Sleep Facts About the U.S. Presidents

mt rushmore with sleeping presidents

Being the President is exhausting work. It demands constant decisiveness and alertness. So naturally, the sad irony of the job is the lack of restorative sleep it allows. Most remained sleepless in Washington. Each of America’s presidents has had their own quirky relationship with the night, and in honor of President’s Day, those of us at Sleep Outfitters spent some time researching the bedtime habits of those who’ve held the highest office in the land. Starting at the very beginning…

1. George Washington (1789-1797)

Though he never made it to the White House himself, dying before its completion, “George Washington Slept Here” became a bit of a national motif, as many businesses and residences looked to cash in on his nightly stops. It even inspired a film.

2. John Adams (1797-1801)

John Adams and Benjamin Franklin once were forced to share a bed on their way to Philadelphia to attempt a negotiation for the end of the Revolutionary War. “One bed could be procured for Dr. Franklin and me,” Adams wrote in his autobiography, “in a chamber a little larger than the bed, without a chimney and with only one small window.” They even debated on whether opening a window and the resulting cold night air could bring about illness, and fell asleep in the process.

3. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)

Jefferson may now be considered a polyphasic sleeper, alternating short periods of sleep and wake throughout a full day. However, he still had one pattern he could rely on: "Whether I retire to bed early or late, I rise with the sun."

4. James Madison (1809-1817)

Madison was one of many presidents who perhaps didn’t value sleep enough. In college, he’d oftentimes sleep under five hours a night to make time for studying law and philosophy.

5. James Monroe (1817-1825)

In August of 1814, prior to his presidency, Monroe was serving as Secretary of State when word reaching Washington that a British invasion force had been spotted on the Potomac River, headed toward the capitol. He alone remained behind to aid Washington’s evacuation. Following a week of ceaseless activity, Monroe returned to his wife collapsing in week-old clothes and without more than a few hours of sleep. Still sure you want to be a president when you grow up?

6. John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)

Known to occasionally fall asleep during debates in the House, Adams ultimately collapsed in his seat in what many assumed was just another ill-timed nap. It soon became clear he had suffered a stroke and was carried into the Speaker’s Office. He died two days later, and the couch he passed on remains in the room today.

7. Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)

Seemingly unstoppable, Jackson was shot twice and still lived nearly 40 years later. This wasn’t without side effects, however: by the end of his life, he was unable to eat or sleep.

8. Martin Van Buren (1837-1841)

Late in life, Van Buren developed asthma, fell into a coma, and passed away three days later. Some claim that potentially sleep apnea, brought on by snoring, was a prime suspect for his declining health and eventual passing.

9. William Henry Harrison (1841)

Unfortunately, Harrison didn’t have much time to sleep as president: He passed away from pneumonia brought on by his infamously lengthy inauguration speech only 32 days in office.              

10. John Tyler (1841-1845)

Perhaps John Tyler could’ve simply slept a little more. He fathered a presidential record number of 15 children in his lifetime.

11. James K. Polk (1845-1849)

Polk was a notoriously hard worker and slept very little during the night. As a contrast to Tyler, he never had any children.

12. Zachary Taylor (1849-1850)

A controversial Whig party candidate, many loyalists did not trust Taylor for president. Ohio Senator Thomas Corwin went so far to ask why “sleeping 40 years in the woods and cultivating moss on the calves of his legs” qualified Taylor for the presidency.” His concerns were unheard, however, and soon after Taylor’s presidency the party dissolved.

13. Millard Fillmore (1850-1853)

Perhaps the first presidential health nut, Filmore didn’t smoke or drink and tried to improve his physical well-being. D

14. Franklin Pierce (1853-1857)

Often regarded as one of our least effective presidents, Franklin Pierce peculiarly was the best friend of one our most highly regarded writers, Nathaniel Hawthorne, who even wrote Pierce’s biography. It is fitting then, perhaps, that Hawthorne chose Pierce to spend the final moments of his life with. He passed away in his sleep on a trip they embarked upon in hopes of restoring Hawthorne’s help, and Pierce found his friend’s body the next morning.

