During his presidency, Bill Clinton was aware of the ticking clock. Clintons ambition was only matched by his drive. The culture in the White House could be described as feverish, frantic, late night, sleep deprived controlled chaos.

Clinton came into office bragging about his style of burning the candle at both ends. But, in an interview on CNN in 2008 Clinton was asked if he had any advice for President-Elect Obama.

In my long political career, most of the mistakes I made, I made when I was too tired because I tried too hard and worked too hard. Bill Clinton

After his presidency, Clinton still struggled with the responsibility of leadership and his ability to sleep. In response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake Clinton was deployed to lead the United Nations special envoy responsible for rebuilding the island.

Clinton admits I didn’t sleep much for a month. And that probably accelerated what was already going on with the failing vein. In February 2010 Clinton was admitted to a hospital to repair a coronary artery graft that had collapsed from a surgery five years earlier.

The physical demands of the relentless pace Clinton demanded from his body required two life-saving operations on his heart to keep him alive.

This is the real danger that leaders face when they fight fatigue throughout their career.

The warning signs were there all along for Clinton. In his book Eyewitness to Power, David Gergen, long time advisor to several Presidents, including Clinton, observed three things that leaders miss when they are fatigued.


When the leader doesn’t stop decision-making can happen at any time. It can be off the cuff and frantic in nature. Donna Shalala began sleeping with her massive briefing books right next to her bed, ready for the inevitable late night calls. This activity was heightened at the end of Clintons eight-year reign, I was numb the last two weeks, Shalala said.


The over tired leader thrives on the dopamine hit that comes with making a decision. It can be described almost as a form of ADHD. They crave the hit of feel-good energy from the dopamine release when they make a decision.

Gergen explains I tried to say gently that the presidency is a marathon, not a hundred-yard dash. I don’t think it registered those who saw him in his first weeks at the White House often found him out of sorts, easily distracted, and impatient.


Relationships of any depth demand the constant input of new energy. Too often leaders don’t have that energy. Their attention is fragmented across everything under their control at any one time. Gergen explains he seemed worn out, puffy and hyper. His attention span was so brief that it was difficult to have a serious conversation of more than a few minutes.

Clintons wife Hillary was not immune from this also. On the same day that she refused to rest after being diagnosed with pneumonia she made one of the worst mistakes of the campaign when she called Trump supporters a basket of deplorables.

In 2007 Clinton told Jon Stewart on The Daily Show that sleep deprivation is part of the problem in Washington politics today. You have no idea how many Republicans and Democratic members of the House and Senate are chronically sleep deprived because of the system. I know that this is an unusual theory, but I do believe sleep deprivation has a lot to do with some of the edginess of Washington today.

Clinton talks about the system. The culture that he was a part of creating in the Whitehouse that is causing mass sleep deprivation on both sides of parliament.

What are the systems that you are creating in your world and the people that you influence?

Do you have the skills to maintain an adequate sleep routine in the face of a crisis or are you risking permanent damage to your heart by pushing through fatigue?

If you would like to read more about how to change the system you can download a free chapter sampler of my book here.