Short Sleepers vs. Long Sleepers… How many hours do you really need?

May 19, 2016

Short Sleepers vs. Long Sleepers… How many hours do you really need?

You know those people… the ones who stay up late despite your warnings and tell you they’ll be fine, they don’t need that much sleep.  Maybe your struggles lie more with an individual who has slept all night and still won’t rise at a reasonable hour.  Or perhaps your difficulty lies within yourself, as you do the math to try to accrue the right amount of shut-eye to get by.  

Let’s face it.  We’re all humans.  We are the same machine of working systems that relies on the exchange of oxygen, a variety of foods, and 8 hours of sleep, right? Wrong.

“There are a few people who we consider to be short sleepers and who require fewer hours of sleep,” says Christopher David Perry, MD of Midlands Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, “and there are a few people who we consider to be long sleepers and who require more hours of sleep.”

A short sleeper can thrive on very little sleep, without needing naps or caffeine.  Researchers think that this ability to function on such little sleep is likely a genetic anomaly, and while many people claim or wish that they were in this population, only 1% to 3% of us actually are.  “There is a difference between true short sleepers and those who force themselves to function on less than five hours of sleep each night,” warns Dr. Perry.

Long sleepers regularly sleep more than their age peers, with a nightly rest lasting from 10 to 12 hours of deep, good quality sleep. Mental disorders can sometimes increase ones hours of sleep, but a true long sleeper shows the lifelong consistent pattern of needing many hours of sleep each night beginning in early childhood.  They often feel that there are too few hours in a day, and if school or work limits them to 9 hours of sleep during the week, they will attempt to catch up with 12 to 15 hours on weekends and holidays.

So how do you know if you’re a long or short sleeper?

“The vast majority of patients require 7 to 9 hours of sleep regularly,” says Dr. Perry.

Researchers found that the similarities within the groups go beyond the amount of sleep needed.  Short sleepers have different circadian rhythms from most people.  They tend to be more upbeat and optimistic, and have a higher tolerance for physical and psychological pain. While sleep deprivation usually correlates with obesity and diabetes, short sleepers tend to have higher metabolisms and are actually thinner.

A long sleeper will often appear sleepy during the week.  The need for long hours of sleep can disrupt relationships with family and friends, and can be hard to manage with social events and job or school schedules. However, when long sleepers do get enough sleep, they feel alert and well rested and are pleasant.

The best way to determine how much sleep you need is to be aware of how you feel and check in with yourself.  Consider one of the questions researchers use to identify short sleepers: If you have the chance to sleep longer on weekends or vacation, do you still only sleep five hours a night? “Unless you are battling a sleep disorder such as insomnia, sleep apnea, night terrors or narcolepsy, your body will seek out the amount of sleep it needs when given the chance,” says Dr. Perry, advising that whether you’re a short sleeper or a long sleeper, you make sure to get the sleep you need. “It’s your body’s precious time to recharge.”

Christopher David Perry, MD, board certified in Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Medicine, and Critical Care Medicine, and Sleep Medicine, is one of the founders of Midlands Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine, an affiliate of Providence Hospitals that provides specialized care in the diagnosis and treatment of chronic lung and breathing disorders, sleep diagnostics and management of critical illness.

Midlands Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine
1655 Bernardin Avenue, Suite 350, Columbia, South Carolina 29204
Phone: 803-253-7575 Fax: 803-253-7571