The Fallacy of Four Hours of Sleep

September 14, 2018 Scott Miller


For some reason, it seems like most high achievers declare they need the same amount of sleep: a measly four hours.

I’m not impressed. Rather I’m suspicious: do they also take four breaths per minute? Do they only eat 300 calories a day? Do they bathe twice a week?

Somehow it became a badge of honor to cheat ourselves from one of the most vital parts of caring for our brains, and thus our bodies, our careers, and our lives.

About ten years ago I met, and have since become friends with, one of the world’s most renowned neuroscientists, Dr. Daniel Amen. Dr. Amen is a double board-certified psychiatrist, brain-imaging expert, bestselling author of more than 20 books, and founder of the famed Amen clinics (visit if you have family or friends that need any help).

After a career of meeting dozens of them, I’m not easily impressed with “celebrities,” but Daniel is the real deal. He evangelizes that the brain is the only organ that we tend to guess about. We obsess over our hearts, lungs, skin, etc., but the brain is largely left unaddressed, even though it is the center of our bodies and lives.

Dr. Amen is unrelenting about the value of sleep. I’ve also come to appreciate that it’s perhaps the most important investment you can make in your brain health. Sleeping is absolutely imperative to “washing your brain clean.” Just as we plug our phones in each night to charge the battery, you must do the exact opposite with your brain. To recharge your brain, you must unplug it—for seven hours a night, on average.

Not only do I admit it, but I state with pride that I need a minimum of seven hours of sleep to optimize my daily life. I’ve always been an early riser, and similarly I’m in bed by 9:30 p.m. and asleep by 10:00 p.m. This is the most predictable part of my life: 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. gives me seven hours, every day of the week. I’d argue to anyone that my productivity is just as high as—maybe even higher than—those operating on four hours, because my stamina during my waking hours is nearly indefatigable (many find it annoying).

I can’t help those who have trouble sleeping (Dr. Amen can), but FranklinCovey’s book The 5 Choices offers some valuable and actionable tips, many of which I’ve also adopted (creating bedtime rituals, timing your caffeine and food consumption, lighting, etc.). Don’t diminish the importance of setting the right conditions for sleep; they’re vital contributors for many of us.

Learn what your brain needs. Resist any influence or shame from those who talk about how little sleep they get. I fear they are cheating themselves…and if they’re leaders, they are likely cheating their teams, as well.


Invest your time, attention, and energy on your highest priorities. Register to attend a complimentary 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity webcast to learn how.

About the Author

Scott Miller

Scott J. Miller is Executive Vice President of Business Development and Chief Marketing Officer for FranklinCovey. Scott has been with the company for 20 years, and previously served as Vice President of Business Development and Marketing. His role as EVP and Chief Marketing Officer caps 12 years on the front line, working with thousands of client facilitators across many markets and countries.

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