Barack Obama is touring India. He is quoted in the Indian press as stating “(PM Modi) was explaining to me today that how he got only three hours sleep, which made me feel bad. I was doing ok with five. What I didn’t know was that he survived an attack by a crocodile. So he is tough and he also has style,”
Obama has form when it comes to failure to understand the consequence of sleep loss. Again, the idea of the less sleep you have, the tougher (? and better) leader you become raises its sleepy head. Perhaps on the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s death, this phenomenon of oligosomnophilia (admiration of little sleep) relates to the view that powerful leaders like Churchill needed little sleep. This is another myth – the memoirs of Pamela Harriman, Churchill’s then daughter-in-law, clearly described a disorganised sleep schedule but one where he probably was obtaining 7-8 hours sleep in the 24 hour period. He was a great napper (and snorer). This is recounted in her biography “Life of the Party”.
I somehow doubt Modi gets by on 3 hours sleep per night – like most world leaders he catches up by naps while being transported by road or air or at other times. Most leaders will have worked out that their ability to be verbally quick on their feet is impaired by sleep loss….even if like Obama, you have the latest in tele-prompters. Yes, even with sleep loss, you could acutely drum up the cognitive and physical reserves to fight off an attacking crocodile but with severe sleep loss, it would be a lot harder for politicians to manage a chronic battle with the crocodiles of the press and politics.
Professor Ron Grunstein is a Sleep Disorder Specialist based in Sydney, who consults at the Woolcock Clinic and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and undertakes research at the Woolcock Institute, University of Sydney.