It’s time to get to the bottom of the short sleeper myth. As far back as Albert Einstein, there have been a handful of successful people that attribute part of their success to their ability to consistently sleep less than 6 hours every night. The Center for Creative Leadership ran a study and saw that 42% of leaders get less than 6 hours of sleep a night. However, recent research shows that less than 5% of people are naturally short sleepers, people who have a genetic mutation that makes them less susceptible to the effects of sleep deprivation. So how are the 42% doing it and what happens when you are a short sleeper without the genetic mutation?
We all want to think that we are part of the 5%, but that simply isn’t the case. There are a slew of reasons why you may not be getting enough sleep at night and why you may feel “fine” throughout the next day. Perhaps you can’t turn your brain off at night and you keep working in front of a screen past 9pm. This continued exposure to blue light will make it far more difficult for you to get sleep and will perhaps help rationalize why continuing to work is a good idea since you can’t sleep. Stress and anxiety are also culprits for keeping us up and waking us throughout the night. Many people with heavy workloads have low levels of stress and anxiety throughout their lives and may not even realize when their bodies are experiencing these things at higher levels. They just power through and hope for the best. We also have the great aid of caffeine to help get us through our day. If you wake up and immediately think of your first cup joe, your body is trying to find something to fuel itself since it didn’t get the restorative rest it needed during the night.
Now, let’s say that you truly do feel great getting only 4 hours of sleep every night. You think you fall into the small number of people that have this short sleeper genetic mutation. Although they haven’t seen any long term negative effects of getting less sleep for people with the genetic mutation, there aren’t any health benefits to getting such little sleep, even if you have the mutation. Meanwhile, there are decades of research laying out the benefits for getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night. It is worth changing your sleep habits and creating an environment that makes it easier for you to get to sleep and stay asleep for at least seven hours. Try it for a month. See what happens when you put screens away, or at least put on blue light cancelling glasses, from 9pm on. Stop drinking coffee seven hours before bed and put away the alcohol and nicotine four hours before you go to sleep. Make a schedule and stick to it by waking up and going to sleep at similar times on the weekends and the weekdays. With sleep, consistency is key. Pulling an all nighter every once in a while won’t kill you. But getting four hours of sleep every night during the week and then sleeping for nine to ten hours on the weekend will lead to the same effects of sleep deprivation as your circadian rhythm is continually thrown out of whack.
When it comes to validating sleep deprivation, the tides are changing. People like Adrianna Huffington and Jeff Bezos sing the praises of getting good sleep, seven to nine hours, every night. If you are staying up in order to finish work or increase your productivity, ask yourself how productive you are between the hours of 11pm and 2am. By getting enough sleep, you are helping yourself be more productive during your waking hours. Give your body a chance to recharge at night and see all that it can accomplish the next day on a full battery.
Alhola, P., & Polo-Kantola, P. (2007). Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2656292/
Barnes, C. (2018, August 21). Sleep Better, Lead Better. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2018/09/sleep-well-lead-better
Borzykowski, B. (2014, November). Successful executives and the four-hour sleep myth. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20130726-the-sleep-secrets-of-ceos
Pellegrino, R., Kavakli, I., et al. (2014, August 01). Novel BHLHE41 Variant is Associated with Short Sleep and Resistance to Sleep Deprivation in Humans. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/sleep/article/37/8/1327/2416868?searchresult=1