Express News Service
We all know at least one elite sleeper—that person who despite sleeping much less than the average person, wakes up light-footed. Delhi-based techpreneur Arunja C is one such person. She barely sleeps six hours each night and is sprightly awake at four every day. She uses the extra time for a 45-minute of yoga session, taking her dog for a 15-minute walk, cooking breakfast, listening to devotional music, while meditating, and answering mails. At the end of this activity-filled routine, she is not the least bit tired. If you think Arunja is gifted, you’re right.
She is a part of the three per cent population that comprises this segment, also known as familial natural short sleepers. While most of us struggle to clock in our eight-hour staple slumber, elite sleepers only need six.
Elite sleepers might be better protected against neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, according to researchers at the University of California-San Francisco, whose findings were published in the journal iScience. “This could be path-breaking. Specific drugs can be created to mirror the gene expressions of short sleepers, as they’re also called, and offer all its advantages to those with sleeping disorders or those suffering from neurodegenerative disease, especially dementia and Alzheimer’s disease,” says Ahmadabad-based sleep educator Neeta Patel. “With new treatments, the side-effects of sedatives can be reduced or done away with,” she says.
For the average Joe, however, six hours is asking for trouble. “It is inadequate for many people. Everyone’s sleep needs are different based on lifestyles and habits, but poor sleep quality has negative outcomes. “For one, it can result in short-term daytime cognitive impairment. In the long-term, it may take the shape of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Not to mention, hormonal disruptions such as putting the hunger hormone ghrelin and the fat hormone leptin out of order,” says Patel.
Short sleepers, however, don’t have to worry about high blood pressure or heart abnormalities for the most part. “They may be better at coping with crisis and have the ability to view setbacks as opportunities for learning. They may manage turbulent situations well,” says Mumbai-based sleep coach Puneeta Vohra.
Need to revaluate
Does the eight-hour sleep mandate hold true then? Not necessarily. Individual circadian clocks determine how much sleep you need and this varies for everyone. It could also be less or more depending on your day, routine, or lifestyle. According to Steven Lockley, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who studies circadian rhythms and sleep, ‘All your organs have rhythms…
The range of individual differences is much bigger than anyone really understands yet.’ Therefore, one’s sleep is determined by one’s personal rhythms. “Menstrual cycle also plays a role in the case of women, as do seasonal changes as the time of sunset and sunrise affect the melatonin levels. Certain health issues influence the amount and quality of one’s sleep,” says Vohra. Finally, certain sleeping disorders are hereditary. All this is true unless you enjoy ‘elite privileges’.
How to tell you’re a short sleeper
✥ You sleep less than the average person—usually six hours—and wake up fresh and perky, ready to take on the day.
✥ You typically go to bed between 10 pm to midnight and wake up six hours later (sometimes less) without an alarm.
✥ An elite sleeper can pull off late nights without any discomfort the next day.
✥ There is little or no need for caffeine to stay awake or energised during the day, unless it’s for reasons other than sleep.
✥ Elite sleepers have a lesser chance of suffering from diseases or aches and pains that emerge from chronic sleep deprivation such as high blood pressure, memory problems, lack of clarity, low immunity and others.
✥ The majority of the elite sleepers are type-A personalities associated with ambition, competitiveness, and impatience among others. They also have a higher threshold for pain.
Does everybody need the same amount of sleep?
While public health guidelines recommend eight hours of sleep per night, it may not be the case for everybody. Individual circadian clocks determine how much sleep one needs and this varies for everybody. It could also be less or more depending on your day, routine, or lifestyle.
Research shows some people are genetically programmed to sleep less, yet be efficient and at less risk of neurogenerative decline. This knowledge can help treat cognitive disorders, especially dementia.