Friday, 9 April 2021

Short sleepers

In my family, my mother was the light sleeper, who would be woken if an ant stomped. I got the feeling that she wrestled with Hypnos each night to extract the maximum sleep possible. To make up for the lack of 'quality', she attempted to sleep as long as she could. 

My father was a deep sleeper who could drop off anywhere. While he too was happy to slug in bed on the weekends if there wasn't hockey - or hockey practice - he appeared to be much less worried about trying to get 'enough' sleep. He would go to bed late, but still bounce up in time for work in the morning, while my mother was still mazy, despite having gone to bed long before him.  

My brother and I always joked that we two would sleep through the end of the world: sleeping is what we do when, after a busy day, we hit the hay. But what is different between us is that my brother sleeps 'long', while I sleep 'short'. 

I don't know why my need for sleep appears to be less than that of my brother. I had assumed that I slept deeply - as I used to joke, "like a dead person" - so needing less sleep than others. However, since getting a Fitbit, I now know that I get on average an hour's deep sleep a night. I wake frequently, have lots of light sleep... but I awake rested. I function quite well on 6 hours of sleep. I don't need to catch up on weekends. I wake up, ready to go at roughly the same time each day, without an alarm.

I am not one of those who can comfortably get by on three or four hours sleep a night. While I have done that in the past, I now am unable to have more than a couple of very short nights without feeling ill. Further, I have found that if I sleep 8 hours I feel like I have been drugged. I cannot function properly: my head feels stuffed with cotton wool, I can't think, and I feel I am moving underwater. This is contrary to the literature, which suggests that we all need between 7 and 9 hours sleep per night, else we increase our personal risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and depression (ABC News, 26 November 2019; Australian Government, 2019; Stuff, 4 November 2019). Ouch. But it doesn't work for me. 

Then, in an article containing some comments by Melbourne Associate Professor Alan Young, I found that short sleep may indeed be a genetic predisposition. Professor Young was also quoted as saying that those who are genetically short sleepers will be a fractional proportion of the population (Stuff, 4 November 2019). I wonder if that is me, and if so, how do I find out?  




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