You Know Those People Who Barely Need Sleep? Here's Why


(Photo: Nicolas Moore)

There are people who just seem really good at functioning on only a few hours of sleep. Seeing as I require a solid nine hours a night, I’ve often just assumed that they’re all a) liars or b) superheroes. Some of the most successful people out there attribute their accomplishments to short sleeping periods: According to Business Insider, Donald Trump, Martha Stewart, and Tom Ford all get fewer than four hours of sleep every night. Bill Clinton was known for sleeping only five or six hours a night throughout his presidency. (So the only thing stopping me from being as successful as Bill Clinton is my sleep schedule?) But according to recent scientific findings, the ability to function well on little rest may have to do with a certain gene some people carry. Here’s what we know about it (and the medical implications it could have for the future), as reported by Kristin Sainani in our February issue.

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Scientists studied a set of nonidentical twin brothers, one of whom had a gene variant associated with sleeping less than average. The carrier not only habitually got less sleep than his brother (averaging 4.9 hours per night, versus 6.1 hours) but also functioned relatively well when sleep-deprived, performing better on tests of mental agility after being kept awake for 38 hours.

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Those with the gene spend a larger proportion of time in deep sleep, which is critical for rest and recovery, than those without it, explains lead study author Renata Pellegrino, a scientist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. This genetic makeup is believed to exist in less than 1 percent of the population, but it may eventually be possible to develop drugs that mimic its effect.

In the meantime, I think I’ll focus on training myself to fall asleep faster, with the help of alternative sleep aids, and following these rules for getting better-quality sleep.

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