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Highlights
  • Researchers identify gene that reduces negative impact of sleep deprivation
  • Very few people have this gene
  • Nearly all healthy adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep

Gene mutation the real secret for successful short sleepers

Filed in
  • Healthy sleep habits
  • sleep length

Patrick Murray  |  Aug 07, 2014
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New scientific evidence suggests that a small percentage of people have a short sleep gene. It allows them to retain their ability to think clearly and make informed decisions while sleeping very little.

The research opposes the claims of some vocal short sleepers. These high-profile members of the so-called “sleepless elite” often brag about the competitive advantage of sleeping less than six hours per night. They preach that all of us can achieve more by sleeping less.

Donald Trump, for instance, boasts that he only needs 3 to 4 hours of nightly sleep. In one very Trump-like proclamation, he even claimed that sleep and success can’t co-exist. He once said in an interview, “How does somebody that’s sleeping 12 and 14 hours a day compete with someone that’s sleeping three or four?"

American icon Thomas Edison was an outspoken enemy of sleep. The father of the light bulb slept about 3 hours a day, dismissing sleep as a “heritage from our cave days.”

The new study identified a rare gene variant that provides a greater resistance to sleep deprivation. The gene mutation allows some people to get away with sleeping less than the rest of us.

Researchers compared 100 pairs of twins. They found that a twin with the p.Tyr362His variant of the BHLHE41 gene slept at least an hour less than his twin brother, who didn’t have the gene. This short-sleeping twin also had fewer mental errors during a 38-hour period without sleep.  After sleep deprivation he required less recovery sleep than his twin brother.

The study is published in the August issue of the journal Sleep. It is only the second study of its kind to identify this type of short sleep gene.

It is clear that few people in the population have a genetic variant that enables them to sleep less. Seven to nine hours of sleep per night is still what most of us need.

Most aspiring short-sleepers are potentially sabotaging their careers by restricting their sleep. They also are risking their health in a misguided attempt to get ahead.

Self-inflicted sleep deprivation also can ruin your appearance. A 2010 study found that participants looked more tired after sleep deprivation than after eight hours of sleep. They also looked less healthy and less attractive.

Producers of a recent video confronted a group of young adults about their short-sleeping lifestyle. To drive the message home they enlisted the help of a professional makeup artist. Each subject pledged to sleep longer after seeing how sleep deprivation would cause them to age less gracefully:

Are you a short sleeper or just short on sleep? A true short sleeper functions well during the day on less than six hours of sleep. Loading up on caffeine or binge sleeping on the weekend are signs that you’re not getting enough sleep.

Regardless of what Donald Trump says, make sleep one of your top health priorities. Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury, and it’s one of the three pillars of a healthy lifestyle.


