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Short Sleeper: Are You Fooling Yourself?

There are plenty of stories about famous short sleepers to go around. Among those who claim (or claimed, as some are no longer with us) that they do perfectly well on four hours of sleep are Jay Leno, Madonna, Michelangelo, Napoleon Bonaparte, Florence Nightingale, and Thomas Edison (whose invention – the light bulb – forever changed our sleep habits). Winston Churchill got by on six hours, and Leonardo DaVinci kept one of the most outrageously crazy sleep schedules, sleeping 15 minutes every four hours day and night.

If you’re a short sleeper, which is technically defined as someone who gets fewer than 6 hours a night, are you living well off that brief sleep? Are you catching more Zs during the day in the form of a nap? (Which, by the way, is how some of the aforementioned geniuses got by. Churchill took a complete 1.5- to 2-hour nap in the afternoon-and he undressed and got into bed.)

Well, if you think you could use more sleep time, you’re probably right. And science continues to reveal what sleep deprivation can do to us (other than make us tired and cranky). The National Sleep Foundation recently released an alert pointing to new evidence: people who average fewer than six hours a night could develop prediabetes. And you know what that leads to: full-fledged diabetes.

Granted, some people actually can do well with fewer than four hours of sleep, and those people are probably genetic anomalies – people programmed to avoid all the risks related to insufficient sleep. For them, four to six hours is sufficient.

But that, unfortunately, is not the case for the vast majority of the rest of us. Just as you don’t hear about people who drink, smoke, and eat poorly living to the ripe old age of 100 very often, you don’t hear about too many people who live like vampires and escape the ravages of that lifestyle. Those who claim they “get by” on little sleep are likely fooling themselves, but their bodies won’t fool them.

So I ask you:

  • How many hours of sleep are you getting on a regular basis?
  • Do you feel refreshed when you wake up?
  • Do you reach for caffeine, an energy drink, or a sugary snack in the afternoon?
  • Are you having trouble losing weight or maintaining your ideal weight?
  • Have you been diagnosed as prediabetic or diabetic but haven’t changed your sleep habits?

May those answers inspire a lunch pad for making change. I’ll give you wiggle room if you’re about to change the world with an incredible invention you’ve been working on like mad, or if you’re ruling the world as a great leader. But if you are… then it’s highly unlikely – I’ll make that impossible – that you’re reading this blog.

Got ya. Now go get some more sleep!

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, FAASM
The Sleep Doctor

This sleep article is also available at Dr. Breus’s official blog, The Insomnia Blog.

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