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Sleep Deprived? It’s Thomas Edison’s Fault


Every innovation comes with a price, and not just the one on the sticker. Take the incandescent light bulb, for example. Its invention (by Thomas Edison, Joseph Swan, or at least 22 other folks, depending on whom you ask) allowed us to stay up till all hours of the day and night without burning the actual midnight oil. As a result, people did stay up — but often for work, not for fun.

Thomas Edison 

(Photo Credit: Cea./Flickr)

Thomas Edison might not hold the undisputed title as inventor of the light bulb, but Olga Khazan at The Atlantic reminds us that he did help invent the image of the successful entrepreneur as proudly sleep-deprived.

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Edison believed that staying awake would help him get a jump on the competition, both scientifically and economically. Not only did he sleep as little as four hours a day, but he also enforced sleeplessness among his employees, going so far as to hire workers to keep other workers awake.

“At first the boys had some difficulty in keeping awake, and would go to sleep under stairways and in corners,” Edison said, in an 1889 interview with Scientific American. “We employed watchers to bring them out, and in time they got used to it.”

Today, it seems that every profile of a CEO or entrepreneur includes an obligatory section about their early morning workout, generally followed by a reference to a late-night work session. Marissa Mayer famously worked 130-hour weeks at Google, and as CEO of Yahoo, sleeps only four to six hours per night. Martha Stewart sleeps less than four hours a night, and President Barack Obama gets less than six.

Of course, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. WebMD says that most adults should get at least seven to nine hours of sleep a night, with some requiring as little as six and others needing as much as 10 hours, in order to feel refreshed.

The long-term effects of sleep deprivation include reduced cognitive ability, memory, and alertness — in other words, exactly the opposite of what you need to be most productive.

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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