Whatever the origins, right from the beginning Clinton seemed to treat sleep as a political opponent to be resisted and defeated. In his book Eyewitness to Power, David Gergen, long-time advisor to several presidents, including Clinton, described those early days. “Clinton was still celebrating the victory and loved staying up half the night to laugh and talk with old friends,” Gergen wrote. “The next morning, he would be up at the crack of dawn to hit the beach for an early run or perhaps a game of touch football.”
This style of working was not without consequences. “He seemed worn out, puffy, and hyper,” Gergen wrote. “His attention span was so brief that it was difficult to have a serious conversation of more than a few minutes.” At one point, Gergen tried to give the president some gentle advice — which was, after all, what he was hired to do. “In a short encounter with Clinton, I tried to say gently that the presidency is a marathon, not a hundred-yard dash, and I hoped he would have a chance for some downtime in the three weeks still remaining,” Gergen wrote. “I don’t think I registered. . . . Those who saw him in his first weeks at the White House often found him out of sorts, easily distracted, and impatient.” Sound eerily recently familiar?
Of course it went way beyond the first few weeks. And it also had a spillover effect, because when the president doesn’t sleep, neither does anybody else around the president. “My wife and I, we had the official phone right next to our bed,” Bill Richardson, Clinton’s energy secretary and former governor of New Mexico, said. “And whenever it was after 1 a.m., it was President Clinton. And he did it quite frequently.” Not surprisingly, it even became an issue with Richardson’s wife. “I remember some of those late phone calls my wife would turn over in bed and say ‘Oh my God,’” said Richardson. “We put the phone in another room and I’d lock the door so she wouldn’t hear.”