woman sleeping with sleep mask

The Long and Short of Sleep

Navy seals, Thomas Edison and Martha Stewart have something in common, they can properly function on little sleep. While the average adult needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep to feel fully refreshed, there is a group of people out there that can get by with less sleep. Much less. A small percentage of the population are called “short sleepers” and need less than 5 hours of sleep each night. Despite very little snoozing, these people have full energy, a normal attention span and don’t need any caffeine to make it through the day. This ability to perform optimally despite little rest is advantageous in many ways, especially in our fast-paced world.

Just as some only need a few hours of sleep, there is another side to that coin where a different type of sleeper exists. “Long sleepers” are the exact opposite of short sleepers and are individuals that need upwards of 10 hours of sleep each night to feel rested. Any less and they may suffer from chronic sleep deprivation.

You may be asking, “How can I adopt one of these sleep styles?” While either may sound appealing to you, let’s dive a little deeper into this rare sleep phenomenon.

What causes long and short sleep?

The answer lies in your DNA. Studies have found a genetic difference in those considered short sleepers when compared to the genes of people who have normal sleep needs. Though, no one is quite sure how this genetic change causes a decreased need for rest. Perhaps they move through their sleep cycles much faster than the rest of us.

There are likely genetic makeup changes to explain long sleepers as well, but this is still unclear.

How do you know if you’re a short sleeper or a long sleeper?

More than likely, you’re not a short sleeper or long sleeper. Over 95 percent of the world population will fall into the normal sleep range, which is 7 to 9 hours. You might be a short sleeper if you consistently sleep less than 6 hours each night yet have no difficulty getting out of bed. You rarely feel excessively sleepy or tired during the day and you don’t need caffeine or other substances to help you stay awake. If you can do this for prolonged periods of time, without any effects on your mood or performance, you may be a short sleeper. If you have a parent with a short sleep need it is much more likely that you are a short sleeper as well.

It is a bit harder to determine if you’re a long sleeper because there are many other reasons that can cause you to sleep for a long time. One thing that mimics long sleep is chronic sleep deprivation. If you are sleep deprived then you will naturally need more sleep to make up for the loss, but this does not make you a long sleeper. Sleep disorders can also increase your need for sleep.

A true long sleeper doesn’t have anything wrong with their quality of sleep, they simply need more sleep each night. The best way to determine if you’re a long sleeper is by getting more sleep than normal for at least two weeks and noticing if you feel better in the morning. If you wake up feeling tired despite getting 8 to 9 hours of sleep each night, it’s important to then rule out other medical conditions like sleep apnea. Talk to your doctor if you feel fatigued despite adequate rest.

Can I train myself to become a short sleeper or a long sleeper?

Unfortunately, there is no way to change your sleep need even if you change your sleep habits. You can thank your parents for the genetic hand you’ve been dealt.

Everyone is different and has different sleep needs. If you have a significant other that needs an extra hour of sleep, remember they aren’t being lazy, it’s simply their biological need. Similarly, if they sleep less, don’t push yourself to do the same. Hopefully by showing them this post, they will be more accepting of your extra hour in bed.

Mattress Firm wants to know what kind of sleeper you are? Are you one of the lucky folks who can function on just a few hours or do you need a lot of sleep to feel rested? Let us know in the comments below!

About The Author

Dr. Sujay Kansagra

Sujay Kansagra, MD is the director of Duke University’s Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program and author of the book “My Child Won’t Sleep.” Dr. Kansagra offers Daily Doze readers tips and insight about the importance of sleep, especially for kids who need plenty of rest to grow and develop. Dr. Kansagra graduated from Duke University School of Medicine, where he also completed training as a pediatric neurologist. He did his fellowship in sleep medicine at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, before joining the faculty at Duke as an assistant professor. He specializes in treating a variety of sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy and parasomnias. He shares advice on sleep, medicine, and education through his Twitter accounts @PedsSleepDoc and @Medschooladvice. When he’s not busy at work or on social media, Dr. Kansagra enjoys spending time with his wife and two sons. And yes, they are both great sleepers.

Best Night’s Sleep: Not just a sleep expert, but also an expert sleeper, Dr. Kansagra can sleep almost anywhere, thanks to years of sleep deprivation during medical school and residency call nights. But his best sleep is at home with his family, on a mattress he purchased at Mattress Firm long before he joined our team.

One thought on “The Long and Short of Sleep

  1. I’ve always needed more sleep to function properly. Now that I’m retired I let my body be the guide as to how much sleep I need. I also consider myself a “night person.” I function better at night so I stay up ’til 2 or 3 AM and sleep in ’til 2 or 3 PM. I like to listen to the peaceful night sounds as I read, surf or watch TV. It’s like everyone else in the world is asleep except me, the crickets, katydids and tree frogs. Heaven!

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