America’s First Female Self-Made Billionaire Functioned on Just Three Hours of Sleep

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After a caffeine-endorsed almost all-nighter, your head hits the pillow in hopes of sneaking in a few hours of precious dreaming. The next day is a nightmare fueled with caffeine and brain fog. 

The exhaustion following a three-hour spout of sleep would make many of us fall asleep at our desks, but not for America’s first self-made female billionaire. “When you have a real interest in life and a curious life, that sleep is not the most important thing,” stockbroker turned entertainment icon Martha Stewart once said. (1)

How America’s First Female Self-Made Billionaire Views Sleep

When starting her catering business from scratch in her basement, Martha Stewart could function on just three hours of sleep per night, according to her former employee, Louise Felix. In the new CNN miniseries, “The Many Lives of Martha Stewart,” Felix said she would be “in the backseat semi-conscious,” and said Stewart would be functioning on just three hours of sleep when the duo would drive to the markets in New York at 4 a.m. from Westport, Connecticut, as Business Insider reports. (2) Less than 10 years later Stewart published her first cookbook, Entertaining

“You cannot be lazy and grow a business. Passion has to be accompanied by the willingness to work really, really hard,” said Stewart in an interview explaining her business’s beginnings with The Associated Press. (3

Stewart’s accomplishments did not stop there, and even after she went on to create Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, which sold for a staggering $353 million in 2015, (4) Stewart continued her success on minimal sleep. 

A “modicum amount of sleep” and early mornings are apparently still a part of Stewarts routine, as she discussed with AARP; “I wake up early, early, early — often at 4 a.m. — and read the newspaper to make sure nothing bad has happened overnight. I do Pilates at 6:15 a.m. three times a week.” (5) While she says she struggles with insomnia, Stewart claims that her lack of sleep is not bad for her. (6)

Martha Stewart is not the only successful businessperson to function quite well while running in fumes. Tom Ford says he gets just a few hours of sleep every night — if he’s lucky — and starts his day with a similar 4:30 a.m. wake up. (7) Elon Musk has a goal of just six hours per night and Bill Gates claimed to get as little sleep as possible when building his Microsoft empire. (8

These successes seem to be a medical mystery, considering the robust research that shows the excruciating impacts of sleep deprivation on mental health. While most would burn out at the thought of this schedule, these business people did just the opposite. But, how? 

Deirdre Conroy, Ph.D., director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at University of Michigan Health, tells Sleepopolis, “When starting a business, it is common for people to prioritize sleep less and therefore not spend much time allocated to sleep. [Stewart] may have experienced what is termed “chronic insufficient sleep syndrome,” which is limiting sleep due to work or other responsibilities.” Conroy explains that this is different from insomnia, or “difficulty falling or staying asleep despite adequate opportunity for sleep.” (9)

Dr. Conroy continues, “It is possible, but very rare, that individuals sleep less than 5 hours a night without next day consequences.”

Sleeping Less Does Not Equal Success

Dr. Conroy explains that when getting insufficient sleep, some people might find themselves dozing off during sedentary activities. If not, Conroy adds,“It is possible that these people experience the impact of sleep loss less than others due to personality style, adrenaline from the pace of the schedule, or overall “hyperarousal” throughout the waking hours.” (9)

So, if you’re reconsidering your precious eight hours, think again. As Conroy explained, the ability to function on short sleep is rare. And, plenty of celebrities and millionaires have proven to be successful while achieving the recommended 7 to 8 hours, or even more.

Producer and talk show host Oprah Winfrey gets around eight hours of sleep per night. Jeff Bezos, founder of the beloved Amazon, prioritizes his eight hours, and says that working on four hours of sleep isn’t worth it. (10) Travis Kelce, NFL tight end and boyfriend of Taylor Swift, prioritizes getting in 10 hours for his athletic endeavors and actress Dakota Johnson sleeps 10, sometimes even 14, hours each day. 

It’s probably not the best idea to replicate the sleep habits of Stewart or Musk to make a business dream come true.

Aiming for at least seven hours is more likely your ticket to success, though wouldn’t it be great if we could all pull off three? 


  1. Stewart, Martha. “Martha Stewart on Passion”. Academy of Achievement.
  2. Konstantinides, Anneta.  “Martha Stewart could function on 3 hours of sleep as she built her business empire”. Business Insider. January 30, 2024.
  3. “Q&A: Martha Stewart on building a home-based business”. Akron Business Journal. 
  4. October 14, 2015.
  5. Szalai, Georg. “Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia to Be Acquired for About $350 Million” Hollywood Reporter. June 22, 2015.
  6. Hochman, David. “Age Defier Martha Stewart, 82: ‘I Don’t Want to Have Regrets’”. AARP. November 10. 2023.
  7. Donnelly, Erin. “Martha Stewart on living her best life: ‘It’s just important for me to look good and feel good’”. Yahoo Life. April 11, 2022.
  8. Harper’s Bazaar. “My List: Tom Ford in 24 Hours”. February 8, 2012.
  9. Thaler, Shannon. “Bill Gates knocked sleep as ‘laziness,’ would try to get less shuteye than colleagues”. New York Post. August 7, 2023.
  10. Deirdre Conroy, Ph.D. Author Interview. February 5, 2024.
  11. Popomaronis, Tom. “The math behind Jeff Bezos’ 8 hours of sleep—and why he says going ‘crazy’ with 4 hours isn’t worth it”. CNBC. January 8, 2021.

Brianna Auray

Brianna is a Data Analyst at Sleepopolis. Her goal is to collect, analyze, and interpret data on sleep health and share new insights with our audience. When she's not researching sleep topics, Brianna enjoys working out, traveling, and hiking.

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