15. James Buchanan (1857-1861)

Our sole bachelor president, Buchanan instead kept company with his beloved newfoundland Lara. They shared a similar quirk: Lara would sleep motionless for hours with one eye open and the other closed; Buchanan was near-sighted in one eye and far-sighted in the other.

16. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)

Several presidents slept in the historic Lincoln Bed, a six-foot-wide, eight-foot-bed purchased by Mary Todd Lincoln: Benjamin Harrison, Theodore Roosevelt, and Calvin Coolidge. One who didn’t? Lincoln himself. For one, Lincoln was a well-known insomniac and perhaps too large for even a big bed. His decision could also have darker implications, sadly: His son Willie died on that bed.

17. Andrew Johnson (1865-1869)

Clearly not all sleep is restful: Johnson’s son Robert also died in his sleep on an overdose of laudanum.

18. Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877)

Here are fellow soldier Corporal M. Harrison Strong’s thoughts on Grant’s sleeping habits: “At night the General wouldn't sleep much. I would bring in dispatches and find him lying in bed, smoking. I know he was awake many times, waiting for a dispatch that he had to answer and he always did his duty. But he had the power to sleep whenever he wished and slept when it was convenient. Sometimes during the day when everything was going well, he would sleep as much as he wanted without being disturbed.”

19. Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881)

Hayes went to bed election night thinking he had lost to his Democratic opponent Samuel Tilden. Hayes and his wife Lucy consoled each other with the thought that their lives would be simpler. Surprise!

20. James A. Garfield (1881)

One night Garfield should’ve been sleeping came in his youth in summer 1848. From PBS’s American Experience: “James Garfield has an epiphany that will change the course of his life. At age 16 and against his mother's wishes, Garfield leaves the farm in order to pursue his dream of becoming a sailor…One night, he falls overboard while everyone else is sleeping. As he thrashes about, unable to swim, he grabs onto a rope that is not secured to anything on the boat. He pulls on the rope, and it miraculously hooks, enabling him to pull himself to safety. He comes away from the experience believing that God ‘had saved [him] for [his] mother and for something greater and better than canalling.’”

21. Chester Arthur (1881-1885)

Arthur was a night owl, with the habit of staying up till at least 2 a.m. every night.

22/24. Grover Cleveland (1885-1889) (1893-1897)

Being president twice is hard enough without Cleveland’s rumored sleep apnea. Unfortunately, he had a few factors working against him in that arena: 1) He was the second-heaviest commander-in-chief; 2) he snored; 3) he had a thick neck; and 4) he loved beer.

23. Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893)

Harrison was the first president to have electricity installed inside the White House. Unfortunately for him, it would only serve to keep him up at night, as he and his wife refused to touch the light switches in fear of being electrocuted and often slept with the lights still on.

25. William McKinley (1897-1901)

William and Ida McKinley purchased brass beds for the White House, believing it would prevent bed bugs.

26. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)

So aggressive was Teddy’s snoring that he was given a floor in a Washington hospital all to himself so he wouldn’t disturb other patients.

27. William Howard Taft (1909-1913)

Another prime candidate for sleep apnea, Taft often fell asleep in the middle of church or a golf game to compensate for lost sleep. He also had a sleeping porch installed on the roof of the White House.

28. Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)

Closing in on Election Day 1916, incumbent President Wilson and his opponent Charles Hughes were both certain what the outcome would be, with Hughes rejoicing and Wilson determined to resign after he lost to give Hughes a head start during wartime. Election Night brought many surprises, so when a reporter called Hughes’ campaign for a quote on the changing tides, Hughes had already gone to bed certain he’d won. An excited aid informed the reporter, “The President is sleeping.” The reporter replied, “When he wakes up, tell him he is no longer President.”

