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Meet the Sleepless Elite Who Only Need a Few Hours of Shut-Eye Each Night


"Please don't spoil my day, I'm miles away, and after all: I'm only sleeping."

First, some mood music:

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Now to business:

There's a fascinating article in today's Wall Street Journal about people who can function on far less sleep than the rest of us. "Short sleepers"--1%-3% of the population--need only several hours of sleep a night to get through the day. And they don't need power naps, nor do they need exorbitant amounts of caffeine. The simply have a rare genetic abnormality that makes sleep more of a nuisance for them than a necessity.

The Wall Street Journal describes the characteristics of "short sleepers":

They are also energetic, outgoing, optimistic and ambitious, according to the few researchers who have studied them. The pattern sometimes starts in childhood and often runs in families.

While it's unclear if all short sleepers are high achievers, they do have more time in the day to do things, and keep finding more interesting things to do than sleep, often doing several things at once....

A few studies have suggested that some short sleepers may have hypomania, a mild form of mania with racing thoughts and few inhibitions. "These people talk fast. They never stop. They're always on the up side of life," says Dr. Buysse. He was one of the authors of a 2001 study that had 12 confirmed short sleepers and 12 control subjects keep diaries and complete numerous questionnaires about their work, sleep and living habits. One survey dubbed "Attitude for Life" that was actually a test for hypomania. The natural short sleepers scored twice as high as the controls.

Jealous yet? You will be once you read this:

To date, Dr. Jones says he has identified only about 20 true short sleepers, and he says they share some fascinating characteristics. Not only are their circadian rhythms different from most people, so are their moods (very upbeat) and their metabolism (they're thinner than average, even though sleep deprivation usually raises the risk of obesity). They also seem to have a high tolerance for physical pain and psychological setbacks.

"They encounter obstacles, they just pick themselves up and try again," Dr. Jones says.

The Journal also notes that being a short sleeper isn't something you can learn--sorry, folks. These optimistic, and thin, and energetic, and outgoing, and sleepless individuals will remain an elite cadre. Meanwhile, the rest of us can toil away, enslaved as we are to our endless cups of coffee, stolen power naps, and eight-hour sleep cycles.

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