Ask Dr. Joy: The Lost Art of Sleep

By WEEK Reporter

May 18, 2011 Updated May 18, 2011 at 6:32 PM CDT

What do Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison and Leonardo da Vinci have in common? Historians tell us they all might have had a disorder that you’d never guess… they were “short sleepers.”

Dr. Joy Miller helps us look at this interesting condition for a small portion of our population who appear to not require sleep.

Before we talk about short sleepers, tell us a little about the current information on sleeping requirements.

• Despite the fact that we’d like it to be different, adults function best with 7-9 hours of sleep

• 1/3 of all Americans are sleep deprived & most people do NOT have an accurate gauge of their impairment from loss of sleep

• Those who only get 4-6 hours of sleep per night become impaired and unable to perform simple tasks needed for reading & comprehending a paragraph, driving a car, performing computer tasks

• With each additional day of getting only 4-6 hours of sleep we become more impaired causing some of us to nod off at our desks, increasing loss of memory and concentration

But what about this group of people called short sleepers. What’s different about them?

• Short sleepers consist of about 1-3% of our population and are believed to have a genetic variation that causes the change

• Short sleepers tend to be upbeat, positive, high metabolism, thinner than average, and have a high tolerance for pain

• Do well with less than 6 hours of sleep and don’t get tired during the day

• These individuals tend to be energetic, outgoing, positive and high acheivers with an ability to be resilient

• Short sleepers tend to be multitaskers who talk fast and tend to never stop.

For those of us who aren’t short sleepers, what are some suggestions to help us get a better night’s sleep to increase our efficiency and well-being?

• Researchers suggest: cool or cold room

• Dark room with little noise

• Going to bed at the same time each night

• Having a routine to mentally and physically calm down prior to sleep time.

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