29. Warren G. Harding (1921-1923)

Harding was never in bed before midnight and always up at eight. He resisted staying in bed longer: “No, it is too much like a woman.” Eventually, his lack of attention to rest caught up with him as he suffered heart disease.

30. Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)

A refreshing anomaly in the presidential canon, Coolidge got PLENTY of sleep. He was known to sleep 11 hours each day: bed by 10 p.m., rise by 7-9 a.m., with lengthy afternoon naps common.

31. Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)

Hoover had always made time throughout his adult life to read for 1-2 hours before falling asleep. As president, however, he was too exhausted and fell asleep immediately. He found a compromise by waking up around 12:30 a.m. to read before falling back asleep.

32. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)

It’s important to keep things in perspective when holding a stressful job, as Roosevelt well understood: "I'll tell you, at night when I lay my head on my pillow, and it is often pretty late, and I think of the things that have come before me during the day and the decisions that I have made, I say to myself -- well, I have done the best I could and turn over and go to sleep."

33. Harry S. Truman (1945-1953)

Upon visiting the White House, Truman’s mother would not sleep in Lincoln’s bed. She was a Confederate sympathizer and still had lingering resentment about the Civil War.

34. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)

By the end of his second term, Eisenhower was the first president to ever reach age 70, but not without a cost. He suffered many health issues, from a heart attack to a stroke, and was addicted to sleeping pills without resulting sleep.

35. John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)

Napping was a vital part of Kennedy’s schedule, making time for 1-2 hours of alone time with Jackie for rest. She later encouraged the next president LBJ to do the same, saying “it changed Jack’s whole life.”           

36. Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)

Johnson adopted a biphasic sleep model for himself (and accordingly, his staff): He’d wake around 6:30-7 a.m. and work until 2, break for exercise, grab a 30-minute nap in pajamas, change into new clothes, and begin his “second shift” of work until 1-2 a.m.

37. Richard Nixon (1969-1974)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Nixon had a habit of waking up in the middle of the night to work.

38. Gerald Ford (1974-1977)

As Nixon’s Vice President, Ford preferred sleeping in his own bed. His travel schedule often consisted of marathon trips that got him home in the middle of the night, where he’d sleep for five hours and travel again. “He loved red-eye flights like no politician I've ever covered,” noted one journalist.

39. Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)

Carter got around six hours a night, a little better than average for a president. He also once tripped over a sleeping homeless man in New York City and offered him work helping on a project for Habitat for Humanity. Sleep always pays off!

40. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)

Reagan took office at age 70, so it’s no surprise to learn he appreciated the value of a nap. He once joked with the press, “No matter what time it is, wake me up, even if it's in the middle of a cabinet meeting.”

41. George Bush (1989-1993)

Bush 41 was plagued by sleepless nights, at times relying on the drug Halcion to catch some rest on long flights.

42. Bill Clinton (1993-2001)

Clinton slept very little, 5-6 hours a night, inspired by a former professor’s assertion that the most successful need the least sleep. He ultimately needed heart surgery in his 50s, despite not being a cardiovascular risk. Coincidence?

43. George W. Bush (2001-2009)

Bush valued his sleep, even letting reporters in on his plans to nap following a press conference. His wife Laura made light of this at the Correspondents Dinner: “I said to him the other day, ‘George, if you really want to end tyranny in the world, you're going to have to stay up later.’”

44. Barack Obama (2009-2017)

Obama has famously been a night owl president, tucking his daughters in, reading and watching TV to unwind, and sometimes working past 2 a.m., relying on a 7 a.m. wake up call to get going in the morning.

45. Donald Trump (2017-)

Trump has long bragged on how little sleep he needs each night, claiming around 4 hours on average. Some have wondered if he shows signs of sleep deprivation as a result, or if he has what some have called the “efficient sleeper” gene which allows him to operate with less. One things for certain: his Twitter fans don’t mind as they can usually count on some unfiltered late night thoughts straight from the newest president.

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