That, at least, was Benjamin Franklin's theory. (He also said we should be early to rise, because he was a jerk, I guess.) But when scientists put this old maxim to the test, did they find any truth to it?
Back in 2006, that's what a trio of researchers tried to find out, albeit in a, uh, less than completely serious way. (For example: their lone footnote is, "This article was peer reviewed by someone. Peggy? You read this, right?") They explained they were testing the Benjamin Franklin hypothesis that "early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise" against the competing hypothesis by 20th century author and wit James Thurber, who amended it to "healthy, wealthy, and dead."
Here's how they did it:
As part of the Determinants of Myocardial Infarction Onset Study, we determined through personal interviews the bedtimes and wake times of 949 men admitted to hospital with acute myocardial infarction. Participants reported their educational attainment and zip code of residence, from which local median income was estimated. We followed participants for mortality for a mean of 3.7 years. We defined early-to-bed and early-to-rise respectively as a bedtime before 11 pm and wake time before 6:30 am.
The researchers found that about the only clear relationship to how many hours a person slept was how much coffee they drank...as you might imagine, that particular relationship was inverse. They found that there was no significant relationship at all between when a person's sleep schedule and their mortality, income levels, or education, which are decent enough experimental stand-ins for health, wealth, and wisdom, although they do acknowledge the problems with all these in wonderfully tongue-in-cheek fashion:
We acknowledge several limitations of our work. First, we enrolled a population of AMI patients and, thus, none can truly be considered healthy. However, none of us is really all that healthy anyway. Second, due to our own lack of wisdom, we know of no reliable and validated instruments to measure it; education is but an ill-schooled substitute. Third, we had no measures of personal income, and thus these analyses test the rather oblique hypothesis that early-to-bed and early-to-rise makes a man's locale of residence wealthy.
"None of us is really all that healthy anyway"...now that, ladies and gentlemen, is good science. Anyway, they finish off their paper with a promise of more research into old sayings like these - a promise that we can only hope the scientific community someday keeps:
In conclusion, we found no evidence to support the Franklin or Thurber hypotheses that sleep habits dictate health, wealth or wisdom, either for the good or the bad. Further research remains necessary to determine whether Franklin's ("He that lives upon Hope, dies farting") or Thurber's ("It is better to have loafed and lost, than never to have loafed at all") other hypotheses fare better under formal scrutiny.
I'd get to work organizing those experiments myself, but I'll be honest - I've got to go look for more fart-related quotes from the Founding Fathers. It just seems like the right thing to do. While I'm doing that, I very much advise checking out the original paper, which you can read in its entirety at the link below.