We all know that one person who seems to thrive on very little sleep.
Maybe it was your best friend in middle school who always managed to earn the coveted title of last kid to fall asleep at the slumber party.
Maybe it was your college roommate who could study all night, ace a test, then go out to celebrate without even napping.
Yet study after study and expert after expert says adults needs around 7-9 hours of sleep each night. But is that the case for all adults?
An article in the Wall Street Journal investigates “the sleepless elite”- those rare individuals who can function well on less than 6 hours of sleep.
According to the article, 1-3% of the population actually qualifies as a short sleeper. Short sleepers function normally with less than 6 hours of sleep, are not tired during the day, and do not need caffeine or naps to keep their energy levels up. Short sleepers tend to be more energetic and outgoing than most people.
While there is no genetic test for short sleepers, researchers do notice some kind of link with genetics. One of the current researchers for short sleepers first noticed a genetic link during a study on extreme early risers in 2009. Dr. Ying-Hui Fu found two of the participants were a mother/daughter pair who both naturally woke up at 4 am, despite staying up past midnight.
Geneticists spotted a gene variation in short sleepers and were able to replicate this variation in mice. The mice then needed less sleep than usual.
Many people think they are short sleepers but studies show that one-third of Americans who are getting less than 7 hours of sleep are actually sleep-deprived.
Short sleepers are rare and share many of the same characteristics- they bore easily, are known to talk and think fast, are extremely upbeat, and are usually thinner than an average person.
While the researchers ultimate goal is to learn to manipulate sleep habits without comprising health, currently there is no way to teach yourself to be a short sleeper. You are either able to thrive on less amounts of sleep or you aren’t.