Among the headscratchers in a confessional New York Times interview published Thursday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk claims he’s been logging 120-hour workweeks. That seems unlikely, but his apparent sleep deprivation looks increasingly problematic.
Workaholism has been a cornerstone of the Musk mythology, with his multiple roles leading Tesla, SpaceX, the Boring Co., and his research initiative OpenAi. But it’s his constant setting of stretch goals at Tesla, including production targets the company clearly wasn’t ready to attain, that appear to have led him to spending days on end camped out in Tesla’s factory, as he told the Times.
Now the profound stress of it seems to be getting to him, exacerbated by the backlash to his out of the blue tweets about privatizing the electric car company.
“There were times when I didn’t leave the factory for three or four days — days when I didn’t go outside,” Musk said in the interview. “This has really come at the expense of seeing my kids. And seeing friends.”
Market reaction to the interview was a stunning 8.9% drop in Tesla shares on Friday that cut their value by nearly $30 to $305.50.
Undoubtedly, he logs long hours. But the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that, in general, most people regularly overestimate how much time they devote to work, typically by as much as 10%, according to one study. (And it turns out that based on government research conducted since 2003, men consistently report logging more hours per day at work than women do.)
Assuming Musk does actually work the 120-hour weeks, or 17-hour days, he claims, that leaves just 6.9 hours per day to do everything else that’s part of life for regular humans: sleeping, eating, bathing, commuting, seeing kids, family and friends, exercising, and bathroom breaks. Even if he’s 10% off, it still looks like it’s getting harder to squeeze in quick sidestrips to Burning Man, the Met Gala and family functions.
He is a billionaire who lives in Los Angeles’ ultra-posh Bel Air neighborhood so it’s a safe bet that he’s got people going to the grocery store for him, cleaning, cooking, paying his bills, chauffeuring his five sons to their private school (that Musk created) and picking up his Ambien prescription at the drugstore that he says he needs to sleep.
“It is often a choice of no sleep or Ambien,” he said in the interview.
And sleep, or in Musk’s case too little of it, may be magnifying the challenges that come with those long weeks, as well as SEC inquiries and agitated board members.
“Getting just a few hours of sleep per day comes with marked health consequences both for the brain and the body,” Matthew Walker, director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, told Forbes. “One of the things that we know is that a direct effect of insufficient sleep is anxiety. The less and less sleep that you have, the more and more anxious an individual becomes.”
Oh, and too little sleep also shortens one’s lifespan and is linked to diabetes, increased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and a weakened immune system, Walker said.
Ambien is regularly prescribed to aid people having trouble sleeping enough, but it’s also linked to side effects that can include “abnormal thinking, behavioral changes and complex behaviors” such as “sleep-driving” and even hallucinations, according to the FDA. The drug’s warning label also points out that it can cause a “worsening of depression” and even “suicidal thinking.”
“I have an enormous amount of respect for him and what he’s accomplishing. It would be desperately sad to see him fall into ill health, sickness or disease by way of insufficient sleep,” he said.
“The irony that a lot of high-pressured, high-profile people miss is that less sleep does not equal more productivity,” he said. “Sleep dramatically accelerates efficiency and effectiveness thereby leading to enhanced productivity. If the reason that you are not sleeping enough is you want to do more, I would argue that it’s the wrong approach.”