The secret to thriving on less sleep

Do you know people who can sleep for a few hours a night and wake up refreshed? They roll out of bed energetic and bright-eyed after four hours of sleep and start working on the next great American novel or something equally impressive.

They’re kind of annoying — at least to people like me who feel lousy and unproductive without eight hours of sleep (and who also feel like they never have enough time to achieve their dreams and live up to their full potential).

In other words, I’m jealous. I’d love to have those extra four hours to do the things I never have time to do, like write a book or keep my house clean. In fact, sometimes I wonder if I’m just being a big baby about the whole thing…

Maybe I should just stop sleeping so much and see what happens. What one person can do, another can do, right? Well, in this case, not so much.

It turns out there’s a reason some people can thrive at life even with just a few hours of sleep per night (while most of us can’t).

They won the genetic lottery — they have the “natural short sleep” gene.

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The gene that lets you sleep less and do more

Researchers from the University of California just found the “natural short sleep” gene. You know, the gene that allows certain people to get just four to six hours of sleep per night and wake up feeling like a million big ones.

Now, this sucker wasn’t easy to pin down. It took researchers 10 years! But they did it with the help of a family that had three generations of short sleepers.

Researchers used gene sequencing, and something called linkage analysis to locate the exact chromosome mutation that let this lucky family get by on so little sleep. The short sleep gene they found is called ADRB1.

After they identified the natural short sleep gene in this family, they decided to take their experiment one step further…

They engineered mice that had the mouse version of ADRB1. They took a deep dive into the brain activity of these mice and confirmed that ADRB1, in fact, activated a part of the brainstem that regulates sleep.

What to do if you’re not a natural short sleeper

Being a natural short sleeper comes with the obvious perk of more time in your day. But research shows there are other perks to being a natural short sleeper too…

Short sleepers tend to be more optimistic, more energetic and better multitaskers. They also have a higher pain threshold and don’t suffer from jet lag like the rest of us. There’s even some evidence that they live longer…

Though they sleep less, natural short sleepers don’t suffer any of the adverse health effects associated with sleep deprivation, that the rest of us could experience. See, if you don’t have the short sleep gene, not getting enough sleep will increase your odds of diabetes, cancer and heart disease, among other negative side effects of ongoing sleep deprivation.

Unfortunately, you can’t become a short sleeper any more than you can change your eye color (not counting contacts, of course). And if you’re not a natural short sleeper and you decide to skimp on sleep anyway, those bad things I just listed could happen.

Related: Six alternative sleep therapies you probably haven’t heard of

So, if you’re not a short sleeper you’ve got to get those oh-so-important eight hours. And find other ways to carve out an extra two to four hours in your day… like cutting back on TV, social media and mindless internet surfing. For you, sleeping less is not an option to add more hours to your day, but you can find plenty of ways to be a more efficient manager of the time you are awake.


  1. After 10-year search, scientists find second ‘short sleep’ gene — MedicalXpress
  2. A Rare Mutation of β1-Adrenergic Receptor Affects Sleep/Wake BehaviorsNeuron
  3. Why lack of sleep is bad for your health — National Health Service UK


Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and