Could sleep deprivation explain Donald Trump’s personality?


One of the issues under discussion in the US, at a time when Donald Trump got the nomination of the Republican Party for the race for the White House in November 2016, is whether few hours of sleep might cause him symptoms of sleep deprivation, such as irritability, mood swings, emotional imbalance, cognitive impairment, poor concentration, propensity to take ill-considered decisions or say inconvenient things. This discussion was triggered in February by The New York Times columnist Timothy Egan in an article entitled “A Unified Theory of Trump”. Egan wrote: “His judgment is off, and almost always ill informed. He has trouble processing basic information. He imagines things. He shows a lack of concentration. He’s easily distracted.”

During the campaign there have been quite a few controversial situations involving Trump. At a rally, after a protestor reacted against Trump’s xenophobia in relation to Muslims and Hispanics, he said “I’d like to punch him in the face.” At another rally, the American millionaire said: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters”.

Trump usually does not sleep more than three or four hours a night and during the primary campaign he said there were days when he slept only an hour or hour and a half. He said last November at a rally in Springfield, Illinois: “You know, I’m not a big sleeper (…) I like three hours, four hours, I toss, I turn, I beep-de-beep, I want to find out what’s going on.” The real estate mogul said in an interview that he got his energy genetically: “My father was very energetic, my mother was very energetic. (…) I believe that I just have it from my father, from my parents. They had wonderful energy”.

In his book “Think Like a Billionaire”, published in 2004, Trump justified the few hours of sleep “in order to gain a competitive advantage in his dealings” and advised readers not to sleep more than they had to: “No matter how brilliant you are, there’s not enough time in the day”.

Supporters of Trump claim that there are other politicians who have little sleep, as former President Bill Clinton, who usually had five hours of sleep. President Barack Obama also sleeps an average of five, six hours a night. In political history, we are reminded of Winston Churchill and Margarat Thatcher, who often slept no more than four hours a night. Detractors of Trump respond that there are indeed examples of brilliant personalities who sleep little but is not the case of Trump and that it is rather the best example of the symptoms of sleep deprivation clinically studied by the American Association of Sleep Medicine, such as irritability, restlessness and lack of concentration.

You can read the article by Timothy Egan here: