January 2021 | Reviewed by: Virginia Skiba, MD and Shelley Hershner, MD
What is a Short Sleeper?
Most adults need seven or more hours of sleep on a regular basis. For most people, getting less than six hours has a negative impact on health and performance. But a small percentage of adults are short sleepers. They regularly feel alert and refreshed after sleeping less than 6 hours. Short sleepers function normally during the day despite their short sleep duration.
If you’re a short sleeper, this shortened sleep duration occurs naturally. It is not a forced attempt to restrict or avoid sleep. This low amount of sleep is stable from night to night. It is also the same on weekends and holidays when you may have an increased opportunity for sleep.
A pattern of short sleep often begins in childhood or as a young adult. It tends to continue through the years. This pattern of short sleep may cause others to be concerned. Family members or friends may think that something is wrong. But short sleepers do not need more sleep.
Many people in the U.S. sleep less than six hours, but most of them are not short sleepers. They are simply restricting their sleep so that they get less sleep than they need. As a result they have insufficient sleep syndrome. They take naps during the day or sleep longer on weekends and holidays. In contrast, short sleepers don’t need to try to “catch up” on sleep.
Short sleeping also is different from insomnia. People with insomnia have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep. The overall quality of their sleep may be poor. In contrast, short sleepers have no complaints about sleep problems. The quality of their sleep also tends to be good.
Research continues to explore the genetics of sleep duration. Studies suggest that short sleepers may have a gene mutation that enables them to function well on less than six hours of nightly sleep.