Profiles in Snorage: Surprising Presidential Sleep Habits

You’d think being the leader of the free world might keep every US President up at night - after all, they’re overseeing a country in which more than 45% of adults regularly lose sleep over work, and more than 65% over general stress. But the fact is, presidential sleep habits turn out to be as varied and individual as presidencies. JFK enjoyed lunch in bed, followed by a nap (and aided by prescribed barbiturates), while Bill Clinton slept only 5-6 hours a night - a habit continued from his undergraduate years. So, in honor of our most notable leaders (and a few not so notable), we’ve taken a quick look into a few presidential sleep habits: call it a Profiles in Snorage.

William Howard Taft was the 27th president of the United States, a man of substance (and substantial mass). Our heaviest leader at 350 pounds, Taft unsurprisingly suffered from sleep apnea - a condition which caused an almost permanent state of drowsiness. Taft was known to drift into inadvertent naps throughout the day, whether in a meeting, a church service, or on the golf course.

Many presidents enjoyed a midday nap: George W Bush was known to indulge, as was Ronald Reagan, who once joked “No matter where it is, wake me up, even if it’s in the middle of a cabinet meeting.” But no president leveraged the power of the nap quite like Lyndon Baynes Johnson, who effectively worked two days in one. He’d start the day at 6:30 in the morning, work until 2PM, then exercise, toss on some PJ’s and take a half-hour nap. After that, and in a fresh set of clothes, he’d start the second half of the day, which would last until 1-2AM.

Abraham Lincoln was a world-class orator, a clear, keen thinker, and apparently, a terrible sleeper. Among the lesser-known duties of the president’s aides was as walking partner, keeping up with the long-legged leader on his sleepless sojourns through the darkened streets of Washington. Whether the insomnia was the result of the stress of leading a country through the most turbulent time in its history, or the mercury-laced medication he took for stomach troubles (mercury causes edginess and raging headaches), it’s remarkable to imagine the great man accomplished all he did on such little rest.

They may have named the eponymous Teddy Bear after him, but he’d be the last one you’d want to snuggle with at night: Teddy Roosevelt was a legendary snorer. His voluble law-sawing was so intense, that during a Washington hospital stay the president was granted an entire floor to himself, just to ensure that fellow patients could get some uninterrupted sleep. Other notable snorers included George Washington, both Adams’ (John and John Quincy), and Martin Van Buren. Pity their wives, who surely could’ve benefitted from the noise-muffling, head-hugging properties of one of these sleep aids.