Well, I never worked in the white house or anything close; I only have a little experience in some much lower campaigns and political-level government offices.
But the West Wing seems to have an OK feel to me, accuracy-wise, except for the obvious things they have to do to make good TV:
such as issues always get resolved in one episode (or a couple at most), and there are only 6 or so characters involved in every issue.
That and President Bartlett is a fantasy of perfection both personally and politically, of course. I’d prefer that the show have him making an ugly compromise once in a while, or doing what he thinks is morally less than ideal because he needs to keep public support, because I think most voters don’t understand the necessity of both of these in real life, but that’s just MHO.
Back to hours worked, I think the amount of hours worked in the real WH varies for each little group (i.e. the general counsel may expect his staff to work insane hours while the press secretary may have a more relaxed expecation from her staff, or vice versa), and somewhat on a person-to-person level (at any job, you know someone who is always in early, right?), with the personal variation increasing as you go up the chain, because they’re in control – it’s generally accepted that the work habits of the current and former POTUS are a little different, for instance.
But yeah, most real staffers probably do work a lot. Not 17 hours every day, most likely, but 12 a day minimum is probably common, with more on occasion. My guess is that there’s very little use of stimulants other than caffeine. If you can’t take this kind of schedule and thrive on it, don’t work at the white house. Remember, they don’t have a big personal life (I think it’s great that the show had someone getting divorced because he was spending too much time on the job). So yeah, big policy decisions are made by sleep-deprived people all the time. just like most medical intensive care decisions in hospitals are made by sleep-deprived people. Take your pick which one is more scary.