trouble sleeping than cut down on coffee or on cell phone use in bed…

    2. I have no idea. I just find that I typically sleep 8 hours. That means that if I turn off the light around midnight, I will wake up around 8 am. I do have an emergency alarm set for 9 anyway, but it never goes off.

  4. Hi, people in the past didnt use to sleep on such a soft surfaces as modern matress (i guess). I think that if that is what human body is used to handle, modern mattresses could possibly be harmful for you ? Do u happen to know something about that topic?

    1. Unfortunately I don’t have anything for you. I put cardboard under my sleeping mattress (the thinner upper mattress on top of the spring mattress) to make it more rigid. On the one hand I agree with you. On the other, modern humans are very healthy into their 80s despite sleeping on soft mattresses all their life, as opposed to people sleeping in the streets.

  5. Great tips, Mikael.

    Here’s my two cents:

    I used to sleep 8 hours. After a few tests this year, I found that I usually need 9. When I sleep NINE hours, I train better and I feel better. My health is in an all-time high. This is after wasting years trying to sleep 7 hours for some stupid reason.

    I sometimes use a red lamp to sleep. I just put a red light-bulb on a lamp and I sleep with it on all night. I found that I sometimes have a much deeper sleep.

    I also have my windows completely covered with a custom “black-plastic-thing” that acts as a curtain. So the room is pitch black. I also covered the display and/or lights of the air conditioner and even a charger that sits on a shelf.

    Thanks for the article. Have a great day.

    1. Now THAT’s a pro!

      I’ve tried various contraptions for my windows too, but never quite managed to find a perfect solution.

  6. As someone with a terrible sleeping pattern I can attest to this. If I don’t get 6.5-7 hours of sleep I am markedly less productive.

    Instead of orange glasses, look for a program called flux or redshift, it will make your screen more red and a little dimmer at night automatically. I get at least 30 mins more good sleep every night since I started using this and feel a lot better for it.

    1. Another thing I would note: invest in a sleep tracker which measures REM, light and deep sleep. Jawbone’s up3 and the Basis Peak come to mind but there are others.

      These will help you to understand your natural sleep cycle, which in turn allows you to sleep more optimally (for me, I find that sleeping around 1am-8am is better than 11am-6am both in terms of measurable energy and in terms of the consistency of sleep cycles).

      1. I recently saw a “buzzfeed” on successful people’s sleep patterns. Self reported of course which make them unreliable. Anyway, I guess those guys had all the chances in the world to find their own natural patterns and they were indeed quite different. One thing was quite similar though. They all slept approximatekly 7 +/-1 hours a night.

  7. Sweet summary!

    This reminds me of when I did Everyman-4 schedule (4 hours sleep total, with variations of napping) about 1,5 years ago. It was very challenging to adapt to it, but I did (after about 2-3 weeks).

    I found it was possible to go by on 4 hours of “sleep”. But I couldn’t go to the gym and lift weights. So I stopped after a few months.

    1. I can see how that would be a deal breaker. One of the reasons for freeing extra hours would be to use them for exercising I guess.

  8. Hey Mikael,

    I think a lot of people like to overstate how many hours they work and how hard their “hustle” is. I get it though. Look at people like Gary V. He just gives that audience what they wanna hear.

    Bottom line though, yeah sleep is important.

  9. Thank a lot.

    Yeras ago,my father is suffering from heart disease (high arterial tension) and he used to take drugs to sleep. Last month he started drinking one cup of warm milk before going to bed till now. The good news is that, he can naturally go to bed and sleep. He sleeps better and it last more than before.

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