09 September 2015

Today's #Sleeptember FACT --- What is a short sleeper?

There are a rare few people in the world who need less sleep than the rest of us.

Now, before you get yourself excited by the possibility you could be one of them, please note this:
  • If you are young and female, "both habitual short and long sleep duration was a risk factor for obesity" (Sleep Journal, 2013)
  • If you are a short sleeper, "short-duration sleepers [consume] significantly more alcohol when compared to average- and long-duration sleepers" (PLOS, 2012)
  • Studies suggest that so-called habitual short sleepers may not actually be short sleepers, technically--"rather, these individuals gradually accrue sleep debt over time" (The Neurobiology of Circadian Timing, p.380)
You may think that getting less sleep (under six hours nightly) is a kind of superhuman power that only you possess, but let's face the reality: the odds are slim you are actually a "short sleeper," which is defined, according to data from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, as "[a] small percentage of people... who can function normally on only five hours of sleep or less."

The Wall Street Journal estimates that maybe as much as three percent of the population may be short sleepers. That's pretty darn rare. At the University of Utah, Dr. Christopher Jones, a professor of clinical neurology, says he has only actually ever identified "about 20 true short sleepers."

As writer Sam Atherton points out in his August 13 Sleep Matters article, "To date, only a handful of small studies have looked at short sleepers as these type of people are rare. They are unlikely to go to sleep clinics as they are not aware that they have a disorder."

But there are a few, and what makes them distinct from others is the fact that, even though they sleep five hours or less every night, they do not accrue sleep debt. They are naturally energetic, optimistic, thin, highly tolerant of pain and stress, and exuberant--a cognitive "elite" who can power through a lot of otherwise stressful living on a whole lot less sleep and still remain hopeful and upbeat.

The rest of us (all 97 to 99 percent of us), unfortunately, are running on fumes.

As desirable as being a short sleeper may be, it's a genetic predisposition and not something we can strive for as an act of self improvement.

According to a page on short sleep published at SleepDex, "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."

Please don't mistake overwork and sleep restriction due to your lifestyle as evidence that you are a natural short sleeper, especially if you are moody, carrying extra weight, or experiencing daytime fatigue. Try to get your seven-plus hours a night instead. Your body will thank you for it later. Our culture needs no more excuses for not getting adequate sleep, no more "I'll sleep when I die" machismo. Sleep deprivation is a public health and safety problem with a million-dollar pricetag. Don't become another expensive statistic.

Source materials: