Short Sleepers

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People who naturally sleep considerably less than the bulk of the population are called short sleepers.  Even with five hours or less of sleep per night, these individuals may be able to function regularly without excessive daytime sleepiness.

These are people without sleep debt that most who sleep so little accrue.  Plenty of individuals make do with 5 or fewer hours of sleep a night, but it puts stress on their bodies, increases the risk for disease, and decreases their vigilance and daytime mental performance. Then, on weekends or whenever the demands that drive them to sleep little subside, they make up for the sleep loss with recovery sleep. The short sleeper has no need for recovery sleep, usually, because he or she does not feel a sleep loss and homeostatic drive to catch up on lost sleep.

A Wall St. Journal article reported 1% to 3% of the population are natural short sleepers. These are said to be a “cognitive elite” because many people desire to function o a high level on little sleep. It is not possible to turn yourself into a short sleeper, as much as you might want to do so.  It is something you are born with. Scientists have even identified a short sleeping gene in fruit flies.

Natural short sleepers also tend to be more energetic and optimistic than others, and thinner.  They are exuberant.  Think of it as an attenuated version of the manic phase of bipolar disorder, without the depression that bipolar disorder brings.  Of course, it is well known that artificial sleep restriction is a quick fix for depression and that mood seems to rise when people stay up late.  The short sleeper seems to enjoy this mental state as a matter of normal course.

People try to adopt polyphasic patterns or take stimulants in attempts to duplicate the benefits that the natural short sleepers enjoy, but it rarely works.  While the amount of sleep one “needs” can vary within a range depending on circumstances, most of us are not natural short sleepers. If Mother Nature did not bless you with a natural tendency to short sleep, don’t fight it.  Live with the way you are.

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