12 Comments

  1. 1 Julia 07 Dec
    Hi Short Sleepers!  I just found out today I’m a short sleeper too!!  It’s such a wonderful feeling to know I’m not alone. I always felt bad because my husband needs normal sleep and I can sleep amount of time 15 min, 90 min, of 3 hrs of 4.5 hours and I feel completely refreshed. People always say I’m the most upbeat, positive and optimistic person the have ever met and they call me the energizer bunny. I wake up as soon as the sun rises and that’s even the case when I sleep at 3am which is the norm for me. I usually sleep about 3hours a night and have been this way for as long as I can remember.  I never wake up tired or groggy and don’t need coffee or tea to give me energy. I don’t however have high blood pressure and pre-diabetic. But I am genetically predisposed to this as both of my parents have hypertension and are pre-diabetic. I also take special kind of hypertension medication that is suppose to be safe for wowen trying to conceive. But a major side effect is extreme tiredness by slowing down my heart beat to about 1/3 of the normal pulse. So as a result, I now benefit from taking occasional naps. I like to call them  Micro-naps. One others interesting thing about me is that I don’t need an alarm clock. I am able to fall asleep anytime if I tell my self I want to take a nap and wake up within 1-2 minutes of the time I tell myself to wake up.  It’s like I have an internal alarm clock. For example. If I have a meeting at 3:30pm and I arrive 10 minutes early I just tell myself I want to take a 7 min nap so I can be extra refreshed. Then I close my eyes, fall asleep within 10-30 secs and will wake up at exactly 3:26 or 3:27 without an alarm. My husband whom I have been with for over 27 years likes to play this internal alarm clock challenge and will tell me to sleep for an X amount of minutes then watches me to see if I will wake up within the designated time frame. Apparently, I accurate about 95% of the time.  In recent memory over the last 15 years..I’ve overslept 2x. So I think I’m a true short sleeper. :) Does anyone else have this kind of internal alarm clock?
  2. 2 Robert 05 Dec
    I'm a 67 year old lifetime short sleeper. I may have inherited this trait from my father. He and I would stay awake until the TV channels signed-off at midnight (yes, that was a thing). His alarm would go off at 4:15 and I would be wide awake. I thought my siblings and mother simply enjoyed sleep, while I saw it as an inconvenience. It's not a contest. Sleep as much as is necessary. However, time spent asleep is lost forever. 
  3. 3 Doug Kaleida 28 Oct
    I too am discovering I am a true "short sleeper"  32 yrs old as of 2017. 365 days a year, whether I have to work, a day off, a vacation day, even through hangovers and illness. I go force myself to try to sleep around 3 am and wake up at 7  like a programmed computer.  I have so much extra time that I know have my full time career and also flip houses because of my high levels of energy.  I actually get professional "teased" at work for being the "happiest" and most "upbeat" guy in the entire company.  If I sleep more I drag major butt the next day.  Someone needs to start a true forum so we can all chat.  Oh  I also have something else that less than 1% of the population has.  I suffer from what is called "Cluster Headaches" so if anyone else has these and is a short sleeper we seriously need to let the doctors ponder it because there is no way that's a coincidence!  Thanks for your time!
  4. 4 Griff 10 Oct
    I am also a "short sleeper" in my 60's  have been successful in business and life generally -I am known as a very positive person and have little stress compared to most -I wake up in the early morning afte only 4 hours sleep and am feeling good and ready for anything  ....any other short sleepers with similar traits ?    
  5. 5 Lou89 28 Sep
    Hi I find that I can sleep more than 4 hours a whole day sometimes but I then find that I'm tired all day if I sleep more than 4 hours and I struggle to fuction well if I do. I experance maybe a normal level of being able to fuction on the recommended 8 hrs but it's almost high tend if I get just 4. The more sleep the worse I fuction like I can't focus on evenue making tea/coffee. If I have 4 hours (my sweet spot) it's like I can manage evening at once all day total diffrent person to being on 8ish hrs sleep. I'm curious to find out more and if any one elce finds this. I struggle to get to sleep to but this I think for me is more to do with mental helth ishues
  6. 6 night owl 06 Dec
    I'm writing this at 3.20am -I force myself to go to sleep later than 11 pm and wake 4 hours later. Im 66 and have been doing this since I can remember. I made a fortune owning a business that ran 16 hrs a day - I worked 2 shifts to my employees 1 . I went through a period of trying to "cure" myself with sleeping pills etc. Then realized  one day that I must just accept it -now I enjoy my extra hours. I would like to correspond with other short sleepers to see what else we have in common -for instance I am always positive and happy . Please email me -maybe we must start a #tag group or something similar 
  7. 7 AASM 29 Jul
    Christina - Even if you have the "short sleep gene," you appear to have an extremely delayed sleep phase. You go to sleep and wake up at times that are much later than most others. If this is causing you frustration, then you should talk to your doctor or a board-certified sleep medicine physician about strategies to advance your sleep phase so that you go to sleep and wake up at earlier times. A recent review by an AASM task force found that strategically timed melatonin may be helpful for adults who have a delayed sleep phase. Positive results have been obtained with a 5 mg dose of melatonin timed between 7 pm and 9 pm. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options as well as the potential risks and side effects of treatment.
  8. 8 Christina German 24 Jul
    Hi my name is Christina and I'm a short sleeper I stay up all night long watching things on my phone watching TV I don't get tired at all its 6:30 now in the morning and I'm still not tired I have to force myself to go to sleep I will go to sleep probably around 7 o'clock and I will get up around 11:30 in the afternoon I am 49 years old everybody says that I look like I'm in my 30s which makes me very happy I need to know if I have this Gene that makes you not sleep I tried to change it in the past and it's never worked if I get more than 4 or 5 hours of sleep then I will have bags under my eyes so if you have any suggestions I'm open to them thank you
  9. 9 Jen 14 May

    It never occurred to me that this was a natural biological occurrence.  I've been trying to force myself to sleep for 6 hours a night and struggling because my brain is ready to go after 4.  I regularly go to bed in the wee small hours of the morning, and still function normally all day.  Although I might never know if I have the gene mutation, I feel comforted by the knowledge that there could be a perfectly good explanation for not feeling the need to sleep so much.

  10. 10 jan 30 Mar
    Wow, so glad this is normal for some--a friend told me to look this up. I've slept short cycles ever since I can remember, even read books till the early morning hours through all my school years. I thought I was just power-napping to cram 8 hours of body rest into 4, now I think I may have the gene. Regardless, I'm up by dawn with my natural body-clock, bright and ready to go. I've never used an alarm clock, never even owned one. I've lived like this for over 60 years now and remain youthful, upbeat, positive, and quite healthy. Though I used to have concern fewer hours of sleep would catch up with me, maybe it's time to accept my longer days are Okay--I like my private time when everyone else is asleep!
  11. 11 Bonnie de la Cruz 24 Oct
    I'm 66 years old and people always commented that I am weird because I sleep 4hours or less a night. I don't even take naps during the day because I don't feel sleepy. My father was the same, so while everybody slept at night he would spend his time reading. That is how I got hooked on reading, too because with the lights out I would be very restless in bed. My mother use to say I was the baby who had very little need for sleep. Others always thought we had insomnia and I'm glad I read this article. Thanks.
  12. 12 ana jaen 18 Jul
    All my life I thought that I had to sleep for 8 hours, however no matter how I tried to sleep earlier it was impossible. Probably, it was  a habit  as a medical student . Now that I am a doctor I still have short sleep. I function well even with less than 4 hours of sleep but this is possible because I have a 30 minutes siesta after lunch. Thank you for this article.

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